A mainline Protestant denomination whose governing documents declare homosexuality incompatible with Christianity will soon offer benefits to same-sex couples.
The United Methodist Church's General Council on Finance and Administration will provide benefits to agency employees with same-gender spouses. While the UMC GCFA decision derived from a vote taken last year, it was not until last week that the highest court in the denomination ruled that it was acceptable.
During its April session in Little Rock, Arkansas, the United Methodist Judicial Council ruled in Decision No. 1264 that the GCFA's benefits expansion did not contradict the guidelines of the Book of Discipline.
Of specific concern had been ¶ 806.9 of the 2012 Discipline, which states in part that "no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality…"
"The General Council on Finance and Administration has the authority to determine whether or not the use of general agency funds violates the prohibition against using church funds 'to promote the acceptance of homosexuality'," reads No. 1264.
"… the General Council on Finance and Administration determined that the use of general agency funds to subsidize the premium costs for employees and their same-gendered spouses enrolled in the General Agencies Welfare Benefits Program does not violate ¶ 806.9 of the 2012 Discipline."
Last October, the board of directors for GCFA, which serves as the UMC's financial and administrative agency, voted to expand partner benefits for employees in same-sex partnerships who work for any of the 13 agencies of the UMC.
The benefits expansion only applied to those who worked for the UMC in states where same-sex relationships are legally recognized.
"The Board's decision was taken in light of actions taken in states where same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships are now the law of the land," said Bishop Michael J. Coyner, President of GCFA in a statement last October. "Our Board has sought with this action to make policy decisions that stay in conformity with both civil and church law … We look forward to the Judicial Council's guidance on this matter."
The Reverend Thomas Lambrecht, vice president and general manager of Good News Magazine, blogged last week that "GCFA has unilaterally contradicted church teaching with its expanded definition of marriage."
"It adopts a policy that contradicts church teaching on the definition of marriage, not only violating the beliefs and values of church members (not to mention Scripture) but creating confusion by sending a mixed message about what United Methodists believe marriage is," wrote Lambrecht.
"The wording of this policy is an unashamed capitulation to the changing mores of society, rather than standing firmly on the teachings of Scripture and 2,000 years of church teaching."