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Two conferences vote for full inclusion of LGBTQ

By Vicki Brown
June 19, 2016 | UMNS

The Desert Southwest Conference, after its bishop gave an impassioned impromptu speech about full inclusion, voted for a nondiscrimination resolution that says the conference will not participate in or conduct judicial procedures related to the denomination’s prohibitions against LGBTQ persons.

The June 18 vote came one day after the New England Conference voted not to “conform or comply with provisions of the (Book of) Discipline which discriminate against LGBTQIA persons.” The acronym refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual.

In addition, the California-Pacific Conference voted for a resolution urging the bishop and cabinet to state publicly they will not deny appointments based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The resolution asks the board of ordained ministry to declare it will not consider sexual orientation and gender in determining fitness for ordained ministry. Finally, it urged the conference not to participate in or conduct judicial procedures related to The Book of Discipline's prohibitions against LGBTQ persons in minstry. The resolution passed with a show of hands.

And the clergy session of the Oregon-Idaho Conference joined the conference board of ordained ministry in issuing a statement supporting “the gifts and graces” of LGBTQ people in ordained ministry, said Greg Nelson, conference director of communications.

The Book of Discipline, The United Methodist Church’s governing document, bans pastors from officiating and churches from hosting same-sex wedding. It also bans the ordination of “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy. The Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, ruled in May that annual conferences cannot intrude on General Conference’s authority with regard to matters of ordination. 

‘A different lens’

Phoenix Episcopal Area Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata told the Desert Southwest Conference on June 18 that he felt God’s spirit was moving him to speak about “this important time in the life of our denomination.”

He noted that the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon, had given Council of Bishops the job of creating a commission to address the denomination’s conflict over sexuality, with the possibility of a special General Conference to be called in two years.

The United Methodist Church he was raised in taught that “God’s love is open to all people,” and said he believes the church must “look at our world through different lens and a pastoral heart rather than a Disciplinary book.”

He stressed that he believes trials are a useless waste of time and an “abomination to God,” that cut off conversation. He expressed particular concern for young LGBTQ people who may feel their church does not want them.

“God is asking us to do something better than we have been doing,” he said.

The resolution, which passed 271-80, referenced Hoshibata’s call for a church that is “open to all of God’s children” and reaffirmed the conference commitment to a fully inclusive church.

“Therefore, we pledge to go to that courageous place, being obedient not to a Discipline of words, but to our common discipline of love and grace,” the resolution said.

The resolution resolves that the conference will not discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, employees, and clergy — including not participating in or conducting judicial procedures relating to Disciplinary prohibitions against LGBTQ persons.

The Rev. Stephen Govett, pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Phoenix, said the resolution saw “full inclusivity as a path to growth,” and said he was introducing it on behalf of a coalition of young people and clergy.

Setting a precedent?

The debate centered on whether the action moved the denomination toward schism and whether it set a precedent for others to ignore parts of the Discipline they don’t like.

The Rev. Mark Conrad, pastor of Sierra Vista United Methodist Church in Sierra Vista, Arizona, said that a vote for the resolution was a vote of no confidence that The United Methodist Church “will ever change” and a vote that the bishops’ commission will fail.

“I want change,” Conrad said, but he said he wasn’t sure the resolution was the way to go.

“Aren’t we setting a precedent that any time a conference disagrees with the Discipline it’s okay to ignore the rules? I’m good with advocacy; I’m not good with ignoring the rules.

“When the time comes that changes are made, do we want those who disagree to follow the rules?” he asked.

Fred Baum questioned whether voting for the resolution would be a move toward schism, making the Desert Southwest separate from the denomination. “Are we going to be the untied United Methodist Church?”

The Rev. David Felten, pastor of The Fountain United Methodist Church in Fountain Hills, Arizona, responded that other conferences had passed similar resolutions and he did not believe the resolution spoke to schism.

The Rev. Lynn Bartlow of Trinity Heights United Methodist Church in Flagstaff, Arizona, asked if the conference could opt out of judicial proceedings and Hoshibata responded that he thought handling such questions through a supervisory process was an option that had always been available and allowed for real conversation without judicial deadlines. 

Nadalynn Erazo, one of the delegates who introduced the legislation, said there had been discussion of the resolution before Bishop Hoshibata’s speech. But afterwards, supporters were even more ready to move forward.

Felten agreed, saying that everyone was feeling defeated after General Conference, and that the drafters of the resolution had quoted liberally from Hosbitata's speech and tried to make it a positive resolution. 

Supporters are concerned that discrimination keeps young people from church and Erazo said she does not believe sexuality should bar anyone from answering God’s call to ministry.

“If in the end we are wrong, that’s something that God can handle,” she said.

Brown is the news editor for United Methodist New Service. Contact her at 615-742-5400 or newsdesk@umcom.org.