United Methodist Church moving toward all-inclusive membership policy

The United Methodist Church (UMC) is taking a large step to ensure it is a denomination that willingly embraces all people. For years, if someone wanted to join a UMC, an individual would meet with a local pastor and after a time of evaluation, if all went well, the perspective member was allowed to join.

However, several years ago in Virginia, a gay man was denied membership into a UMC by the pastor. The church, which for years had operated on the idea of being inclusive, was suddenly at a crossroads. The pastor had denied membership to someone based on their sexual orientation. The church was no longer inclusive. They were appalled.

Reconciling Ministries Network is a division of the UMC that works to insure the rights of the GLBT community are recognized. They realized the list of those protected against discrimination under their Constitution leave out key groups of people. The proposed amendment will ensure no group is left out in the future by eliminating the current list which includes race, color, national origin and economic status.

The proposed amendment Reconciling Ministries put together is called “All Means All.”

“To say that all may become members of a church, to me, is the theological definition of a church,” said Duane Ewers, a retired pastor in the UMC, who serves as the Chair of the Nashville Area Reconciling Ministries (NARM). “And if you aren’t willing to say that, then you can’t call yourself a church.”

Ingrid McIntyre, an active member of the UMC and a recent graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C., said the updated constitution would eliminate personal agendas from being a factor in deciding who can join the church.

“In the past, people have been denied membership into the UMC, and that is the very thing we are working against," McIntyre said. "As our Constitution is currently written, it is left up to the individual pastor to decide if someone is ready for membership or not. Unfortunately, that language has allowed people (pastors) to put forth their own agenda.”

On May 2, 2008, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church passed a petition to amend their constitution with a requred 2/3 vote. This constitutional amendment will now be up for a vote at the Annual Conferences, a series of world-wide regional meetings to take place during the summer of 2009. If passed by 2/3 vote, it will extend membership to all persons.

It is easy to get lost in the political jargon of this amendment.  By focusing on proposals and conferences, it is often difficult to see the forest of people because of the trees of adversity that surround them. And since Jesus came for people, not proposals or amendments, let us look at how this amendment may affect the people of the local church.

Rodney Pickett has been a member at West End United Methodist since 1990, and he has been a Methodist his entire life. He and his partner Bryan Roberson have been together since 2001. Five years ago they wanted to have a commitment ceremony but knew this would be an issue for the church. 

Desiring their ceremony to be more about a commitment than a political statement, they had their ceremony at Trinity Presbyterian Church and invited a United Methodist minister to speak.

“I feel the church is moving in the right direction with this amendment," Pickett said. "If we were to leave the United Methodist Church, it would never change. Bryan and I feel called to be here. The pendulum is swinging toward a more inclusive church. But if we leave the United Methodist Church, it will never change.”

Pickett said West End United Methodist, which now offers a gay and lesbian Sunday School class, is further along that most Methodist churches.

“If a gay couple joins the church, they are introduced as a gay couple… this is a pretty big step for a main line denominational church," Pickett said.

Judi Hoffman, pastor of Edgehill United Methodist Church, also supports the amendment.

“To me, this amendment means the UMC is attempting to be an inclusive, embracing, grace-filled church," Hoffman said. "The issue is, I’ve got people, both gay and straight, who want to live their faith on a day to day basis, and they want to do it in a way that honors who they are. Celebrating who God has made people to be and how they are living their faith is so incredibly valuable.”

Hoffman said the change to the constitution is a big deal for the church but doesn't think it will cause the UMC to be divided.

"This amendment deals with membership only," Hoffman said. "It does not deal with ordaining an openly gay bishop or clergy. If we pushed that, then this would be a different issue.”

So while the United Methodist Church is not ordaining openly gay bishops or condoning Holy Unions, they are, as Rodney Pickett stated earlier, “moving in the right direction.” 

Hoffman said more than a hundred people participate in communion at Edgehill Methodist each week including couples, families and singles.

"The children are at the communion table helping and one week I heard one of them say, ‘This isn’t exactly heaven, but I can see heaven from here.’" Hoffman said. "It is so wonderful to see all these diverse people, and that is why I know God intends diversity.”

(Paragraph 4, Article IV of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church)
The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth and that we are in ministry to all. All persons shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, and upon baptism be admitted as baptized members. All persons, upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith and relationship with Jesus Christ, shall be eligible to become professing members in any local church in the connection. In the United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, or status of economic condition

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