Leaders of United Methodist churches in the High Country have expressed varying reactions to the General Conference’s controversial decision to affirm the church’s current bans on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating at or hosting same-sex marriages.

The decision was made during a special session of the UMC General Conference in St. Louis Feb. 24-26. The General Conference is the highest legislative body in the UMC, and the only group that can decide church law and speak officially for the global denomination, according to a statement from the Council of Bishops of the UMC.

In a 438-384 vote, church delegates supported the Traditional Plan, which maintained the current language around sexuality, marriage and ordination of LGBTQ persons and streamlined the process of enforcing penalties for violating the Book of Discipline, which constitutes the law and doctrine of the UMC.

The proposed One Church Plan would have granted space for traditionalists to continue to offer ministry as they have in the past; space for progressives to exercise freely a more complete ministry with LGBTQ persons; and space for all United Methodists to continue to coexist without disrupting their ministries, according to the plan’s website. But the One Church Plan was not passed out of committee to proceed to a full vote of the delegates.

The church’s Judicial Council has been asked to review the constitutionality of the approved legislation when it gathers in late April, according to the church.

“This means that we don’t yet know what will change and what will not,” the church website states in a March 4 post about the special session.

Boone UMC Senior Pastor Lory Beth Huffman said the legislation is complicated and that her congregation has mixed viewpoints regarding inclusion of LGBTQ clergy and ordaining same-sex marriages.

“We are continuing to wrestle with what is God’s will on human sexuality and interpretation of scripture, and our own understanding of inclusion,” Huffman said.

Huffman said she was told the U.S. delegates’ vote was roughly 65-70 percent in favor of the One Church Plan.

“The United Methodist Church is far more global than our other sister denominations,” Huffman said. “If it had just been the (UMC) in U.S., there was a majority to have a more inclusive plan. Because of our growth worldwide, we have Africa and Southeast Asia, which are more socially conservative. It’s a complicated dynamic.”

Arnold Houck, Sunday School superintendent of Zion UMC in Ashe County, said his church was pleased with the decision to support the Traditional Plan.

“We felt like the church is getting way too liberal, and we were going to actually lose members if it went the other way,” Houck said. “They’ve been withholding their tithes, so it’s hurting us financially.”

While Houck said his church was happy with the vote, he said members are still very cautious of future votes.

“I was surprised it was as close as it was,” Houck said. “When it’s voted on again, it’ll be the same thing. I’ve heard through other folks from the Methodist churches away from here that they lost a lot of money on account of that vote. There was a lot of damage done.”

The Rev. Preston Thomas of Elk Park UMC in Avery County said the church has to walk a thin line.

“We’ve got to love everybody,” Thomas said. “We’ve got to care about everybody, but at the same time, we have to stand on what our beliefs are.”

However, Thomas said everyone is welcome in the church.

“(We’ve got to) let them know that God and Christ loves them and cares about them, even if we may not agree with the lifestyle that they live,” Thomas said.

Betty Henson, pastor of Creston UMC in Ashe County, said she is concerned, interested and praying about the issue.

“I’m waiting to see more on how this is going to play out,” Henson said. “The Judicial Council is still working, and people all across the denomination are in prayer and finding ways to work together. As a local pastor, I can’t speak for the larger church in the way an ordained elder can. I speak for the church I serve.”

Others in the High Country feel strongly that other options, such as the One Church Plan, should have been pursued by the General Conference.

In an online statement, Luke Edwards, pastor of Boone UMC’s King Street Church campus, said he is sad because his LGBTQ friends are hurting and questioning their worth because of the actions of his denomination. He added that through his church’s values, he has lived in a beloved Christian community with straight people, those who are a part of the LGBTQ community, white people, black people, Hispanic people, those with criminal records, people struggling with mental illness, those struggling with addiction, atheists, agnostics, lifelong Christians and more.

“Our differences are always a gift, never a curse,” Edwards said in his statement. “I wish everyone could experience this kind of community. It changes you. Never again do I wish to live in a homogenous Christian community where my friends look and think just like me.”

Moving forward, Ken Carter, president of the UMC’s Council of Bishops, is looking to spiritual elders to help guide churches in the days ahead.

“Every church I have known in my life has had spiritual elders, mature spiritual leaders who care for the body, that is the people God has called together in a place,” Carter said in a pastoral letter. “I pray in this moment for mature spiritual leadership among the clergy and laity of our global church. I pray that we will move toward the pain and grief, and especially among our members in the LGBTQ community.”

Ben Carson, the lead pastor at FaithBridge UMC in Boone, is remaining steadfast in the beliefs of his church, regardless of the outcome of the vote.

“We have a saying at FaithBridge that we often recite together before Holy Communion that goes like this: ‘Love that has limits is not love. We believe in love without limits,’” Carson said in an online response. “By the recent General Conference decisions, the United Methodist Church has chosen to put limits on love.”

Carson said there is still hope, as God does some of his best work putting the pieces back together after destruction, but the pastor has made his decision on the issue.

“Our denomination has made a decision, and so have I,” Carson said in the statement. “I choose love. Without limits.”

Anna Oakes, Luke Weir, Thomas Sherrill, Carl Blankenship and Ian Taylor contributed reporting to this story.

(8) comments

projoem@wilkes.net

In all the conversation about the Methodist vote, it seems many people are leaving God out of the discussions. I was under the impression that He had set all the rules as stated in the Bible but evidently some of God's rules do not meet man's approval. Wonder what one of my favorites (John Wesley) would have to say about all this. As for love, for those who choose to read the Bible, Jesus tells us to love everybody. He does not tell us to love their sin, quite the contrary.

billspizza2016@gmail.com

Discrimination based on sexual orientation has already been held to be unconstitutional.

jjjamesholder@gmail.com

GLBT is politically correct but apposes the family which is the foundation of the human race. We need to focus on nurturing the family, babies, and children. GLBT does not qualify for nurturing because it is not the foundation of the human race. GLBT does qualify for toleration and kind treatment. But, not promotion equal to family.

dabbienormal1@gmail.com

All those arguments back and forth make my head hurt...I prefer to maintain a private personal spiritual relationship with God, whilst at the same time focusing on being the best man and Christian I can be. I think it all boils down to living by the Big Ten, and practicing honestly and faithfully the golden rule. Christ preached love, not separativism and judgementalism. As the son of God, Christ preached God's Word; No where in the New Testament is there any mention of homosexuality. I haven't been to a formal church in many years, but I pray every day and regularly read the bible and have individual worship...To each his/(her) own. I can cast no stones.

henry.smith.1841@gmail.com

The problem here isn't only the "sin," which the Bible clearly gives us explanation that homosexuality IS a sin, but that people, even so-called ministers, are ignoring the Bible. To be a minister, one must be called by God. As a minister, they are held to a higher standard and will be judged based on their actions and direction of others. Preaching and teaching that homosexuality is "okay" with God is like saying that lying, gossiping and murder are all okay with God. Sin is sin. It is past time that ministers adhere to God's Word instead of changing it and leaving parts out.

Yes, love God with all of our being. Yes, love others as Christ loves the church. Homosexuality is a sin. They should not be married in "the church" and clergy should not be participating in that sin. Clergy should strive to be as righteous as possible.

Terry Gentry

So what I'm hearing from the Faithbridge pastor is that "love without limits" means there should be no limit on who would be a Methodist pastor. The UMC conference was deciding the stand to take on qualifications for Methodist pastors and who would be married in Methodist churches, not who the church can allow to come and be loved by the body. Mr.Carson seems to be saying just anyone should be allowed to be a pastor. LWL (love without limits) seems to mean to him that Methodist pastors can be another religion besides Christianity. He might also approve of unrepentant terrorists, conmen, rapists, abusers, etc. as pastors. If he doesn't approve of them as pastors then he is not truly an LWL man. He has conflated the issues of the UMC vote to set up a strawman. The traditionalists of the UMC can be just as loving and accepting of LGBT people in their midst as he can. It also makes one wonder if Mr. Carson would be as LWL toward traditionalists in his congregation as he would the "disenfranchised". We all, as humans, tend to have certain limits against those we don't agree with. Even when we know we should do better. However, there are common sense and Biblical restrictions on many things that are not related to love on our part but God's part. His wanting the best for His people. A close study of Scripture provides insights on which restrictions are meant for an earlier time and an earlier people in history as opposed to for all times. Pastors should be careful to know the difference.

bengcarson@gmail.com

Hey Terry, thanks for the comments. You sure have made a lot of assumptions about me and FaithBridge in your response. Please know this, when we say that all are welcome at FaithBridge, we mean ALL. Even the "traditionalists." Overall, I'm not convinced that online comments are the best way to have a discussion, so feel free to contact me at ben@faithbridgeumc.org. Thanks- Ben

Terry Gentry

Hey, Ben....Before I wrote my comments, I went on your church website and your blog. I read your comments on how disappointed you were with the vote and I listened to your sermon on LWL. Based on those two things I made zero assumptions except to possibly take LWL to it's logical conclusion. We can still love but not approve. You are trying to make people feel guilty if they don't approve of that which Scripture disapproves of by implying they aren't loving. You started the online comments by going public with your feelings. I just commented on how I disagree with your conflating the issues. We can go private if you wish but I hope others will gain from our discussion.

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