United Methodists Vote to Drop Gay Clergy Ban by Wide Margin

With exodus of conservatives from UMC, liberal agenda advances

United Methodists Vote to Drop Gay Clergy Ban by Wide Margin

With exodus of conservatives from UMC, liberal agenda advances

Delegates to the United Methodist Church’s General Conference voted overwhelmingly to drop a 40-year-old ban on clergy who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” and also to allow individual churches to decide the issue of gay weddings.

The May 1 vote by the UMC’s General Conference, meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, to drop the ban on homosexual clergy passed by a 692-51 margin, or 93% of delegates. The vote came with no debate—a change from previous such meetings—and was packaged among a list of other legislative petitions. The General Conference drew delegates representing congregations across the United States and numerous other countries.

Observers of a decades-long liberal drift in the UMC said they were not surprised by the overwhelming vote. Since 2019, there has been an exodus of nearly 8,000 congregations, most of which were theologically conservative and at odds with the denomination’s changing views on human sexuality.

“The General Conference has, as expected, rolled back not just decades of United Methodist policies but centuries of Christian teaching,” said Mark Tooley, president of The Institute on Religion & Democracy and a longtime critic of liberal trends in the UMC, in a statement posted on X. “Methodism was built on [unity] … and holiness. United Methodism has become something else.”

According to the denomination’s news service, more changes were expected during the 11-day meeting, which concludes Friday, that would reverse other restrictions on LGBTQ members, including “ministry with and by gay people.” On April 30, delegates also removed a ban on using UMC funds to “promote acceptance of homosexuality.”

The UMC remains the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination, despite losing about one-fourth of its congregations in recent years. Like other Christian denominations, the UMC has lost members as church affiliation in general has fallen in the U.S, and as conservatives have left. In 1969, the UMC claimed 11 million members, compared to around 5 million today.

Much of the growth of Methodism has been in Africa, where congregations are mostly traditional and conservative, with the greatest decline occurring in the U.S. According to Tooley, 53% of delegates to a 2019 special General Conference voted to affirm sex only within the bounds of heterosexual marriage, but many of those delegates were members of churches that have left the denomination for conservative groups like the Global Methodist Church or have become independent.

Methodism began nearly 300 years ago after revivals led by Church of England evangelist John Wesley, and it grew rapidly on the American frontier in the 1800s.

Unfortunately, Tooley wrote on his blog last week, “Liberal theology and politics displaced orthodox doctrine, evangelism and exacting spiritual standards.”

According to a Religion News Service report citing figures from a gay clergy advocacy group, the UMC has 324 gay clergy in the U.S., with 160 of those in same-sex marriages.

The Reverend Jerry P. Kulah, general coordinator of a conservative renewal group called Africa Initiative, told the Associated Press he believes it is time for faithful churches to leave the UMC: “We cannot remain in this marriage. We can’t be one church preaching different Gospels.”

Photo: RNS / Yonat Shimron

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