This May, the United Methodist Church was slated to end 50 years of disagreement over the role of LGBTQ people in the church.
But because of the pandemic, which postponed a scheduled vote to potentially split the church, now, they have to wait a bit longer.
If the vote went through, the church would have been divided in two: one group would allow LGBTQ people to get married and ordained in the church and another more traditional group would not.
But with the vote postponed as the denomination plans to set a new date for 2021, each local church in the UMC will continue as one entity for at least a year, even as some practice sacraments that are technically against the church's laws. The UMC's Book of Discipline, the church's codified rules, disallow the ordination and marriages of LGBTQ people, but some churches oversee these practices anyways.
Colorado's own bishop, Karen Oliveto, goes against the rules by refusing to reprimand these churches. It's this clash and others that have brought both sides of the UMC to seek a resolution.
“The postponement of the UMC General Conference is disappointing to everyone involved, but certainly understandable,” said Rev. Bob Kaylor of Tri-Lakes UMC in Monument, which follows the more traditional belief.
For the past few months, Kaylor's and other Methodist churches in the metro area have set their focus on addressing the effects of the pandemic first and foremost.
“There's a lot of time and energy figuring out how to be the church right now. That has completely and utterly taken up the oxygen in the room,” said Rev. Ben Hensley at Lakewood UMC, which holds the more progressive belief. “Six months from now, perhaps the sentiment will have changed.”
But even though the postponement is not currently the churches' primary focus, they're still grappling with its effects.
With the issue unresolved, the disagreement within the international faith community will continue to fester. Some churches will continue to break the rules — Hensley, for instance, said he will oversee LGBTQ unions if asked — and others will continue to find frustration with the inconsistencies in the denomination.
Rev. Mark Feldmeir of St. Andrew UMC in Highlands Ranch — whose church also subscribes to the progressive belief — worries ordinations could also be affected.
“The disappointment comes from knowing there were people all across the country who were hoping to pursue ordination and because this has been delayed, they will have to wait another year or longer,” Feldmeir said.
And once the pandemic subsides, it still may not be an ideal moment to confront this disagreement.
“Post-pandemic, we still have to deal with this when in fact, the post pandemic world is going to demand of the church at large a lot more focus on things that include sexual orientation but also go beyond that,” Feldmeir said. “Our problems are going to be much more complex ... and this complicates it even more, which is somewhat tragic.”
Despite some negative fallout, pastors also expressed there are potential silver linings to pushing the vote back.
The General Conference typically occurs every four years, meaning it consistently falls on the same year as a presidential election. Holding the vote a year after the election could ease some tensions, Hensley said.
As for Feldmeir, he believes that extra time to mull over the issue could also be beneficial.
“There are good conversations happening,” he said. “Even as we push the pause button on the General Conference, I think we are having good conversations about how to push the debate further.”
Hensley agreed, saying the pandemic has highlighted the perks of being a united body. Small UMC churches have had quick access to resources, guidance and grants because of their affiliation with the large entity of the UMC, and that may ultimately change how these churches feel about pulling away, he said.
“This is kind of a wake-up call for churches right now, and with that comes a renewed perspective on the importance of our connection as a Methodist church,” he said. “I'm willing to hope that even if we still end up separating, (we separate) in a more holy, more effective way than the way we would right now.”
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