By Jessica Brodie
Members of one church council are urging South Carolina delegates to General Conference 2016 to consider changing language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality.
Individual members of the church council of Clemson United Methodist Church, Clemson, submitted a letter to delegates in April and asking delegates to consider Clemson’s story as they consider proposals to amend The Book of Discipline regarding the church’s inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer persons. Recently, the church experienced pain as one of its lay staff members—feeling a call to ministry but unable to pursue ordination as clergy because of his sexual orientation—resigned.
“Our Clemson United Methodist Church family is like most. We do not agree on all things, and we live in the tension of how best to respond to questions regarding the church and LGBTQ persons today,” the letter reads in part. “But on this we agree: the current stance of The United Methodist Church is harmful to individuals and to local churches. We plead with you and the entire General Conference to remove the language of our current polity stating that the practice of homosexuality is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’ Further, we implore you to consider changes in our Book of Discipline so that local churches, who have the most interaction with persons considering calls to representative ministry, are empowered to recommend persons for candidacy without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.”
See below for the rest of the letter.
Clemson’s senior pastor, the Rev. Keith Ray, said those who drafted the letter did not want to ask the council as a whole to send it because they did not want to make anyone not in agreement uncomfortable. So they produced a letter, shared it with the church council and invited individuals to sign it as they left the meeting.
“Everyone in attendance signed,” Ray said, noting others unable to be at the meeting dropped by after to sign it, too. ”I am so thankful for a community that, while we may not agree on every aspect of LGBTQ equality, is committed to being a place of welcome for all.”
Human sexuality is one of the major issues being addressed at this year’s General Conference. To learn more about this and other legislation the delegation will be addressing, visit gc2016.umc.org.
Letter from Clemson Church Council Members to S.C. General Conference Delegation
Dear Fellow United Methodist:
Grace and peace to you as you make final preparations for General Conference. We are thankful for your willingness to give yourself to the task of serving on the South Carolina delegation as you join United Methodists from all over the world May 10 – 20, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. We pray for you, that the Spirit will accompany you in your work and discernment.
We write today as individual members of the Church Council of Clemson United Methodist Church to share our story and ask that you remember the experience of our community and many others as you consider proposals to amend The Book of Discipline regarding the church’s inclusion of LGBTQ persons. We are keenly aware of the limitations of our current polity because we are now dealing with the consequences of losing a gifted lay staff member who no longer feels he can serve The United Methodist Church. As a worship leader in our newest Sunday morning service, he stands before the community each week, helping the assembly sing praises to God. His many talents in creative design have been crucial in increasing the impact of our new service, which has brought many persons to our community, some who have been away from the Church for a long time, some new to the Church, and some longing for a faith community that embodies the grace and love for all people that is clearly seen in the life of Jesus. Our young staff member has impacted our church and community in significant ways. Indeed, he feels called to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church but he knows he cannot pursue this calling in South Carolina as a gay man. As an infant he was baptized in The United Methodist Church. He has served in district and annual conference ministries as a youth and young adult. He has felt the embrace of a local church when coming to terms with his own sexual orientation. But now, in his move toward honesty, he is experiencing the pain of exclusion as embodied in our current Book of Discipline. We have discovered that we are faced with a dilemma that the Church has experienced before: we see a person filled with the Spirit and gifted uniquely for ordained ministry but who is, based on Church polity, excluded. He is, in the eyes of our connectional Church, a Samaritan.
Our Clemson United Methodist Church family is like most. We do not agree on all things and we live in the tension of how best to respond to questions regarding the Church and LGBTQ persons today. But on this we agree: the current stance of The United Methodist Church is harmful to individuals and to local churches. We plead with you and the entire General Conference to remove the language of our current polity stating that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Further, we implore you to consider changes in our Book of Discipline so that local churches, who have the most interaction with persons considering calls to representative ministry, are empowered to recommend persons for candidacy without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.
In early Christianity the people of God had to consider how wide the welcome of God was going to be in Church polity and practice. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they chose to open the doors to the Church in ways that many found troubling. Yet their decision was the right one and the Church flourished as the message of Jesus extended beyond Jerusalem. We believe the Spirit is moving in a similar way today in the Church, calling us to reform, especially as we learn more about human sexuality and the sacred imprint upon all human lives regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation.
Know of our prayers for you and all who gather in a few weeks to consider how best to live our calling as United Methodist Christians in the world. May the Spirit be poured out upon you and all who are called to lead as our delegates. Grace and peace.
—Individual members of the Clemson UMC Church Council