UMC ends funding ban on LGBT advocacy groups, scraps punishment for officiating gay weddings

During the opening worship service of the United Methodist General Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, on April 23, 2024, five United Methodist bishops celebrate communion with participants worldwide.
During the opening worship service of the United Methodist General Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, on April 23, 2024, five United Methodist bishops celebrate communion with participants worldwide. | Paul Jeffrey, UM News

The United Methodist Church General Conference voted to drop a ban on funding LGBT advocacy groups and removed a required punishment for pastors who officiate gay weddings after thousands of theologically conservative congregations left the mainline Protestant denomination in the last two years. 

On Tuesday, delegates approved a petition that struck from the UMC Book of Discipline Paragraph 806.9 language that prohibits the General Council on Finance and Administration from "ensuring 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 change was among the bulk of legislation approved by a vote of 667-54, which also loosened restrictions on the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals and mandatory punishments for clergy who officiate same-sex weddings.

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Measures passed in Tuesday's consent calendar scrapped elements of the Traditional Plan enacted at the 2019 General Conference to bolster UMC's restrictions on same-sex marriage and ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.  

According to UM News, other measures approved Tuesday include the striking of a ban on "self-avowed practicing" LGBT individuals from being considered for ministry. The delegates also voted to scrub the requirement for a one-year suspension without pay for any pastor who officiates a same-sex wedding and to allow gay pastors with good standing to be appointed to positions across annual conferences. 

The Rev. Jeff Campbell, the top executive of UMC Discipleship Ministries, told UM News he welcomed the removal of the funding ban, saying it freed his agency "to fully serve all those who seek our support without worry of unnecessary, discriminatory oversight."

"Discipleship Ministries staff remains committed to challenging and supporting all leaders for our missional task of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," he added.

For decades, the UMC has faced a debate over whether to change its Book of Discipline's biblical stance on LGBT issues, which labeled homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching."

Although numerous attempts at past General Conferences to change the various provisions failed, many theological progressives within the denomination refused to follow or enforce the rules.

In December 2022, for example, the UMC General Board of Church and Society gave a $2,000 grant to Reconciling Ministries Network, an LGBT advocacy organization that is not an official part of the UMC, to develop a Vacation Bible School curriculum.

A GBCS spokesperson argued in an earlier interview with The Christian Post that the grant was compatible with the Book of Discipline since the money would not be going to LGBT advocacy directly.

In response to the longstanding debate and progressives' resistance to the rules, approximately 7,500 mostly conservative congregations disaffiliated from the UMC from 2019 to 2023.

Most of these departing congregations have affiliated with the Global Methodist Church, a theologically conservative denomination launched in 2022 in response to the UMC debate.

Due to the large number of conservatives that have left the UMC in advance of the General Conference, many expected the churchwide legislative gathering to finally remove the Book of Discipline rules banning the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of people in same-sex relationships.

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