Minnesota delegates representing the United Methodist Church across the state declared commitment to the full inclusion of LGBT members at its three-day conference last week, repudiating the anti-homosexual stance taken by the global United Methodist Church several months ago.
The vote appeared to put the conservative and progressive wings of the church on a collision course, but church leaders cautioned against the presumption that a breakup was inevitable.
“It’s building hope among those of us who are quite sure that we can’t be a church that is not inclusive,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Macaulay, head pastor of Rochester’s Christ United Methodist Church and a supporter of a more inclusive church.
The United Methodist Church in Minnesota includes about 360 churches and 57,000 members.
State delegates voted 491-86 in support of a vision of the church that fully supports LGBTQIA+ members. Delegates also voted to repudiate the “traditional plan” approved by the global church at a special General Conference last February in St. Louis that declared opposition to homosexuality and gay marriage.
At the St. Louis meeting, the larger church also voted for the first time to impose penalties on clergy who perform same-sex marriages, including suspension and loss of credentials.
The actions taken this week by 800 Minnesota United Methodists — both laity and clergy — at their annual meeting in St. Cloud reflect similar conferences taking place in states across the U.S. Those state conferences are also voting on delegates to send to its General Conference next year. One church leader said many of those gatherings are voting to send progressive delegates.
The vote in Minnesota and other states sets up a potentially dramatic worldwide gathering of Methodists next year in Minneapolis, when the larger church will have to decide how to resolve its differences or to break apart.
“The calling of the church has always been to make visible and real the radical and unconditional love of God for all people,” said Bishop Bruce R. Ough, resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area, in a statement. “As a bishop and leader in the church, I apologize for the ways we have fallen short of that ideal.”
Christ United Methodist Church in Rochester has been particularly vocal in its opposition to the global church’s stance against homosexuality, which has been part of the church’s Book of Discipline since 1972. For Pride Month this month, the Rochester church set up an installation of doors emblazoned in Pride Flag colors on its north portico.
Church leaders said the lead-up to the general conference will be one of organizing and reflection on the implications of a church break-up, if one does occur.
“Some people are seeing the writing on the wall and say, ‘Hey, maybe we need to take a step back and look at something different,’” said the Rev. Cindy Gregorson, director of connectional ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference.