Methodists from churches all over New England met last week at the New England Methodist Conference in Manchester. At that conference, they passed a resolution that attempts to make the broader church more inclusive for LGBTQIA people. It’s a decision that may have deeper resonance now after the attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando last week. Beth DiCocco is spokesperson for the New England Conference and she joined NHPR’s Peter Biello to discuss this resolution.
What is the Methodist Church's position on homosexuality?
The Church’s position is that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. They don’t ordain clergy who are self-avowed, practicing homosexuals. That’s the general Church’s position, and it remains the general Church’s position. The Annual Conference, when it acts, doesn’t act on the general Church’s position.
Right, so you weren’t making any particular changes for the general church, but you made some recommendations on where you’d like it to go—what were those?
We’d like to see the church become a fully inclusive church. Meaning that we treat our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters the same way we treat everyone in the church, and that they’re not excluded from being part of the church. The resolution is saying that where there’s language that discriminates, we are not going to support that discrimination.
How would you like to see that inclusivity manifest itself in the greater church?
Take the language out of the Discipline that says that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teaching. Take any language out of the discipline that doesn’t recognize LGBTQIA persons as fully-participating members of the church.
Do you think the attack at Pulse Night Club in Orlando changed opinions among members of the Church in New England, or was the attack perhaps bringing to the surface something members had already been feeling?
Members have had this vision for a while. In 2014, the Conference passed a resolution that said that we would support our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters as much as possible without violation the book of discipline. This statement goes farther than that, but I think that vision has been in the Conference, and has been building momentum in the Conference for a long time.
The events of Orlando were horrendous, and there’s no doubt that they were on the minds and the hearts of the people at the Annual Conference this time. There was a lot of pain around that. And that may have been an impetus to take action, but it was not a reaction to that. It didn’t spark something that wasn’t already there.
Do you feel that churches in New England are directly going against the Book of Discipline?
I don’t know what will happen. The members voted nearly 70% to support this resolution. Their vision is to support their brothers and sisters and see the church move toward fuller inclusivity. How that’s going to manifest itself I can’t conjecture.
What is the next step in bringing about this inclusivity?
The next procedural step is that the Bishop will issue what’s called a “Reply to Decision of Law”—someone asked for that from the floor. So he has 30 days to write a response that says whether he thinks this is lawful or not. Once he issues his opinion, it will go to the Judicial Council, which is the sort of the Supreme Court of the United Methodist Church. They will review the Bishop’s ruling and decide if they feel if he was correct.