During annual (regional) conferences meetings in the U.S. this summer, United Methodists tackled hot-button topics including homosexuality, gun violence, divestment and immigration reform.
Most conferences in the Western Jurisdiction renewed their 2012 support of the "Statement of Gospel Obedience," which claims the church is in error on the subject of homosexuality's incompatibility with Christian teaching. The Western Jurisdiction includes eight regional conferences ranging from Colorado to the islands of Hawaii, Guam and Saipan and from Alaska to Arizona.
The Desert Southwest Conference supported a marriage equality resolution that states the conference will support any clergy conducting homosexual unions or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies where it is permitted by law. The resolution also states clergy who are brought up on charges for conducting those ceremonies will be supported "spiritually, emotionally and prayerfully."
A second resolution passed was a public statement that "our churches and facilities are safe places for all regardless of gender identity and that transgender people may use the bathroom of their choosing."
A ruling of law was brought before Bishop Robert Hoshibata, who leads the Desert Southwest Conference, after the marriage equality resolution was approved. On July 30, he ruled the resolution was not out of order.
Requests for a rule of law automatically go to Judicial Council, the denomination's top court.
Bishop Minerva G. Carcao, who leads the California-Pacific Conference, was also asked to rule concerning the Statement of Biblical Obedience passed in 2012. She ruled the resolution did not violate the legal authority of the Book of Discipline.
"I find that Resolution 13-16 does not violate the legal authority of the Book of Discipline in that it does not require any person, office or body within the church to violate the Book of Discipline. What Resolution 13-16 does do is commend to bishops, clergy, local churches and ministry settings, the challenge to operate as if Paragraph 161F of the Book of Discipline does not exist. The act of commending and challenging persons and entities of the church to act in a particular way in response to a section of the Book of Discipline that is not intended to be church law does not in and of itself constitute an illegal action," she ruled.
The Book of Discipline, the denomination's law book, since 1972 has stated that all people are of sacred worth but "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."
Church law says that marriage is to be between a man and a woman and bans United Methodist clergy from performing and churches from hosting "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions."
United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert addresses the Western Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church during its July 2012 meeting in San Diego. Talbert was commended by the New York Annual (regional) Conference for taking "a stand for justice" by supporting full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. A UMNS file photo courtesy of the Pacific Northwest Conference Communications Team.
Commending LGBT defenders
The New York Conference affirmed a resolution commending those who have taken "a stand for justice" for supporting full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Commendations were offered to six clergy for taking actions that for some resulted in church trials or complaints under church law. Others commended included those who signed pledges to offer pastoral ministry to same-sex couples and to perform same-sex marriages. Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert was recognized for his stand for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons; and for the Rev. Thomas Ogletree, who performed a same-sex marriage for his son and is facing a church trial.
Bishop Martin D. McLee, New York episcopal leader, was asked to render a ruling of law on the commendation resolution. He ruled the resolution "successfully walks a line between celebrating those who have disobeyed without advocating disobedience."
The conference also passed "A Single Garment of Destiny: Global Solidarity with LGBT People," which calls the conference publicly to condemn the spread of anti-gay hate to other countries by U.S. Christian leaders.
Other conferences affirming gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were West Michigan, Detroit, North Carolina, Minnesota and Northern Illinois.
The 2012 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination's legislative body that meets every four years, voted to leave the 1972 language in the Book of Discipline. A push was made at the 2012 conference to add language that the church did not agree on whether homosexuality practice is contrary to the will of God. The resolution failed.
At the end of the 2012 annual conference meetings, 15 conferences passed resolutions rejecting the denomination's stance on gay and same-sex marriages.
Sharing a story of a schoolmate who was killed in a drive-by shooting, high school student Kyle Forehand presented a resolution to the Arkansas Conference addressing gun violence. The resolution encourages churches to discuss and educate themselves on violence prevention and responsible handling of guns. The resolution was sponsored by the Arkansas chapters of Black Methodists for Church Renewal and Methodist Federation for Social Action.
The Illinois Great Rivers, Northern Illinois, Nebraska, Baltimore-Washington, Detroit, Minnesota and Pacific Northwest conferences all approved resolutions calling for a Christian response to gun violence.
Four conferences - New England, Minnesota, Pacific Northwest and Upper New York - voted in June to divest or have their funds divested from companies involved with Israel's occupation of the West Bank.
The Northern Illinois Conference voted to divest from the coal industry.
Detroit, Nebraska, Northern Illinois, Alabama West-Florida, North Georgia and Pacific Northwest conferences supported the current legislative efforts to reform immigration in the United States.
The Nebraska Conference passed a resolution calling for Nebraska United Methodists to advocate for and support the work of the United Methodist Interagency Task Force on Immigration and Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans.
*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.