Conversations About Same-Gender Relationships and the United Methodist Church
By: Rev. Keith Turman
On four Wednesdays, January 9 – January 30, 2019, following our Wonderful Wednesday meal, we will gather for a series of important conversations about our church and same-gender relationships. Our decision to initiate these conversations was influenced by several things. For decades the United Methodist Church has wrestled with an appropriate response to same-gender marriage and the ordination of people who are gay. In 2016, the Council of Bishops called for a Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, which will convene in St. Louis, Missouri February 23-26, 2019. Delegates from around the world will work to find a way forward. The question at the center of this conversation: Should we fully include gay and lesbian people in our journey as United Methodists, specifically as it relates to marriage and ordination? We know there is high anxiety and sharp disagreement. We realize that this topic has caused much pain and fear, and now threatens to splinter our great denomination. This is a crucial conversation that we cannot ignore, and one that we must handle well.
So we will gather in small groups around our tables, hear stories from members of our church family, and explore the Scriptures together. Our time will be structured to encourage courageous dialogue that will happen with group-created norms and structured discussion questions. We will receive instruction from Biblical scholars, and be respectfully guided by trained facilitators.
According to Rev. Tom Berlin, our answers to the above question (Should we fully include gay and lesbian people in our journey as United Methodists?) are likely to fall into one of four categories. Some of us will say, “Yes, we should include gay and lesbian people, and I can’t be a part of any church that fails to do so.” Another group of us will say, “No, we should not include them in this way, and I can’t be a part of any church that does.” A third group of us will say, “Yes, we should include them, and I can journey with people who disagree with me on the matter.” And finally, some of us will say, “No, we shouldn’t include them, but I can journey with those who disagree with me.”
Our goal is not consensus or agreement. Imagine conversations you’ve had around your dinner table with people you love. We hope to create a similar experience—caring conversations in a trusting, safe, and confidential environment. We approach these conversations with two assumptions. First, we assume that our opinions and feelings differ, sometimes quite dramatically. We are standing in different places. Second, we assume that all of us have concerns and questions about same-gender relationships in our church. Some of us are concerned that the United Methodist Church will open its doors too wide. Others of us are afraid that the doors will not open at all.
So, we hope you will come. We hope you will share your stories, ask your questions, raise your concerns and discuss your fears. The space will become sacred and safe with our commitment to each other—to listen with love, respect our differences, and want only the best for one another. Our prayer is that we’ll know God’s heart in this matter, that we’ll experience God’s grace amid disagreement, and that we’ll continue our journey together, making God’s love real in our community and world.