Methodist leaders from around the world this week voted to reaffirm the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage and gay clergy. Many American Methodists, including the New England Conference, had already moved to make their churches more inclusive of LGBTQ pastors and members.
New England Conference leader Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar commented in a statement: "My prayers continue for our church and for each of you in this covenantal community, for all LGBTQIA+ children of God and their allies, as well as for those who are listening to our words and watching our actions."
The vote now raises serious questions about the future of the United Methodist Church.
The Public’s Radio’s Chuck Hinman sat down with Pamela Lightsey, a lesbian Methodist pastor and activist with ties to Boston University, to discuss what's next for the church.
Chuck Hinman: Dr. Lightsey, you were at the UMC General Conference, what's your basic reaction to the vote?
Dr. Pamela Lightsey: That we have a lot of work to do til our next General Conference. The vote itself was, for me personally, not surprising. I went to General Conference knowing that the vote was not in our favor, and yet hoping against hope that our bishops had done the kind of work to help us to reach a place in our church where we could live together with one another despite our differences. That did not happen. And so we need now to posture ourselves in such a way that we can make some serious decisions about where we go.
CH: That would be my next question: what's next for the Methodist Church after this kind of vote?
PL: Well right now we have to wait to hear the final word from our Judicial Council. There were several petitions within the Traditional Plan that need to be reviewed and determined whether they are constitutional. And once we hear back from Judicial Council we'll have a better sense of the full body of the Traditional Plan. Right now we don't have that. We need to be patient and wait to hear back from our Judicial Council.
CH: Why do you think the vote went the way it did?
PL: For me it's rather apparent why it went the way it did. We have more delegates who are in line with a very conservative theological perspective than we have delegates who are in line with a more, what some would call, liberal perspective. In addition to that, our church is a global church. And the voting power of our church is not solely with American delegates. And I don't think people really understand that. Were we simply to count the votes of the American delegates, this matter would have been decided quite a while ago. And embracing inclusion of LGBTQ persons. But it's a much broader playing field, so to say. It includes international delegates, many of whom have a conservative perspective, and many of whom have been influenced by conservative theology from America. That is to say, colonialism still impacts the church abroad and in America.
CH: What are the implications for the church if this becomes the official position? Where do you go from here?
PL: Even before next year, many of what we call our Annual Conferences will begin to think about what direction they should take. This is really not decided. Some individuals have already decided that this is the last straw and that they will no longer, can no longer, out of good conscience affiliate with the United Methodist Church.
CH: So we could be looking at a split here.
PL: I wouldn't even use the word "could be." I think we are. I think what took place at our General Conference is the beginning of the end of what we know as United Methodism. I think it's over. The question is what will arise out of it.
CH: Well, we shall wait to hear. And what does this mean to you personally, this vote and this moment in the church?
PL: For me personally, this vote signals to me yet another moment where I am feeling the attack of oppression. Oppression as a black woman, oppression as a queer lesbian, the kind of oppression that I have seen in so many ways in my entire life. It saddens me to experience it from the church. It doesn't surprise me, but it saddens me that people who call themselves Christians are so determined to grasp for power and control in the form of bigotry. Because this is about power and control, ultimately. The first vote at the General Conference was about what to do with our pensions and our property. So it's clear to me that our church, the United Methodist Church, in terms of Protestantism is the last bastion and will be marked for its bigotry. For its racism, it's historic racism against Black and brown people. For its inability to see the ugliness of homophobia and transphobia. The United Methodist Church, for me personally, can no longer with integrity carry the title of United Methodism. It is something other than, and we have yet to determine what that other will be called.