By Kathy L. Gilbert
The Northeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church approved a resolution July 19 affirming its commitment to the rights of all persons including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
The five jurisdictions of the church are meeting to elect bishops and conduct other business. The areas meet every four years after the denomination’s worldwide gathering. The Northeastern Jurisdiction includes the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
“We offer it acknowledging the deep pain that exists in our church,” said the Rev. Scott Campbell, a clergy delegate from the New England Conference, who submitted the resolution. “It also recognizes the conflicting covenants that many of our pastors and church leaders experience in seeking to be faithful to their calling.”
The 2012 United Methodist General Conference, the top lawmaking body of the denomination, rejected changes to its law book that would have allowed LGBT persons to become ordained elders and to perform same-sex marriages. The General Conference met April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla.
The Northeastern resolution states, “Clergy, lay persons and congregations may feel bound by conscience to offer the ministries and sacraments of the church to all persons on an equal basis and that even though bound to the Book of Discipline, we are also bound by Jesus’s commandment to stand with the marginalized and the oppressed in our midst.”
The Rev. Larry Baird, Upper New York Conference delegate, said he had been in conversation with Campbell and others but opposed the resolution. “I believe this simply escalates the tension and escalates the battle,” he said.
The Rev. Mark Flynn of West Virginia said he believed the position the jurisdiction was asked to take was contradictory to the tradition of the denomination and Christian church as whole. He could support it “only if there is a clear scriptural argument for doing so.”
Shirley Readdean, an African-American lay woman from Upper New York, said the United Methodist quest for justice is what originally drew her to the denomination. She said she heard the same arguments when it came to race.
“I feel like I’m in a second go-round with the same issue: who’s in and who’s out,” she said. “This is a justice issue.”
The resolution was approved by 61 percent. More than 50 delegates and alternates had signed the petition before its presentation at the conference.
While the majority affirmation was enough to approve the resolution, the vote was still indicative of the continued division of the church on this issue. By the end of the break after the vote, a group identifying itself as the Northeast Jurisdiction Evangelical Connection (NEJEC) expressed its disappointment in the decision by distributing a short statement outside of the conference proceedings. The statement included a reminder that “the position of The United Methodist Church on human sexuality has not changed.”
Information for this report was provided by Alexx Wood, director of communications, New England Annual Conference.