For one evening, one full day and one morning — Aug. 16-18 — people from three area United Methodist Church (UMC) conferences came together at a Prairie Village house of worship to advance LGBT inclusion in the denomination. The Kansas East, Kansas West and Nebraska Conferences were represented at Asbury UMC for “Our Family Gathering.” (On Sept. 1, these conferences will merge to become the Great Plains Conference.) The general public was invited to attend the workshops and listen to the messages of inspiration and music presentations.
The event was a way for LGBT allies in the three conferences to touch base and network after the denomination’s General Conference in the spring, according to the host church’s minister, the Rev. Gayla Rapp. At that quadrennial meeting, delegates voted to maintain the denomination’s position that homosexual acts are “incompatible with Christian teaching,” a phrase that has troubled equality-minded Methodists for four decades.
During the General Conference, several proposals dealing with LGBT Methodists were expected to be considered, including inclusive, yet ambiguous language about human value and a resolution regarding same-sex marriage. But these votes were canceled, leaving many disconcerted.
With increasing membership in the global United Methodist Church coming mainly from African congregations, the growing conservative nature of the denomination is a challenge for progressivists. It has been said of the LGBT topic, “We are not of one mind.”
Although the UMC Book of Discipline does technically eschew homosexual acts, there are many LGBT and allied Methodists and there are some UMC groups that profess to be welcoming to LGBT persons.
It remains prudent, however, for LGBT worshipers to be aware of the official doctrinal situation. In a highly conservative church or conference, a gay person may well be denied membership. Jimmy Creech was famously defrocked for performing a same-sex wedding as a United Methodist minister.
One purpose of the August gathering was to work toward resolving this disparity, making United Methodism a reconciling and welcoming denomination. Reconciling Ministries Network is a movement of UMC individuals and groups working for the full participation of all people in United Methodist Church without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.
On Aug. 16, the first evening of the gathering, the Rev. Jane Florence, senior pastor at First UMC in Omaha, delivered the welcoming sermon and the Heartland Men’s Chorus performed special music.
Friday’s schedule included a report from the General Conference, as well as regional conference news. Workshops were led by retired Bishop Fritz and Etta Mae Mutti; author Beverly Cole; the Rev. Steve Clunn, Methodist Federation for Social Action coalition coordinator; and Rachel Harvey, Reconciling Ministries Network Associate executive director.
A fifth workshop, called “An Altar for All,” dealt with the program by that name, in which more than a thousand UMC clergy across the United States “have signed statements committing themselves to fulfill their vow to ministry by marrying or blessing couples regardless of their gender.”
Biblical scholar Matthew Vines was added as a workshop presenter just days before the gathering. Vines gained some renown for his exhaustive exegesis of the Old and New Testaments (http://matthewvines.tumblr.com) that refutes the traditional clobber scriptures used as fuel for religious-based homophobia.
The Friday evening presentation was the keynote address by Joe Cobb and Leigh Anne Taylor, authors of Our Family Outing: A Memoir of Coming Out and Coming Through,” the titular basis for the gathering.
On Saturday, participants talked about what’s next, where they go in the future on LGBT inclusion and how to stay connected. Clunn, of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, delivered the closing sermon.
Methodism and Asbury
The current incarnation of the United Methodist Church is a result of the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968. The name Methodist dates to the 18th century Anglican movement begun by John and Charles Wesley, whose group was known for its piety and methodical examination of scripture.
Asbury UMC (5400 W. 75th St., Prairie Village, Kan.; visitasbury.org) has been around for about 60 years. Rapp says that as early as the 1950s and ’60s, members met in small groups to do in-depth Bible study, incorporating a skeptic’s eye into traditional scripture interpretation and discussing scientific, psychological and social justice issues.
Rapp believes that following a progressive and inclusive Christianity is the path for showing others the breadth of God’s welcome and hopes “Our Family Gathering” helps in paving the way toward that goal.
Asbury United Methodist Church
5400 W. 75th Street
Prairie Village, Kan.