Local United Methodists split on giving gay members bigger role in church
Posted February 25, 2019 6:33 p.m. EST
Updated February 26, 2019 4:56 a.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — Delegates to a United Methodist Church conference are expected to vote Tuesday on whether to provide gay people a larger role in the church – a decision that could split the church.
Right now, the church technically forbids gays serving in the ministry and same sex-marriage, but that may soon change. More than 850 delegates, including 36 from North Carolina, are meeting in St. Louis to discuss LGBT issues.
The delegates are considering several options:
- The "One Church Plan" would leave decisions about same sex-marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy up to regional bodies.
- The "Traditional Plan" would keep the bans in place.
- The "Connectional Conference Plan" would divide the church into three branches, with local congregations grouped according to their stance on homosexuality.
"God's will is for Christians to be unified, and for the church to become two is of a concern right now, and on top of that, people will be hurt," said Rev. Alan Felton, pastor of North Raleigh United Methodist Church.
The LGBT issues have been debated for decades, but they became a major focus of the church a few years ago when the council of bishops was asked to find a way forward for the church.
"It's time for this. It's long past time," said Rev. Jason Butler, pastor of Open Table United Methodist Church in downtown Raleigh.
Open Table welcomes openly gay members, and Butler said they should be allowed to play a more prominent role in the church.
"Ultimately, we feel like this is a justice issue," he said. "As a church – me as a pastor – we want to stand with the LGBT community and say, 'We're with you. We stand with you. We believe that you should be recognized, that you should be able to lead in their spaces.'"
Felton's church has many traditional members uneasy with a change.
"Some Christians believe that scripture is clear – homosexual relationships are against God's will – while others read scripture very differently," he said.
About 30 percent of the delegates in Saint Louis are from Africa and have expressed relatively conservative views on sexuality in the past that has helped keep the LGBT ban in place.