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In an open letter released May 3, the chairs of the Baltimore-Washington Conference and New York Conference boards of ordained ministry called on other United Methodist conferences to join them in their decision to no longer inquire about the sexual orientation of their ministry candidates.

Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications

In an open letter released May 3, the chairs of the Baltimore-Washington Conference and New York Conference boards of ordained ministry called on other United Methodist conferences to join them in their decision to no longer inquire about the sexual orientation of their ministry candidates.

Pacific Northwest board joins in removing LGBTQ bar

UPDATES with PNW board action
By Kathy L. Gilbert

May 9, 2016 PORTLAND, Ore. (UMNS)

The Pacific Northwest board of ordained ministry voted May 5 to affirm that “people of all sexual orientations and gender identities” can meet the high standards for “fitness, readiness, and effectiveness in ministry.”

They are joining with the Baltimore-Washington and the New York boards of ordained ministry in stating they will no longer inquire about the sexual orientation of their ministry candidates.

"At this critical time in the history of The United Methodist Church, we believe it is important to state explicitly how we have been operating implicitly," the board said in a statement released just days before the denomination's global gathering begins on May 10 in Portland, Oregon.

Bishop Grant Hagiya, episcopal leader of the Pacific Northwest Conference, said he affirmed the board of ordained ministry's right to communicate with candidates for ministry regarding "the standards of effectiveness" discerned for essential ministry in the conference. 

"Personally, I appreciate the thought and depth that went into the board's current statement," he said. 

In an open letter released May 3, the chairs of the Baltimore-Washington Conference and New York Conference boards of ordained ministry called on other United Methodist conferences to join them in their decision to no longer inquire about the sexual orientation of their ministry candidates. The joint letter was signed by the Rev. Charles A. Parker for Baltimore-Washington and the Rev. William B. Pfohl for the New York Conference.

The two boards made those decisions earlier this year in different circumstances. But the two chairs wrote “it feels as though we have come to a similar time in The United Methodist Church regarding the equality of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.”

Fifteen clergy and clergy candidates in the New York Conference came out as gay on May 2. On March 1, the conference board of ordained ministry announced it would not consider sexual orientation in evaluating a clergy candidate, even if that individual has a spouse of the same gender.

On Feb. 10, the Baltimore-Washington Conference’s board of ordained ministry announced it was recommending a married lesbian, Tara “T.C” Morrow, as a provisional deacon.

The Baltimore-Washington Conference board’s recommendation of Morrow still needs the approval of the annual conference’s clergy session, which votes on all clergy candidates. But Pfohl said at that time that his understanding is that the board does not need his annual conference’s ratification to set standards for clergy effectiveness.

Right to make recommendations

“The Boards of Ordained Ministry of both the Baltimore-Washington and New York Annual Conferences have independently decided that it is time to create the space to act out of our freedom of conscience, and our experience of God’s power at work through women and men who identify themselves as LBGTQ disciples of Jesus Christ,” the letter states. “Boards of Ordained Ministry have the right to make recommendations to their annual conferences based on standards for effectiveness worked out collaboratively with the cabinet and their discernment of the fitness, readiness, and fruitfulness of individual candidates.”

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, states that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve” in the church. The law book also states that being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” is a chargeable offense that could result in a clergy person being placed on trial and losing their credentials.

The United Methodist agency that oversees ordained ministry said the resident bishop has the authority to decide how the Discipline is interpreted.

"Questions regarding specific processes and interpretation of the Book of Discipline are the responsibility of the resident bishop in each annual conference," said Ebony R. Lincoln, director of communications, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

‘Wall of exclusion’

Matt Berryman, director of Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial organization that advocates for LGBTQ people, said the open letter is “yet another sign that the institutional church's wall of exclusion that keeps LGBTQ people from entering the full life of the church is tumbling down.”

“The invitation of Rev. Parker and Rev. Pfhol for other Boards of Ordained Ministry to join them in refusing to discriminate against those whom God has called into ministry is also an invitation to follow Christ. Their actions, and the actions of all who choose the way of Biblical Obedience, are a hopeful sign of the church we are becoming, with or without the sanctioned removal of our discriminatory policies," Berryman said.

Love Prevails, another unofficial organization that advocates for LGBTQ people, said they were rejoicing over the letter.

“We affirm every act of resistance which prioritizes justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer folks over the maintenance of the order of The United Methodist Church,” said Julie Todd, Love Prevails.

Dorothee Benz, Methodists in New Directions, another group that supports LGBTQ people, praised the boards.

“This is what leadership looks like,” Benz said.

Breaking or keeping covenants?

Bishop Scott J. Jones, bishop of the Great Plains area, recently wrote a blog for Ministry Matters saying, “the gravest threat to our mission and our unity today arises from leaders who deliberately violate our discipline.”

Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert and the Rev. Val Rosenquist co-officiated at the April 23 wedding of two men at First United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

More than 20 other United Methodist clergy also came to offer a blessing at the first such same-sex wedding at a United Methodist church in the southern U.S.

The 2016 United Methodist General Conference will meet in Portland, Oregon, May 10-20. It is the only entity that speaks for the church and sets church law.

More than 100 pieces of legislation on human sexuality will be considered by the 864 elected delegates.

Global delegates will grapple with full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in every aspect of church life and worship. Many petitions ask the body to “agree to disagree,” while others want the church to uphold biblical guidance on whether homosexuality is a sin or not.

Delegates will also vote on whether gays can be ordained as United Methodist pastors, whether pastors can officiate at same-sex weddings, whether a same-sex wedding or union can be held in a United Methodist church and whether defying any of those church laws could lead to a church trial where a pastor could be stripped of her or his ordination.

Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org