I feel like I’ve done a lot of posts on the subject of the church and homosexuality. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, you may be tired of reading about it. However, the Great Plains Annual Conference took action on Saturday, June 13, 2015, and I feel that I need to comment.
Great Plains Connect, the conference’s official newsletter summarized that action, as follows:
“The annual conference voted 496-363 to approve a petition offered by the Rev. David Livingston, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Lenexa, Kansas, that would strike references of homosexuality as being incompatible with Christian teachings and would eliminate restrictions against practicing homosexuals being certified as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in the church. It also would lift restrictions on United Methodist pastors conducting same-sex marriages and would lift restrictions on annual conferences and United Methodist agencies from providing funding to homosexual-related caucus groups and similar agencies. The petition would eliminate the performance of same-sex marriages from the list of offenses that would initiate a church trial.”
The petition would also amend the book of disciple to acknowledge that United Methodists are not of one mind on this issue.
To be honest, I didn’t realize the full significance of the vote at the time. The former Kansas East Annual Conference regularly approved such petitions to General Conference (I’m told the Nebraska Annual Conference did the same), however, I’ve since learned that the former Kansas West Conference never passed such a petition. The first-time nature of this petition for churches and clergy of the former Kansas West Conference helps explain what happened next: Rev. Rob Schmutz (who grew up here in Abilene) publically surrendered his credentials. Surrendering credentials is the official United Methodist verbiage for a clergy member resigning from the local church and the annual conference.
Over at Kansas.com, The Wichita Eagle has a solid article summarizing what happened. I’m not going to go into all the details; I just want to offer four points of interpretation about what the approval of the petition does and does not mean.
- Nothing has changed yet. This will be one of many petitions sent to General Conference on this subject. In the past, the General Conference has rejected all such petitions. No one can say what will happen at the next General Conference.
- This petition does not mean that every annual conference will start ordaining gay men and women, it simply means that conferences will have that option if they so choose.
- Likewise, this petition does not mean that every pastor has to perform same-sex marriages. It simply means that they may do so if they choose. This authority is given to the pastors and not the local church because currently that is the way it is for heterosexual marriages. However, all the clergy I know would take their congregation’s feelings into account when making that decision.
- As the petition acknowledges, the opinion of individual United Methodists around this issue will continue to be divided. The petition would amend the church’s position as a whole, but not the beliefs of individual members.
Hopefully, Jenny and I have made it clear that we’re willing to answer your questions and discuss your concerns no matter where you stand on this issue. While we agree with the Annual Conference’s decision, we believe that both the issue and the conversation itself are important and we want to be the pastors of the entire congregation.