On May 1, by an overwhelming margin of 692-51, United Methodist Church (UMC) delegates repealed the longstanding ban on LGBTQ clergy. At the first meeting of the UMC’s General Conference in five years, the delegates removed a rule prohibiting “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from being ordained as ministers.

Applause greeted the vote, a testament to the joy and relief felt by many. Advocates embraced, some overcome with tears, and one voice rang out, “Thanks be to God.” After generations of controversy and the departure of many leaders who supported the ban, this outpouring of emotion underscores the profound shift in the denomination’s stance.

Without specifically ordering the church to include LGBTQ clergy, the removal of the explicit ban means that the UMC no longer forbids them, a measure which will take effect once the General Conference ends. The change also most likely applies mainly to American churches as the UMC leaders in other countries, such as the more conservative African nations, still have the authority to set guidelines and rules for their areas.

“It’s a very liberating day for United Methodists who are actively involved with LGBTQ people,” said the Rev. David Meredith, board chair for the Reconciling Ministries Network. This group has long advocated for LGBTQ inclusion in the church.

Compared with the more volatile general conferences of the past, this one is “much more upbeat,” added Jan Lawrence, executive director of the network. “Yes, we’re going to have things we disagree on. But the vitriol that we saw in 2019, that is not evident at all.”

Another approved measure forbids local administrators from penalizing clergy for either performing a same-sex wedding or for declining to do so. It also forbids them from prohibiting or mandating a church from hosting a same-sex ceremony. Later in the Conference, delegates will vote on replacing the current Social Principles with an amended document replacing the phrase calling the “practice of homosexuality…incompatible with Christian teaching” with new wording defining marriage as between “two people of faith” rather than between a man and a woman.

Since the previous General Conference in 2019, more than 7,600 primarily conservative congregations—a quarter of the total in the U.S. — disaffiliated from the UMC in protest of the denomination’s decreasing enforcement of bans on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ ordination. During the four-year window from 2019-2023, U.S. churches were permitted to leave over “reasons of conscience” with their properties and assets intact. Though the window is now closed, conservatives are pushing for an extension for those churches that disagree with the current General Conference’s changes.

“We get it, the United Methodist Church wants to be done with disaffiliation,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of the conservative advocacy group Good News. “They want to step into this new day. We do not want to keep them from that. But how can disaffiliation be over when it never began for the majority of United Methodists?”

After the vote, joyous delegates gathered and sang a Methodist song, which has become an anthem for LGBTQ Christians: “Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still. Let this be our song: No one stands alone.”

Image credits: LGBT celebration at Foundry United Methodist Church by Elvert Barnes 2.0

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