Saturday, May 12, 2012

Summary History of UMC LGBTQ Legislation and Debate

The following is a summary of the history of the United Methodist Church's legislation and debate on homosexuality and other LGBTQ concerns through 2008. It is not meant to be comprehensive. Many parts of our history was left out in order to make this more concise. More emphasis was placed on earlier time period. This document is for the purpose of familiarizing with the United Methodist's Church's painful history of exclusion of the LGBTQ community and exposes the arguments of individuals and caucuses that seek to prevent full inclusion. It is my hope that in studying our past we might gain perspective on our present and future together as the people called Methodists. This document is a summary of the 2009 dissertation: Homosexuality and the United Methodist Church: An Ecclesiological Dilemma by Tiffany L. Steinwert and a document from UM CommunicationsFor a much more in depth study and citations, please refer to the original documents.


The Council on Religion and Homosexuality was created to foster communication and dialogue between religious and homosexual communities


First public mention of Homosexuality by an official Methodist group, a Methodist Student Movement magazine issue included articles on feminism, reproductive freedom, and lesbianism. Local congregations protested by withdrawing apportionments. The publication became independent of UM funds

Stonewell Rebellion (violent conflicts between NYCPD and the local gay community; historically this is the beginning of the gay liberation movement)

o   UMC clergy both advocated for LGBT and came out themselves

1972 General Conference

o   Original draft of Human Sexuality paragraph: Homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are persons of sacred worth, who need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggle for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship which enables reconciling relationship with God, with others, and with self. Further we insist that homosexuals are entitled to have their human and civil rights insured.

o   Amended on the floor to include, “though we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching

o   Same-sex marriage: “We do not recommend marriage between two persons of the same sex.”

o   Conservative leadership from SEJ and SCJ failed to defeat the creation of commissions addressing religion and race and the status and role of women.


o   Homosexuality would lead to the abduction of children, pedophilia, a rise of illegitimate children, and members leaving for the Southern Baptist Church.

o   Those opposed said it was being made out of fear and not theological reflection.


Gay members created United Methodist Gay Caucus

General Boards and Agencies published materials supporting full inclusion

Good News publically opposes women’s theology, Black theology, and liberation theology, calling it this “preoccupation” of the church “minority mania”

UM Reporter published articles portraying homosexuality as a mental illness

1976 General Conference


o   "No board agency, committee, commission or council shall give UM funds to any 'gay' causes or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.”

o   Same-sex marriage changed for “not recommended” to “not recognized”


Judicial Council overturned the removal of an openly gay clergy person because nothing in the BOD prohibited it

1980 General Conference


o   Petition failed that stated: "no self avowed practicing homosexual therefore shall be ordained or appointed in The United Methodist Church"

o   Good News leadership argued for the vote to be taken by delegates standing instead of a secret ballot, which was perceived as an intimidation tactic… One delegate stated, “I am not going to be intimidated. I do not need the Good News movement or the bad news movement or Anita Bryant or Rex Humbard to tell me how to treat human souls.”

o   No restrictions on homosexual clergy were passed

o   Same-sex marriage was changed from “we do not recognize” to “we affirm… …a man and a woman”

o   A Study Document on Human Sexuality for use in local churches was commissioned which stated: “No where in the Church’s consideration of human sexuality is there more confusion, embarrassment and even self-hatred evident than the currently dominant discussions about homosexuality… …Homophobia is one of the sexual fears which must be faced.”  The study was told to ask the questions “What is the Church’s mission? Are we commissioned to love and minister to all persons as sexual beings or just some? What is an inclusive church?”

Debate to strike “incompatibility” language

o   Incompatibility negates the grace of God that covers all by naming some “incompatible” and inhibits the church’s ability to love one another

o   The UMC needs to regain its prophetic edge… “If we decided based on public opinion we probably would still have slaves in this country and might still be in the Viet Nam War. Our church needs to be prophetic at a time when it may be unpopular to do so.”  

o   A quadrilateral argument was made based on the faithful experience of gays and lesbians, the lack of clear Scripture, psychiatric reasoning understanding homosexuality as normative

Debate to retain “incompatibility” language and restricted funding

o   Grace is available to all, but can be rejected by those with “aberrant conditions”

o   Retaining restricted funding for pro-homosexual groups “keeps faith with the people who give the money”


Bishop Wheatley appointed a gay clergy person stating, “I am not in the business of appointing or ordaining self-confessed lesbians, seductive straights…cute females or pitiful persons with handicapping conditions. I am in the business of appointing sons and daughters of God presented by name to me by the Board of Ordained Ministry, not by label.”

Judicial Council ruled that there was nothing in the BOD to disqualify homosexuals

Meeting with a group to create legislation to screen out homosexuals for ordination, Bishop Tuell suggested the phrase “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness”

Tuell later reflected that the meeting was guided not by theological reflection, but rather “institutional protection” to appease those upset

1984 General Conference


o   “Fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness” was deemed by the Judicial Council not strong enough language to prohibit gay and lesbian clergy so the following was also added: “Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve the UMC.”

Debate for not allowing homosexual clergy and retaining “incompatibility”

o   “The issue is not our ministry of proclaiming God’s unconditional love and grace to all persons… The issue is keeping faith with our people.”

o   Many argued that excluding homosexuals for ordination was the key to ecclesial stability and unity—uniformity in polity and practice.

o   The first argument was made that condoning homosexuality would be “disastrous” to the “exciting growth” of the church in Africa

Debate for allowing homosexual clergy and striking “incompatibility”

o   Delegates defined ecclesial unity not on popular opinion, but on theological and biblical norms of inclusion—“solidarity in diversity.”

o   Striking “incompatibility” would show “graceful hospitality”

o   Scripture has been used selectively; better to see Scripture as a “composite feast” and not a “cafeteria line.”

o   Examples of faithful, committed same-sex relationships


Affirmation (unofficial inclusion caucus) created a new advocacy group for full inclusion: Reconciling Congregations Program to identify, support and network churches who welcome gays and lesbians

“Self-avowed practicing homosexual” was interpreted differently by Conferences

Good News (unofficial conservative caucus) produced the “Houston Declaration” which called for the “high and holy character of ordained ministry.” The only criteria for “high and holy” was the sexual practices of clergy, focused on homosexuality, citing its condemnation in Scripture. It encouraged compassion for homosexuals in ministries that “redirect” their same-sex orientation that they might “overcome temptation” and “change their lifestyle.” The document went further than prohibiting ordination, but also deemed not acceptable homosexuals to be in representative positions in the church.

1988 General Conference


o   Following “incompatibility” clause the following was added: “We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”

o   The HIV epidemic was exempt from funding restrictions

o   Rejected attempts to block homosexuals from membership and leadership positions

o   Commissioned a 4 year study on homosexuality to study

-  positions of theological and ethical analysis among biblical scholars, theologians, and ethicists

-  positions among informed scientists

-  the implications of its study for the Social Principles.

Debate for retaining homosexual language and restrictions

o   Popular opinion of members

o   Many people would leave if we changed the language

o   One delegate cited psychiatric and medical evidence that homosexuals were dangerous to the church community, adding “I know one gay person in the NCJ who contributed AIDS to 276 people.”

o   Psychology agrees with certain biblical interpretations that regard homosexuality as unnatural and contrary to the grace of God
Debate for removal of homosexual language and restrictions

o   God calls gays and lesbians and they respond to that call

o   Scripture has been abused in the past restricting women from ordination and used to support slavery

o   The Holy Spirit’s presence in gay and lesbian clergy

o   The church’s stance caused one young man to attempt suicide

o   Appealed to the grace, ministry and mission of the Church


Transforming Congregations Program was founded to transform homosexuals to heterosexuals; This group became associated with Good News and the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), together becoming the dominant voice of opposition for full inclusion of GLBTQ community.

Several pastors conducted same-sex marriage ceremonies

The Homosexual Study Committee conducted listening posts listening all perspectives of lay, clergy and scholars

1992 General Conference

The Study Report and Legislation

o   God is love and God’s grace is available to all

o   Response to gays and lesbians must be out of concern for their well-being

o   The church could teach:

-  Sexuality is a good gift from God best expressed through “responsible, committed, monogamous, loving adult relationships”

-  Homosexuals currently serving in the UMC have gifts and graces

-  Basic human rights should be protected

-  Acknowledged various scientific explanations

-  Promoted safe sexual practice

-  Conduct dialogue with respect for one another

o   The church could not teach:

-  That Scripture is indifferent or non-binding

-  That gays and lesbians are dysfunctional, promiscuous, or prone to seduce and corrupt others

o   In regards to denying membership, “The church is called to be a voice for those who have no voice and a home to those who have no home. As a voice, the church must be an advocate for the human rights of people suffering from repression. As a home, the church must be warmly hospitable to all persons, while also being a community for moral discernment.”

o   The study recommended study by local churches and delete the incompatibility clause in favor of a clause stating disagreement

o   The Study passed except for the deletion of incompatibility language

o   Support for basic human and civil rights of gays and lesbians passed calling for protection concerning “shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of authority and other such laws… …we support efforts to stop violence…”

Debate for retaining homosexual language and restrictions

o   Membership loss, division and institutional failure

o   Homosexuals hurt children (one delegate reported being abused by his scout leader)

o   The Study was not popular with the general membership

o   Past/future membership loss is due to the church not taking a stand

o   Global Church concerns including one delegate who called homosexuality a disease that he feared would be spread to Africa

Debate for deletion of homosexual language and restrictions

o   Should not vote out of fear, but prophetic truth

o   Central Conferences have the right to change the Social Principles to fit their context

o   Scripture was looked at in context and through the lens of God’s covenant love and grace


“Self avowed practicing homosexuals” was looked at various times by the Judicial Council

15 Bishops aka “The Denver 15” issued a statement urging churches to “open their doors in gracious hospitality to all our brothers and sisters.” This violated the Episcopal covenant of The Council of Bishops and created controversy, but also voiced the silent pain of many in the church.

1996 General Conference


o   A compromise statement of disagreement made it out of committee by one vote

o   Conducting same-sex unions was not allowed

o   Self-avowed practicing homosexual was defined as a person openly acknowledging that they are a practicing homosexual

o   A petition was passed calling for the rights of gays and lesbians to serve in the US military

Debate for compromise

o   Bring unity and end adversarial relationships that divide the body

o   Not winners and losers

o   All persons are united in their Baptisms, and compromise would acknowledge diversity

o   We need each other and we need healing

o   Compromise encompasses all persons in the church

Debate against compromise

o   Homosexuality is a very important moral issue

o   We are called to choose sides, not find common ground

o   Scripture defines one man and one woman as heteronormative

o   Homosexuality is not natural and against human dignity

o   Homosexuality is not culturally accepted

o   Condoning homosexuality would lead to condoning sexual relationships with children

o   Worldwide nature of the church


1300+ clergy signed The Statement of Conscience declaring dissent with the church’s position on homosexuality

Good News publish The More Excellent Way: God’s Plan Re-Affirmed affirming the church’s position and calling for an end to debate

Rev. Jimmy Creech was found not guilty after conducting a same-sex union because the Social Principles were deemed not church law

92 clergy signed a statement saying they would perform same-sex unions

Goodnews leader and President of Asbury Maxie Dunnam called the verdict and “onslaught against our disunity” and warned readers that ‘the unity of our church and the future of the connection are gravely threatened”

Good News published a magazine with a sinking Titanic on the cover asking “Will Homosexuality Sink the UMC?” and presented schism as inevitable in the issue, inviting progressives to leave

Good News called for churches to withhold apportionments if something wasn’t done at the next General Conference

Three large churches voted to withhold apportionments

18 clergy and 25 lay in CA-Nevada asked that they be allowed to separate from the UMC

Council of Bishops sought to kindle reconciliation

Rev. Gregory Dell was found guilty for conducting a same-sex union and was put on a one-year suspension

Rev. Creech again was put on trial for anther union

150+ clergy co-officiated a same-sex union; charges were dismissed

Good News called on the Council of Bishops to propose legislation allowing dissenting clergy and churches to leave the UMC without financial penalty

A coalition was formed among the different progressive advocate groups for full inclusion and planned protests for General Conference

2000 General Conference

Legislation, Protests and Debate

o   "We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn their lesbian and gay members and friends."

o   Delegates rejected a proposal that would have required all pastors to sign a statement before they could be assigned to any church: "I do not believe that homosexuality is God's perfect will for any person. I will not practice it. I will not promote it. I will not allow its promotion to be encouraged under my authority."

o   Soulforce and a coalition for full inclusion led demonstrations outside the hall, and 191 people were arrested; a protest was held on the conference resulted in the arrest of 30 individuals, including two bishops.

o   Similar arguments were made as in years past

o   Legislation passed that re-calculated delegates based on membership which allowed conservatives to gain control for the future


Charges were filed against transgender clergy and clergy who came out as gay

The Judicial Council affirmed the right of clergy to have a trial and due-process

2004 General Conference


o   Compromise petitions were attempted on “incompatible” and ordination; They both narrowly failed, 55% to 45% and 51% to 49%

o   "The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."

o   Delegates defeated a minority report that would have given each annual conference or central conference the responsibility of determining how it will approach homosexuality as it relates to a person's fitness for ministry.

o   Language was strengthened prohibiting same-sex unions and funding restrictions

Debate, Protest, and Talk of Schism

o   Eddie Fox, Director for Evangelism for the World Methodist Council, argued that compromise on homosexuality would marginalize minority groups, especially in the global church, and would threaten the unity of the Church

o   A chalice was broken by the coalition to symbolize the brokenness the LGBTQ community felt

o   A protest march through the delegates was allowed with permission by Bishop Huie

o   A forum was held for people from both sides to have conversation

o   Good News called for an amicable split

o   Reconciling Ministries was against schism

o   The Unity Resolution was passed 869 to 41 stating “As United Methodists, we remain in covenant with one another, even in the midst of disagreement, and affirm our commitment to work together for the common mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the world.”

2008 General Conference

Legislation and Debate

o   Rejected changes to the United Methodist Social Principles that would have acknowledged that church members disagree on homosexuality. "Faithful, thoughtful people who have grappled with this issue deeply disagree with one another; yet all seek a faithful witness."

o   Eddie Fox said that any United Methodist statement on human sexuality needs to be "clear, concise and faithful to biblical teaching." Leaving out the statement that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching" would be confusing, especially for members of the church outside the United States. Vote to retain language was 501-417.

o   Added the words "sexual orientation" to an existing resolution regarding a commitment to educational opportunity regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin or economic or social background


  1. This is an awesome and fascinating summary. Thanks, Andy!

  2. Any idea whether that study report is online somewhere?

  3. So why then do I need to be an become ordained online? Well let's look at that question. In order to preach and serve our Lord it is important to have a strong education about His Word the Bible.