Congregation will stand for inclusivity despite LGBTQ ruling
"Love louder!" became the rallying cry at my United Methodist church on Sunday, March 3.
Still reeling from General Conference's narrow vote to maintain discriminatory practices denying gay and lesbian persons ordination and marriage and to add stiff penalties for clergy, bishops, congregations and regional bodies that defy those prohibitions, we reaffirmed our commitment to full inclusivity.
Ten years ago my church, First United Methodist Church of Arlington Heights became a reconciling congregation, a United Methodist church that stands in opposition to the denomination's rules, by adopting this welcoming statement, "We celebrate humanity's diversity of age, racial and ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, special needs, socio-economic conditions and family status. Created in the image of God, all persons are worthy of God's love and grace and welcomed into full participation in the life of our congregation."
We back up this statement with ministries, including Rainbow Circle, a fellowship for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and non-binary people and Pinwheels, a ministry for gender creative kids and their families.
LGBTQ persons are on staff and serve as pastors. They chair committees, sing in the choir and teach Sunday school. Our clergy officiate at same-gender weddings in our sanctuary. None of this will change.
The United Methodist Church is a global and connectional church with thousands of churches and 80 million members worldwide. General Conference, a gathering every four years of 900 delegates, bishops and denominational staff, which happens every four years, governs our life together. General Conference 2019 was specially called outside of the typical four-year cycle to deal with our denomination's long-standing divisions articulated most clearly on issues of human sexuality.
There is much we still don't know about the final outcome of General Conference 2019. The Traditional Plan that was adopted will be reviewed by the United Methodist Judicial Council at the end of April. There is a slim hope that the whole plan will be thrown out.
We aren't a denomination that forces members through a narrow sieve of doctrinal correctness. Methodists have never been scriptural literalists. We use the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral," a practice of engaging with scripture, tradition, reason and experience to discern God's will.
On issues of human sexuality, we read Scripture in its cultural context. We apply what science teaches us about gender identity and sexual orientation. We pay attention to the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of gay clergy and acknowledge the love and health of families that include marriages between people of the same gender.
Inclusivity is Methodist. John Wesley, our founder, scandalized 18th century English Anglicans by preaching, not in a church building but in the fields and outside coal mines, in order to reach as many people as possible.
Methodists celebrate an open communion table, meaning worshippers do not have to be Methodist to partake. We don't create barriers to the experience of God's gift of unearned love, what we call grace.
Wesley said, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."
We hold grace, God's gift of unmerited love, above all things and proclaim the sacred worth of all people. We see Jesus as one who regularly broke down dividing lines between people and didn't care about offending the religious in order to reach the lost and vulnerable.
First UMC of Arlington Heights continues our work toward full inclusivity not in spite of our Methodist heritage, but because of it. We embrace LGBTQUIA+ persons not because it's popular but because it's Christian.
Melissa Earley is ordained clergy in the United Methodist Church and the lead pastor at First United Methodist Church of Arlington Heights. She attended General Conference as a volunteer and observer.