UMC bishops issue pastoral letter to LGBT community, express remorse for 'demeaning' comments

Delegates pray before a plenary session at the United Methodist Church's 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon. | (Photo: Facebook/United Methodist General Conference)

The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops recently issued a pastoral letter expressing remorse at any rhetoric or deeds that have harmed the LGBT community.

In February, the UMC will hold a special session of General Conference to determine whether it will maintain its current official position against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Addressed to “our Global LGBTQ Kin in Christ” the pastoral letter was released on Dec. 28 and involved the mainline denomination’s leadership stating remorse for any hurtful remarks or actions directed at LGBT individuals in the church, especially in regards to the upcoming special session.

“Demeaning and dehumanizing comments and attacks on LGBTQ persons in conversations related to the upcoming February Conference are a great tragedy and do violence to hearts, minds, and spirits,” read the letter.

“When you suffer, the whole body of Christ suffers. Together, we need to work to resist hate, violence, and oppression of persons. In these attitudes and actions, great harm is done throughout the community, to the offended and the offender.”

They continued, "We confess, as Bishops of The United Methodist Church and as we attempt to honor our convictions, that our actions and words have not always been life-giving or honoring of the LGBTQ community. Amid our sorrow, we seek to learn and grow in grace."

The bishops went on to encourage civil dialogue among all sides in the UMC’s debate over its stance on LGBT issues, praying that “the Holy Spirit will draw us together.”

“… we commit ourselves to helping people who disagree with each other to have conversations that include, honor, and respect people with different convictions,” added the bishops.

“We are a diverse group of leaders—conservative, centrist, progressive—however, we are unified in our commitment to work together in ways that will give you and all God’s children strength, comfort and hope for better and more merciful tomorrows.”

The letter has received mixed reactions from LGBT individuals within the denomination, including the Rev. Pamela R. Lightsey.

“I don’t look for the council as a whole to say what it cannot. Many of the very persons complicit in our oppression sit on the council,” claimed Lightsey in an interview with United Methodist News Service.

“I do, nonetheless, hope that active members of the episcopacy who have been quiet in their support of the rights of LGBTQ UMC members will now step forward and boldly say the denomination must end its discriminatory practices.”

The UMC special session will take place on Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri, and seeks to resolve the denomination’s years-long debate over its stance on homosexuality in the hopes of avoiding a schism.

Delegates to the special session will consider three major plans for the future of the denomination: “The One Church Plan,” “The Traditional Plan,” and the “Connectional Conference Plan.”

The Traditional Plan would keep the current stance of the UMC on LGBT issues, plus guarantee more enforcement and possibly allow dissenting churches an easier process for leaving the denomination.

The Connectional Conference Plan would restructure the denomination and establish multiple loosely connected conferences, each with a different position on the debate, with local bodies getting to choose which conference to join.

The One Church Plan, which is favored by most UMC bishops, would maintain the overall church structure, but it would allow regional bodies and congregations to determine their stance on LGBT issues.

Despite the effort to avoid schism, some churches say they will leave the denomination if the One Church Plan is approved. Good News Magazine Vice President Thomas Lambrecht wrote, “I estimate that the U.S. part of our church could lose anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of its membership in this scenario, and it is possible that up to a half-dozen annual conferences might seek to withdraw.”

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