Preaching inclusion

Church’s fight for LGBTQ+ affirmation

Andrew Stez, Features Editor

The LGBTQ+ community and the Christian faith historically have been diametrically opposed, with one side claiming that their love is equal and should be embraced by society, while the other saying it is a sin that should not be embraced by the church. 

But in recent years some churches have begun to shift their views to one of affirmation and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, a necessary shift in order for churches to truly practice what they preach. 

Denominations such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church and other smaller denominations have affirmed LGBTQ+ individuals, and many of these denominations have loosened restrictions on LGBTQ+ people serving in leadership roles within the church.

According to the New York Times, the United Methodist Church has created a proposal that, if passed during their May conference, would see one of the largest denominations in the United States split into two churches. The more progressive churches would remain the United Methodist Church and the more traditionalist churches would break away to form their own denomination.

This proposal is a monumental shift in United Methodist policies that, just last year, reaffirmed penalties for pastors who officiated same-sex marriages and for LGBTQ+ leaders within the church. 

This change seeks to finally rectify a situation that the church has long had to gripe with: the long debate of whether LGBTQ+ individuals are to be affirmed by the church or cast away from their church communities. 

Pastor Tom Peterson from Sand Point Community United Methodist Church provided his perspective as a progressive searching for the affirmation of LGBTQ+ individuals on the potential for a split in the church.

“I don’t think the progressives want to see a split as much as they want to see the LGBTQ community included in the life of the church with no restrictions, but that is just not going to happen as the conservatives are concerned,” Peterson said.

However, “inclusion” is still a term that, for many in the LGBTQ+ community, is a complicated word. Many churches use words such as “affirm” or “welcome” without necessarily being clear what that means within their church community.

Peterson’s approach is one of openness to LGBTQ+ individuals, whether they are members of the church or member of the church leadership.

“The LGBTQ community should be a part of church as who they are without having to hide who they are. That has been the case for many, many years,” Peterson said. 

“To me it’s about whether the church will be inclusive or exclusive.”

This is why the split into two denominations is paramount for many churches to be able to practice their beliefs of tolerance. 

Currently, the church’s policies according to The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church are ones of exclusion. They force many LGBTQ+ people in leadership to remain quiet about their sexuality in order to, from their perspective, serve God faithfully; or they may otherwise face possible consequences. This also affects members within the church community who may feel uncomfortable expressing their sexuality. 

This policy of exclusion threatens leaders within the church, such as Karen Oliveto, an openly lesbian bishop serving in the Rocky Mountain conference. Currently, there is a hold on any action that could lead to the punishment of church leaders in regards to LGBTQ+ issues, but if this resolution does not pass, there is a chance that these leaders could face punishment — including suspension from their positions. 

While the resolution would mean the split of the United Methodist Church, in the long run it would allow for both parties to practice their beliefs. The traditionalists will be able to continue to practice their policies of exclusion, while the progressives will be emboldened to be inclusive of everyone. Progressives can finally do what they believe is right and can start affirming LGBTQ+ people without fear of repercussions. 

This split is also necessary in that it lessens the level sexuality plays in determining one’s fitness to serve both their church and God.

“We can’t make sexual orientation the only determining factor in whether or not they can capably serve the church and God and, right now, [in] The Book of Discipline, that is the main factor,” Peterson said. 

People must also question how they interpret scripture, which has been one of the main reasons why traditionalists have been against affirming LGBTQ+ individuals. 

Peterson pointed to two commandments that Jesus, himself, said were the two most important in the Bible: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor. He argued that many traditionalists were doing the opposite of this by judging LGBTQ+ people for something many ancient Jews would have had little knowledge of: modern day human sexuality.

“I would really encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to see that all people — not just the gay community — through the lense of those two verses.”

While the split in the United Methodist Church may seem like an ironic fate for a unified church, it actually could be the catalyst to bring together a church that, for years, has faced internal struggles in regards to LGBTQ+ issues. 

If the resolution passes, soon it will be able to focus on what God called upon everyone to do: serve God by loving everyone equally, regardless of their identity.