The United Methodist Church, with an estimated 10.4 million members, has current policies that are contrary to the wishes of many if the LGBT community. However, many church leaders, including local pastors, welcome gays and lesbians as church members and support their basic human rights. The denomination prohibits ministers from blessing same-sex unions and condemns gay sex. It also officially excludes noncelibate gay and lesbian people from ordination, though this rule has been the subject of recent controversy.
Rights for Gays and Lesbians
Regarding the denomination’s particular stance on homosexuality, the 2012 Book of Discipline states:
“The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. 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.”
The United Methodist Church supports “certain basic human rights and civil liberties” for gays and lesbians, including some limited recognition of same-sex relationships. For example, the 2008 Book of Discipline 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.”
However, the denomination’s top court declined to reconsider Judicial Council Decision 1032 at the end of October 2010. Decision 1032 states that a United Methodist pastor has the right to determine local church membership, even if the decision is based on the person’s sexual orientation.
The 2008 Book of Discipline frames the UMC’s beliefs about human sexuality, “Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”
Blessing of Same-Sex Unions
The church forbids United Methodist ministers from performing weddings or commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples even in states where it is legal or for its buildings to be used for such ceremonies.
At the 2012 General Conference, the policy forbidding the blessing of same-sex unions was challenged but upheld. The conference delegates also upheld church’s official doctrine declaring support for “laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
In 2012, the General Conference reaffirmed that marriage is between a man and a woman by stating:
“We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God’s blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
Additionally, the UMC’s Judicial Council ruled in 2009 that church law prohibits clergy from performing same-sex marriages or commitment ceremonies. Thus, the denomination does not sanction civil union ceremonies or weddings conducted by UMC ministers or in UMC churches, despite appeals from some regional congregations and clergy that it does so.
In 2011, some 70 United Methodist ministers in Minnesota announced that they're willing to marry gay couples. They signed a statement at Minnesota's Annual United Methodist Clergy Conference, saying they would "offer the grace of the Church's blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage." The move by the ministers comes as Minnesota voters prepare to vote next year on a constitutional amendment that would define marriage in the state as being only between one man and one woman.
Ordination of Gay and Lesbian Ministers
The UMC’s official doctrine bars “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from the clergy.
“While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
"Self-avowed practicing homosexual" is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, board of ordained ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual.
Resources for LGBT United Methodists
The Reconciling Ministries Network is a coalition of LGBT-inclusive UMC congregations and ministries that offers contact information for LGBT-friendly churches around the United States.
Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns encourages more inclusive policies for LGBT people within the church.
The Methodist Federation for Social Action works to advance social justice policies within the church, including advocacy on behalf of LGBT people.
Film: Incompatible with Christian Teaching is a documentary film directed by Anne Brown, detailing the stories of clergy and laity, and GLBT and straight allies.
If you would like to communicate with the United Methodist Church in the United States, here is their mailing address: United Methodist Office of Public Information 810 Twelfth St. South Nashville, TN 37203