LGBTQ Inclusion--A Letter from Rev. Richenda

Beloved congregation;


In just a few weeks, there will be a specially called General Conference of the global United Methodist Church in St. Louis, Missouri. Delegates from across the United States and across the world will be attending. The purpose of this special General Conference is to consider a way forward for the greater United Methodist Church as concerns our many years of conflict over full inclusion of LGBTQ people.


First, I would like to speak very plainly that the First United Methodist Church of Ashland is already an inclusive church. We have affirmed together in Ashland that all persons are children of God. Our church is part of the Reconciling Ministries Network of churches committed to welcoming people into church life regardless of gender identification and/or sexual orientation. At Ashland Methodist we are a Christian family of faith, sharing the grace and love of God with all people. We do not simply accept LGBTQ and cisgender people in faith, we serve in ministry as disciples together, side by side.


Over the next few weeks, United Methodist, mainstream, and religious news organizations will be covering the special conference in St. Louis. There has been a lot of rancor about the subject of human sexuality over the years, and this conversation will be perhaps more rancorous than ever. As our country is divided, so are our churches. As such, truly hurtful things are already being said. I need every member and constituent of our church to know that you and your family are deeply loved and deeply claimed. No matter what hurtful things you may hear in the next number of weeks, you are wanted here, you are loved here, you belong here. Each of us and all of us are beloved children of God.


I will be traveling to St. Louis to attend this conference. As I will be offering my prayers and my presence for our denomination, I will also be offering my grief at the hurtfulness of the debate. I pray that we can see our way through the rancor, that we can recognize the God-given diversity of human kind, and that the Spirit will call The United Methodist Church globally to claim, name, and openly and unreservedly welcome all God’s beloved folx to our churches.


Many of you have or will have questions. Below I have attached links and some basic information.


In the meanwhile, know that we live and worship in an area and context where United Methodists and United Methodist leadership understand the importance of inclusion. We are part of the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church, which includes much of the Western United States. All the bishops leading in the Western Jurisdiction have called for inclusion, and the first openly gay bishop, Rev. Karen Oliveto, was consecrated within our Jurisdiction. Our Western Jurisdiction includes the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area. The Greater Northwest Area includes the Pacific Northwest Conference, the Oregon-Idaho Conference, and Alaska. We in the Greater Northwest Area have one shared bishop, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky. Our bishop has worked tirelessly and faithfully to advocate and act for inclusion. Within our conferences, our District Superintendents, conference staff persons, and the Boards of Ordained Ministry have repeatedly affirmed the call, leadership and ordinations of LGBTQ persons.


But above all, remember you are loved. United Methodists across our conference and jurisdiction, and across the nation and the world, will walk together in St. Louis and for as long as it takes, calling for One Church, calling for full inclusion, calling for us to recognize the Christ within us all.


In Christ,

Rev. Richenda


FAQs & Links

Links and More:

Below I have tried to give basic answers to general questions. Following the questions/answers are links that will take you to videos, webpages, and facebook pages that will give more information about the upcoming special conference.


FAQs:


Why and how is The United Methodist Church divided?

Because there are so many United Methodists in the United States, the people in our churches tend to hold views that correspond to their geographical area. As such, as the United States is divided politically, those divisions can be reflected in the local church. In the discussions about LGBTQ inclusion in the United States in general we see divisions in rural areas vs urban areas, and the regions of our country such as the South, West, Northeast, or Midwest. The churches in these regions reflect similar divisions. 


Add to that the fact that The United Methodist Church is a global church, and globally, we see those divisions, too. The churches in Africa, the Philippines, Korea, and other nations have as a whole not been in favor of LGBTQ inclusion. Often, in those contexts, human sexuality is understood differently, or, there is repression directly threatening to LGBTQ people. When the global church has gathered to make decisions, the conservative American South has built alliances globally, and this is part of why it has been so difficult to make progress locally.


We are a ‘big tent’ denomination. This means we have tremendous reach to do good all over the world. It also means that with some 80 million United Methodists worldwide, balancing attitudes and understanding of human sexuality has proved very challenging for our diverse church.


Who are the big influencers of The United Methodist Church right now? 

Local churches are always the biggest influencers of the church. Local churches join together into districts and districts join together into conferences. Being a member of The United Methodist Church means you get a voice in the vote for governance of our greater church whenever our Annual Conferences gather. 


Besides our connections to each other in conferences, we also band together in groups. The Reconciling Ministries Network is a group of United Methodists working for full inclusion. Other advocacy groups are the Western Methodist Justice Movement and the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Many of our United Methodist General Boards are also active in advocacy, such as the General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Higher Education. Many United Methodist seminaries also affirm a desire for full inclusion. The loudest voice in Methodism against full inclusion belongs to the Wesleyan Covenant Association. 


Will The United Methodist Church split? 

It is possible that the church could split, splinter, or fracture. With so many diverse people from so many different places with such different and sometimes opposing attitudes, ruptures can happen. This has historically been a strength of Methodism. We value unity, but we also recognize sometimes a group needs to go their own way. These folks who have left the domination have historically been called ‘come-outers.’ A name that is fairly ironic in this context. It means simply that these local churches have 'come out' of the main Methodist body to form churches of their own. 


Though it is healthy when there is some wiggle room for those who find themselves at odds with the main church, it can be a threat to church integrity when the divide becomes great. The conversation about the inclusion of LGBTQ people has resulted in a number of different opinions. The divide is real. No matter what decision is made in February, there will be people unhappy with it. Some of them may leave. 


Has the Methodist church split before?

Yes. The church split North and South over slavery. Before the American Civil War there were many debates at Methodist conferences about slavery. Once the North had the votes to declare slaveholding against the moral tenets of the church, the Southern Churches split and formed their own denomination. The churches eventually reconciled to become once more a single denomination. 


What is proposed as a solution to the division? 

At the General Conference in 2016, the delegates asked the Council of Bishops to come up with a solution to the dilemma facing the church. The Council of Bishops spent two years gathering a wide range of folks in order to talk, pray, and discern together. They called this ‘A way forward.’ From their discernment, they drafted and recommended the One Church Plan. This plan removes the language from our Book Of Discipline that denigrates LGBTQ people. It allows different conferences to be responsive to their context, so that in places like the Western United States, LGBTQ people can serve openly without fear of a church trial. 


Are there other proposals? 

 Yes. There are other proposals including the Traditionalist Plan. The Traditionalist Plan would double down on church restrictions against LGBTQ people and clergy who would conduct same sex marriages. The Wesleyan Covenant Association is the main backer of this plan. The Bishops do not recommend this plan. 


What progress has been made? 

A lot, but not enough. We are blessed to live in the Western Jurisdiction where there is tremendous support for inclusion. The Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church includes Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming, the Bishops have openly advocated for LGBTQ inclusion in all parts of church life. Rev. Karen Oliveto, a married lesbian woman of faith, was elected and consecrated as bishop from within this jurisdiction and is serving the Mountain Sky Regional Area. 


What will happen in Ashland if The United Methodist Church splits? 

Ashland decided in 2008 to be a fully welcoming church. Ashland is also in a very inclusive context. With both those things together I do not anticipate anything will change in terms of how we welcome all God’s beloved children here at Ashland Methodist, even if the global church were to rebound into harsher polity as a whole. If a split is necessary, I am confident in the leadership of our bishop and the bishops of our jurisdiction to lead us to a new day. The Lutheran church, Presbyterian Church, and other churches have experienced splits around this very issue. These churches continue to live vibrantly and hopefully in faith, as will we. I believe God calls us to inclusion, and that is the call I plan to follow.


LINKS:

 

Video: A message from the Bishops of the Western Jurisdiction (our Jurisdiction), that includes Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, our bishop, and Bishop Karen Oliveto, the first openly lesbian UMC Bishop. This link includes a transcript. 

 

Video: The One Church Plan simply explained.

 

Podcast: The bishops discuss the One Church Plan. Bishop Stanovsky is interviewed in Episode 14. 

 

A Letter to the Editor written by Bishop Stanovsky. This letter also appears on the Love Your Neighbor Coalition website.

 

The One Church Plan website. The One Church Plan is the plan recommended by the majority of the bishops on the Council of Bishops. 


The Special Session of 2019 website.  

 

The One Church Plan explanation from the United Methodist News Service.  


The United Methodist News Service will provide varied and specific coverage of the proposed plans and the conference. 

 

The Pacific Northwest News Blog will carry articles also covering the conference. 

 

The Love Your Neighbor Coalition will cover the conference from an inclusive LGBTQ perspective. 


All things General Conference:

The main web page with General Conference business and the livestream here. 

 


If you are on Facebook, you can follow these different pages for information:

Reconciling Ministries Network

United Methodist News Service

The Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church

The Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church.

The Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church.

The Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church

The Western Methodist Justice Movement

The Methodist Federation for Social Action