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United Methodist Church lifts bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings


We saw major changes this week in one of the largest Protestant groups in the U.S. when the United Methodist Church voted to end its condemnation of homosexuality. Bishop Tracy Smith Malone chairs the Council of Bishops. She recalled the words of Methodist founder John Wesley in describing the decision.

TRACY SMITH MALONE: Although we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?

DETROW: United Methodists made a raft of other decisions around LGBTQ inclusivity at the church's general conference meeting in Charlotte, N.C., and joining us to discuss them is NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Hey, Jason.


DETROW: So let's start with those additional major changes. Tell us about them.

DEROSE: Well, delegates removed from the denomination's rulebook a line added in 1972 that said homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The church removed punishments for ministers who officiate at same-sex weddings. It broadened its definition of marriage to include two people of consenting age, rather than restricting marriage to one man and one woman, and it lifted bans on LGBTQ clergy.

DETROW: Let's talk response here, because some United Methodists have been working toward these changes for decades. What are they saying about this?

DEROSE: Well, as you can imagine, they were elated, singing hymns and cheering on the meeting floor there in Charlotte. Reverend Effie McAvoy is a queer woman who leads Hope Methodist Church in Hope, R.I.

EFFIE MCAVOY: When professed in churches that folk are beloved of God, the queer child, the gay child, the parents of a queer, gay or transgender child will not sit in the pew and wonder, well, are they saying that to my child, too?

DEROSE: McAvoy says these changes are proof the church is living into the phrase all are welcome.

DETROW: And United Methodist Church has lost about a quarter of its congregations, mostly traditionalists, in recent years because of these fights over queer inclusion. But I'm wondering. How are the conservatives who remain in the church responding to this news?

DEROSE: Well, even among many who hold more traditionalist understandings of sexuality and marriage, and there are a lot of them, there was consensus and a desire to move on. Reverend John Stephens is pastor at Chapelwood Methodist Church in Houston, Texas.

JOHN STEPHENS: I think that we can live together as the church. We can be in unity together. We can be in mission together, even though there are going to be not maybe just this. There will be other things that we will disagree on.

DEROSE: These changes don't require any minister to perform a same-sex wedding or any congregation to allow one.

DETROW: You've been describing this as a joyous meeting, and that has not been the case at a lot of previous Methodist assemblies that address these issues. What do you think changed?

DEROSE: Well, one big difference is the departure of the most conservative congregations over the last several years. Many of them saw these changes on the horizon and left. But more importantly is this - the United Methodist Church is a global denomination with congregations not only in North America, but also Europe, Africa and Asia. One of the other major decisions at this general conference was something called regionalization, which essentially broke the church into large geographic regions that can make their own rules around ministry and marriage. So while the global bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings have been lifted, those could be reimposed in specific places such as Africa, where United Methodists are mostly far more conservative than here in the U.S.

DETROW: That's NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Jason, thanks so much.

DEROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.