A little over two years ago, I wrote an article for PJ Media about the United Methodist Church’s initiative called “Praying our Way Forward.” In the article, I explained that the UMC was “taking seventy-five weeks to determine if God’s parameters for sexuality are going to be obeyed by the denomination or not.” Well, it seems the 75 weeks are up because this Sunday (Feb. 23), the UMC kicks off a special General Conference in St. Louis. On the docket is a vote to decide if the UMC is going to officially ordain LGBTQ ministers and sanction same-sex marriages.
In the previous article, I also wrote:
The cynic in me wants to claim that these seventy-five weeks are actually a buffer that the Council of Bishops has given itself in order to figure out how to prevent the probably inevitable exodus of tithing members once they announce what the UMC Bishops have already decided.
It turns out that since I wrote that previous article, the UMC conducted a poll to help determine the theological makeup of their membership, and there are more conservatives sitting in UMC pews than liberals. The Christian Post reports that the UMC released the results of the poll this past fall. According to that poll, the CP writes, “44 percent of respondents identified as ‘Conservative-Traditional,’ 28 percent identified as ‘Moderate-Centrist,’ 20 percent identified as ‘Progressive-Liberal,”’and 8 percent identified as ‘unsure.'”
I’ve spoken to several conservative members of UMC churches and they assure me that if the vote goes the wrong way, their churches are planning on leaving the denomination. The denomination’s liberals are aware of the conservative majority’s beliefs and feelings on the matter, yet they are still working overtime to ensure that the vote goes the way they hope. This week, Religion News Service profiled Helen Ryde, who works as the Southeast regional organizer for the Reconciling Ministries Network. According to their website, Reconciling Ministries Network is a progressive organization that believes:
[T]hat human sexuality is a good gift from God. RMN is committed to supporting the integration of healthy, loving expressions of sexuality and spirituality for everyone. We celebrate the sexuality and spirituality of same and opposite gender loving persons and pledge to provide resources that lead to a deeper understanding of God’s precious gift.
To that end, as she has slowly made her way to St. Louis, Ryde, who is a married lesbian, has been visiting UMC churches in order to proselytize for RMN’s stated beliefs and agenda. RNS reports:
At each stop, she said a prayer she had composed before she left her Weaverville, N.C., home.
“Holy God,” her prayer read, “may every LGBTQ person who has ever been baptized, confirmed, attended or served this church know how fearfully and wonderfully made they are.”
At some churches, she folded the prayer into an envelope with her card and handed it to the church secretary. In other churches, where no one was around, she slipped the envelope underneath the door or tucked it into the mailbox.
Still as cynical as I was two years ago when I wrote the previous article, I’m assuming that on the other side of this special General Conference, the UMC will officially be an LGBTQ-affirming denomination. I’m also assuming that the denomination will suffer a large split that will render it almost as inconsequential as other mainline denominations.