Methodist church now includes all-inclusive in doctrine

It’s been a divisive issue for 52 years; for some it still is

Since 1972, the Methodist Church has been battling itself over inclusion.

That’s when Richard Nixon was president, so that’s 52 years ago.

But the battle is over. All of its churches now favor inclusion. Many had already made the move, but it was not the case at many of the churches in the nation.

Even four years ago, inclusion was shot down. But last week, it passed with ease as new blood took over leadership positions.

Pastor Sheila Marie at the Redeemer United Methodist Church in Kingston is one who supported the change. “It has been a long time coming,” she said, adding I’m “joyful, grateful, hopeful.”

She said some members may not be that crazy about it as they look at church through a different lens. “For some, fully embracing these new changes may take time.”

She has been at the church with about 50 members for three years and said she hopes the changes might bring new folks to church. “For those who may have hesitated, I am hopeful that this will open up that possibility for all of us.”

Redeemer has not been a “reconciling” congregation, but she said members have readily “welcomed all who’ve come our way.”

The Rev. Gregory Reffner of the United Methodist Church in Brownsville and Tracyton said he is proud of the church’s decision.

“Though our history is fraught with injustice, we have made significant steps these past few weeks towards being a church that is not defined by what we oppose, but by whom and how we love.”

Reffner said he’s glad the LGBTQ+ community no longer had a qualified existence at UMC. “Many of the legislative changes to remove harmful and restrictive language regarding LGBTQ+ folks passes with a 92% margin. Nothing which God has made is incompatible with the Christian faith.”

Reffner said those with more traditional values add to the diversity of the church. “One of the strengths of the United Methodist Church is that we can express different opinions and still be in open dialogue and relationship with each other.

He said the church is already doing diverse things in the community. At Tracyton, they interact with unhoused people in Bremerton and provide basic necessities on a weekly basis. At Brownsville, nine members have committed to build a relationship with a soon-to-be-released prisoner who sought support from that neighborhood.

The pastor said each church has about 75 members. But the change had nothing to do with an attempt to be more progressive to bring more people to church in a liberal state. It was more about the church mission.

Pastor Carolyn Bowers, minister of the 100-member Colby United Methodist Church in Port Orchard for three years, also is pleased with the change.

“The UMC has been significantly divided for decades over differing theological and biblical interpretation and understanding around human sexuality and marriage. I believe that there are people of good will and sincere faith on both sides of this debate,” she said.

Bowers explained that exclusive language around human sexuality and marriage was added to the denomination’s Book of Discipline in 1972. In 1984, prohibitions against “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” being ordained or appointed to serve as pastors of UMC congregations were added.

Prohibitions against UM pastors celebrating same-sex unions, and later, officiating at same-sex weddings, were also added at other times. That caused significant tension and division within the UMC between progressives, centrists and conservatives.

She added that attempts to end the impasse repeatedly failed, so Bowers had little hope for change. So she was “pleased when the change happened with so little fanfare and debate at this year’s General Conference.”

Bowers said Colby is already an inclusive church, so she did not hear from anyone upset about the change.

On the other side, Silverdale Community Church left the United Methodist Church in May last year and subsequently joined the Global Methodist Church and have seen numerical growth since then, pastor John Weston said.

The recent shifts in the United Methodist Church are not surprising. Nearly 8,000 congregations left by the end of 2023.

The progressive-traditionalist/liberal-conservative divide has been a factor since the merger of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church in 1968. “Silverdale as a church and I as a clergy left because of the surface issue of differences on our perspectives on human sexuality and deeper issues of difference in the faith itself.

“In good conscience, we cannot abandon the Hebrew Bible and Christian Scriptures on these matters…Progressive Christianity sees Jesus Christ through a social lens… The United Methodist denomination would champion the marginalized, but in doing so, has begun to let go of the moorings of the basic Christian faith as described not only in the Bible, but in early, consensual creeds of the church such as the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed.

“Anecdotally, I would mention that a United Methodist ministry candidate gave a children’s sermon dressed in drag in 2022 and was celebrated by many for doing so.”

Pastor Weston added, “I simply believe that sexuality is God-defined and that the expression of that sexuality is confined and protected by marriage lending stability and blessing to individuals, families, and societies.”

Pastor Susan Griggs of the 45-member Seabold United Methodist Church on Bainbridge Island said just like the rest of BI her church is all about inclusion and has been a reconcile church for a few years. She said only one member has objected to the PRIDE flag being placed in the front yard near Highway 305, for example.

Actually, the church is well-known because of that flag. “We’re proud of that.”

She said she saw the tide turning in favor of having the LGBTQ community involved in the church. “I really did believe” that was going to be approved this time.