United Methodists dump anti-gay lingo

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — United Methodist delegates on Thursday, May 2, 2024, removed a 52-year-old declaration from their official social teachings that deemed “the practice of homosexuality ... incompatible with Christian teaching” — part of a wider series of historic reversals of the denomination’s longstanding disapproval of LGBTQ activity.

The historic vote came as delegates also approved a new definition of marriage as a covenant between “two people of faith” while recognizing the couple may or may not involve a man and a woman. That replaces an exclusively heterosexual definition of marriage and followed a debate that exposed tensions between some U.S. and international delegates.

The 523-161 vote to approve a section of the church’s Revised Social Principles took place at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in the penultimate day of their 11-day legislative gathering in Charlotte.

It came a day after the General Conference removed its longstanding ban on “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from being ordained or appointed as ministers. Step by step, delegates have been removing anti-LGBTQ language throughout their official documents.

Definition of marriage

But the marriage definition was approved only after debate and a compromise amendment — one of the few instances of open debate during this otherwise overwhelmingly progressive conference.

“God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman,” said Nimia Peralta from the Northwest Philippines. While the conference earlier approved a regionalization plan enabling different parts of the global church to adapt rules to their local contexts, “God’s word can never be regionalized,” she said.

But the Rev. James Howell of Western North Carolina applauded the new language.

“Cynics and young adults will not listen to us talk about Jesus if we say we do not condone people they love and care about,” Howell said. “Friends, it’s time.”

The Rev. Kalaba Chali, based in Kansas, said the principles are general enough without forcing people in different cultural contexts “to do things the same way.”

The approval came only after an amendment offered by lay delegate Molly Mwayera of East Zimbabwe, who noted that many African countries do not allow for same-sex marriage. After extended wordsmithing, the assembly settled on an amendment with a parenthetical clause that affirmed marriage as a sacred covenant bringing “two people of faith (adult man and woman of consenting age or two adult persons of consenting age) into union.” / AP

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