The United Methodist Church affirms that sexuality is “God’s good gift to all persons.”
This affirmation begins the denomination’s statement on Human Sexuality. It is one of several statements describing the church’s teachings on sexuality.
The Church affirms that all people are of sacred worth and are equally valuable in the sight of God. It is committed to be in ministry with all people. The Church “implores families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.”
Underlying this is the constitutional principle of inclusiveness of the church. Everyone is welcome to worship and actively participate in the life of our churches. Laypersons may become members and live out their faith through their local church without respect to sexual orientation or practice.
The Church deplores acts of hate and violence against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity and believes human rights and civil liberties are due all people, regardless of sexual orientation.
Homosexuality was first openly debated at General Conference in 1972, four years after the formation of The United Methodist Church, resulting in the addition of first statement on homosexuality. While affirming belief that persons of homosexual orientation are persons of sacred worth who need the ministry and guidance of the church, the statement added that the church “does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” [Timeline: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/gc2016-tackling-44-year-stance-on-homosexuality]
Since that time, the church has maintained the position that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” This draws a distinction between orientation and practice, or behavior. Sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. The United Methodist Church supports laws that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Based on these positions about homosexual practice and marriage, the Church has also maintained restrictions regarding clergy. Pastors may not be “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” and may not conduct ceremonies that celebrate same-sex weddings or unions. Such ceremonies also may not be held on church property.
With a body of over 12 million members globally, United Methodists are not of one mind about how to be in ministry with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
Some members feel strongly that the church should uphold its current stances regarding gay clergy and marriage. Others strongly advocate for inclusion of LGBTQ Christians in all aspects of life in the church.
While the church has official statements regarding homosexuality, all members can disagree with the church’s positions and can advocate for change in policy. That process happens through General Conference, the only body that speaks officially for the church. At every General Conference since 1972, global delegates have grappled with differing views as they made decisions about whether or how to include LGBTQ people in the church.
In 2019, a special session of General Conference met specifically to address ongoing, unresolved divisions regarding homosexuality. Its decisions strengthened restrictions on ordination (broadening the definition of "self-avowed, practicing homosexual" in the footnote to ¶304.3) and same-sex weddings (creating the first ever mandatory minimum sentence for a guilty finding in any church trial in ¶2711.3) have led to growing resistance, especially in the U.S. and in Western Europe, where many United Methodists see such measures as punitive and discriminatory against LGBTQ people.
An agreement was reached between representatives of progressive, centrist, and traditionalist groups in early 2020 to do two things. One was to declare an abeyance (delay) on submitting or processing complaints related to homosexuality until after a process for separation had been approved and the denominations that may result from it could hold their first post-separation General Conferences. The other agreement was to submit and advocate among their constituencies for legislation creating a process for separation, which would include substantial funding for non-white United Methodist congregations and ministries, as well as substantial funding to support the launch of new traditionalist Methodist denominations and a smaller amount to support the launch of new progressive Methodist denominations. Since the 2020 General Conference was unable to convene because of the pandemic, the legislation proposed by this group has yet to be voted upon. The agreement about abeyance, though, became effective immediately among its signers, and many other bishops in the United States have likewise agreed to hold homosexuality-related complaints against clergy in abeyance until after a post-separation United Methodist General Conference in 2028 determines what new policies, if any, will be.
The impasse over homosexuality has led to uncertainty about the Church’s future. Calls for separating the denomination have increased. The delay of the 2020 General Conference to 2024, caused by the pandemic and the difficulty it created to obtain visas for many delegates, has led to one of these groups, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, to announce it would launch a new denomination (the Global Methodist Church) beginning on May 1, 2022. The Wesleyan Covenant Association has also rescinded its agreement about abeyance, actively encouraging its constituents to file charges as they see fit. At the present time (late November 2022), around 900 congregations in the United States (of over 30,000, so around 3%) have completed a disaffiliation process since 2019. It is unknown which or how many of these may have joined the Global Methodist Church. The Global Methodist Church does not provide a listing of its affiliated congregations.
When the next General Conference convenes (April 23 - May3, 2024) it will address multiple legislative proposals to alter existing church policies (in both more exclusive and more inclusive directions) and to divide or restructure the denomination as a result of differences on these and other issues. There is no way to predict at this time how that General Conference may respond to proposals related to restructure or separation. Based on what is known about the delegations to the next General Conference, however, even given attrition in some because of disaffiliations, it still seems unlikely that the current policies regarding human sexuality will be substantially altered.
This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.