Persons of sacred worth
The United Methodist Church affirms "that sexuality is God's good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift."
This affirmation begins the denomination's statement, "Human Sexuality," in the Social Principles. It is one of several statements in the United Methodist Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions describing the church's beliefs and teachings on sexuality.
The statement continues: "Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage." The church states elsewhere that marriage should only be between a woman and a man.
The church deplores all forms of commercialization, abuse and exploitation related to sex and calls for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the exploitation of children.
"We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God," and that all persons need the ministry of the church, the denomination states.
"The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching," the denomination continues in its "Human Sexuality" statement. "We affirm that God's grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons."
Elsewhere in its Book of Discipline, The United Methodist Church bans the ordination of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals," and it forbids the performance of same-gender unions in the denomination's sanctuaries and by its clergy in any setting.
In a passage titled "Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation," the church states: "Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting the rightful claims where people have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law.
"Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against all persons, regardless of sexual orientation."
Regarding U.S. military service by gays and lesbians, The United Methodist Church says it affirms "the stance that the U.S. military should not exclude persons from service solely on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity."
In a section of the Book of Discipline on "Administrative Order," dealing with responsibilities of the General Council on Finance and Administration, the church states the council "shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of The United Methodist Church 'not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.' The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures. It shall not limit the church's ministry in response to the HIV epidemic."
Underlying all other positions of the denomination is the constitutional principle of "Inclusiveness of the Church" in the Book of Discipline: "The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status or economic condition shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection. …"
The United Methodist Church's statements on sexuality have been developed by General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking assembly and the only body that speaks for the full church. Every four years, delegates from around the world meet to revise the Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions. The Book of Discipline is the denomination's book of rules. The Book of Resolutions is not legally binding but serves as a guide for the church for reference, encouragement, study and support.
The issue of homosexuality was first openly debated in the church at the 1972 General Conference, four years after the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren churches joined to form The United Methodist Church. Issues related to sexuality have continued to be debated at General Conference gatherings since then. General Conference last met in Portland, Ore., in 2016, where a special session in St. Louis, Missouri, to discuss the church's position on homosexuality was scheduled for 2019. In February 2019, delegates to the Special Session of General Conference voted to uphold the church’s statements about homosexuality, same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ persons.
The impasse over homosexuality has led to uncertainty about the Church’s future. Calls for separating the denomination have increased. Delegates to the 2020 General Conference (rescheduled to August 9-September 6, 2022) will face difficult decisions on multiple proposals for major reorganization of the denomination or separation to form new expressions of Methodism.
This content was originally published July 11, 2014, and updated June 11, 2021.