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General Conference Priorities: Removing Anti-LGBTQ+ Statements and Policies

by Molly Vetter, General Conference delegate from California-Pacific Annual Conference

As we get closer to the 2020 General Conference (which will be held starting in April of 2024), it feels like there is so much at stake. I wanted to share some thoughts about issues that I see as critical for this Conference, and why I think they matter for us. Thanks for listening.

A broad coalition of leaders in the UMC, especially but not exclusively from the US, named three priorities for the General Conference that will convene this April in Charlotte, NC. We call them our 3 “R’s,” and they can be listed in any order: Removing anti-LGBTQ+ statements and policies, approving the Revised Social Principles as offered by our General Board of Church and Society, and adopting a Regionalization plan that allows us to better function as a worldwide church in diverse contexts. 

I share urgency for all three of these needed changes. I’ve been listening and learning to other wise leaders about why these changes are needed, and here is some of what I’ve heard about removing anti-LGBTQ+ statements and policies:

Removing Anti-LGBTQ+ Statements and Policies

Explicit condemnations and prohibitions in the Discipline have blocked the church from fully embracing the grace of Jesus Christ. They have caused harm to LGBTQ+ siblings in and outside of the church. Our current language and practice distort the message of good news, proclaiming the lie that there are people who are outside the grace of God, and in whom the Holy Spirit cannot work. In diverse contexts in the US and elsewhere, this creates a significant impediment to the clear, faithful proclamation of the church. 

Nonetheless, LGBTQ+ people are and have been a part of our churches. The Holy Spirit has continued to call them to ordained and lay ministry, and we have experienced the grace of God through them; God’s blessing has been evident in same-gender marriages, which have been a gift to our churches and communities. In testimony to this reality, Conferences across the US have elected an unprecedented number of LGBTQ-identifying delegates to General Conference this time, affirming how we are the church together, already. We cannot in good conscience maintain the prohibitions and condemnations that are in our Discipline; across the US, our churches have demonstrated this reality by refusing to enforce our punitive prohibitions. In our Annual Conference, we have explicitly declared our unwillingness to submit to the current exclusionary policies.  For the integrity of the church, we need our siblings in the church to remove policies that are causing harm to our witness, even when those changes are uncomfortable and difficult in contexts where acknowledgement and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people is never discussed.

By deleting some of our existing language, we reset to neutral at the General Church level, transferring more authority to the regions to address more things contextually, if they so choose. These changes return authority and trust back to the church – to Conferences to discern who to ordain, to clergy to decide who to marry. Removing this language releases us from a polarized fight that has held us captive too long. This change is essential for preserving unity, as they are critical for the US region of the UMC.

These changes are all deletions–they simply remove specific language that has caused harm. This includes values stated in our Social Principles, as well as specific rules against “self-avowed homosexual” clergy, same-sex marriage ceremonies, and the use of General church funds to “promote the acceptance of homosexuality.” At General Conference 2019, we also added the only mandatory penalties called out in our Book of Discipline, revealing the extent to which we have to distort the order of the church to enforce exclusions. It is critical that we remove all of the instances of this harmful language. It lacks integrity with our United Methodist order, and is contrary to our understanding of the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is the first in a planned three-part series on the three priorities. Stay tuned for posts about the Revised Social Principles and adopting a Regionalization plan.

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