At a bitter United Methodist conference where delegates voted to uphold a ban on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage, a Fort Worth pastor made a last-minute appeal to challenge the decision.
Tim Bruster, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, supported a more inclusive approach and argued that many portions of the plan that passed and kept the church’s traditional ban on gay clergy and same-sex marriage had already been struck down by the church’s judicial council.
“What good was done at General Conference?” Bruster wrote on his blog. “I have combed through the past few days and I am having trouble finding a single instance where the conference really did good.”
Delegates approved Bruster’s request to refer the vote on gay marriage and clergy to the judicial council at its next meeting April 23-25.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
At the conference, delegates had three choices, including a “traditionalist plan” that strengthened and enforced bans on same sex marriage and gay clergy.
“The traditional plan has already been declared largely unconstitutional, and it was passed mostly in the same form as before,” Bruster wrote. “The passage of this plan sent a harmful message.”
Ted Campbell, a professor of church history at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, said the conference did little to heal the divisions among Methodists.
“We are badly divided and polarized church,” Campbell said.
And Campbell said another issue could greatly affect what happens with churches that are contemplating leaving the United Methodist Church. The judicial council will consider a plan approved at the conference that gives congregations the ability to leave the church while keeping their property.
The departure of some churches could be accelerated over the next two or three years if that plan were upheld, he predicted.
There is framework for dealing with these contentious issues that Methodists should consider looking at again, said Natalya Cherry, assistant professor in Methodist Studies and Theology at Brite Divinity School.
The Commission on a Way Forward, formed in 2016 and charged with reviewing the church’s stance on LGBTQ issues, provides a way to study these divisions in a less confrontational manner.
The commission showed “a more just and peaceful direction as a church, as they followed not Robert’s Rules of Order and heated arguments, but a pattern of studying, listening to understand each other, praying, and imagining possible ways forward by consensus (not caucusing for votes),” Cherry said.
Vance Morton, a spokesman for the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, downplayed that risk of schism but said the frustration and bitterness is real. The conference includes 300 churches stretching from Tarrant County to Williamson County.
“It’s a concern,” Morton said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a possibility and I wouldn’t say it’s a probability. The deeper concern is individuals leaving — not churches leaving.”