Going into their General Conference, which began on May 10th, members of the United Methodist Church were forced to rethink their Church’s position on LGBT rights and acceptance in the church. The church has historically had very exclusionary policies, with the official opinion being that LGBT existence is “incompatible” with Christian faith. Predictably, this didn’t sit well with many of the church’s members.The agenda for this year’s conference included re-examining the church’s position, and the language it uses to refer to LGBT individuals in its official publications. Before the conference, over 100 church leaders came out as LGBT in an open letter and called for reform and acceptance from the church.
While it looked like this year might mark a significant change in the church’s doctrine, the UMC eventually just decided to put off making the decision. Rather than voting on LGBT equality in the church at the end of the conference as planned, the UMC is instead creating a special commission, “to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in [the UMC] Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality”.
On one level, this seems like a victory for the camp calling for equality. Officials at the highest level of the church are agreeing to continue to have a conversation about sexuality and what the church will accept in the future. But this ‘solution’ only pushes the problem away to be dealt with at a later date. Some church members were considering breaking away from the UMC, and setting up this committee is a last ditch attempt by church leadership to ensure unity. But telling LGBT people to grin and bear it for the sake of promoting unity isn’t a solution. The committee most likely won’t come to any final decisions for a few more years, and until then LGBT people will have to deal with discrimination within the church. For the clergy members who have already come out, their futures as leaders in the church remain uncertain.
As LGBT rights in the West continue to advance, there are still many countries and institutions where the path to equality is long. Seychelles just legalised same-sex relationships, and Uganda recently had its largest ever pride parade, but many African countries still criminalise same-sex relationships. Indeed, UMC leaders from African countries were among those most reluctant to review the church’s policy on this issue.
Saying ‘we’ll deal with this later’ ignores and minimizes the experiences of LGBT people who face discriminatory policies not only from the church, but also from their governments. While the UMC maintains their united front by postponing making any decisions, LGBT people in the church continue to be erased and silenced. This only makes it easier for people to argue that the issue isn’t a pressing one, or shouldn’t be a priority, and this is how discriminatory policies remain in place. For those who wish to see the church become more inclusive, our only hope is that when the committee comes to a decision in a few years, they choose acceptance.