United Methodist delegates vote to end bans on gay clergy, same-sex marriage

Republished from Kentucky Lantern

After decades of intense debate that led to about half of their churches in Kentucky leaving the denomination, United Methodist delegates voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to no longer forbid gay clergy and same-sex marriage.

The vote by the delegates at the United Methodist General Conference in Charlotte, N.C., was 692-51. The conference was the church’s first legislative gathering in five years.

United Methodist Church in Kentucky losing congregations to rift over LGBTQ inclusion

The historic vote removed the church’s 1984 ban on ordaining or appointing clergy who are “self-avowing practicing homosexuals.”

Another measure winning approval forbids district superintendents — regional administrators — from penalizing clergy for performing a same-sex wedding or declining to perform one.  

Also, superintendents can not forbid a church from hosting a same-sex wedding.

The changes on ordination will take effect immediately after General Conference concludes on Friday, while the changes on marriage policy permissions will begin Jan. 1, 2025. 

The church’s news agency reported that “delegates and observers applauded after the vote.  Many hugged and more than a few cried, in a mass release of joy for those who had pushed, some for decades to make the United Methodist Church fully inclusive.”

Bishop Leonard Fairley (Photo submitted)

In a Facebook Live video posted on the Kentucky Conference website, Kentucky Bishop Leonard Fairley said he knows “that some are disappointed, and some are rejoicing. But I pray that this is a way we can stay at the table and continue to work together and do the ministry and the mission of Jesus Christ.”

Fairley added, “The consultation of the district superintendents and the bishops and the local church have always been important and that does not change with this decision.” 

He appeared in the video with two of the five Kentucky clergy delegates – Tom Grieb, retired pastor from Goshen, and Tami Coleman, pastor of Hanson United Methodist Church near Madisonville.

The other clergy delegates from Kentucky, according to the Kentucky Conference, were Andrew Singh, pastor of Erlanger United Methodist Church; Iosmar Alvarez, senior pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Louisville,  and David Grout, retired minister and formerly of Florence Methodist Church.

Lay delegates from Kentucky were listed on the website as Mark Stallions, president and chief executive officer of Owen Electric Cooperatives; John R. Denham, Mason County beef cattle farmer; Michael Watts, member of Shelbyville United Methodist; Elaine Daugherty, member of Morgantown United Methodist Church, and Linda Underwood King, retired educator who is a member of Christ Church in Louisville.

Cathy Bruce, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Conference, said the delegates voted by secret ballot and that she did not consider it appropriate to ask them how they voted.

The LGBTQ issue certainly has been controversial.

At a special session of the United Methodist General Conference in 2019, delegates made it possible for a church to disaffiliate for reasons of conscience around issues of human sexuality and keep its property after fulfilling certain financial obligations. 

The disaffiliation process in the United Methodist Church ended Dec. 31.

The Kentucky United Methodist Conference had 749 churches in 2019, says the Lewis Center for Church in Washington, D.C., in a report issued earlier this year.

Of them, 366 – or 49 percent – left the church, the report said. 

Of the conferences nationwide  that recorded more than 30 percent church disaffiliations, the report said, Kentucky ranked fourth highest. It trailed Northwest Texas with 81 percent disaffiliations, North Alabama with 51 percent and Texas with 50 percent.  Indiana had 30 percent disaffiliations.

The Lewis Center report did not analyze the financial impact of disaffiliations on the conferences, but it said “it can be expected to vary with the percentage and size of congregations lost. Obviously, the impact is not felt equally across conferences. Some face minimal impact while others must make major realignments.”

Asked about any belt-tightening moves by the Kentucky Conference such as reducing its number of superintendents, spokeswoman Bruce said the conference now has five superintendents. She did not say how many the conference had a year ago.

“I would not say it was in a cost-cutting move. It is just how the appointments worked out this year,” she said.  

Mike Powers

She did note that the Lexington district and the Northern Kentucky district are being served by the same superintendent and that Kevin Burney, who is the conference’s director of ministerial services, will be superintendent for the Heartland district in the Louisville area beginning July 1 while retaining his current position.

Kentucky Methodists tally congregations lost to LGBTQ rift as a conservative alternative grows

The New York Times reported that the policy changes in the denomination could prompt departures of some international churches, particularly in Africa, where more conservative sexual values prevail and where same-sex activity is criminalized in some countries.

Before the disaffiliations, the United Methodist denomination was the third largest in the United States with a 5.4 million membership and presence in almost every county. It has about 4.6 million members in other countries, mainly in Africa.

Mike Powers, a retired United Methodist pastor in Lexington, is helping with efforts in Kentucky to attract disaffiliated churches to the two-year-old denomination Global Methodists.

He said Wednesday that more than 100 of the disaffiliated churches in Kentucky have been approved, applied or are inquiring about joining the Global Methodists.  Its doctrine does not recognize same-sex marriages or the ordination of openly gay Methodists. 

The Global Methodist Church, based in Fredericksburg, Virginia, said in a release that it was aware of the vote at the United Methodist General Conference but that it operates independently of other denominations, has no affiliation with any of the United Methodist decisions and does not want to comment on the actions of other religious organizations.

It added that it has more than 4,500 members worldwide.

Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign based in Louisville that advocates for gay rights in Kentucky, said of the United Methodist vote, “It’s such a wonderful move in the right direction in the tenets of the faith.”


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