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Sunday, February 20, 2011

LGBT and the United Methodist Church


DURHAM -- In 1972, the United Methodist Church added the phrase that homosexuality was "incompatible with Christian teaching" to its Book of Discipline.

While the phrase still stands, some in the UMC have appealed to the denomination's general conference to eliminate the wording.

Earlier this month, 33 retired United Methodist bishops -- almost 40 percent of retired UMC bishops, signed a "statement of counsel to the church" asking for the removal of the book passage: "…The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."

Among those retired bishops calling for change are the Rev. Kenneth Carder and the Rev. C.P. Minnick. Carder is the Ruth W. and A. Morris Williams Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke Divinity School, and Minnick served as bishop-in-residence at Duke Divinity School from 1996 to 2006.

On Friday, a documentary called "Incompatible with Christian Teaching" was shown at Duke Divinity. The screening was sponsored by Sacred Worth and the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Life at Duke. It will be shown again at 5 p.m. Sunday at Calvary United Methodist Church in Durham.

Filmmaker Anne P. Brown interviewed several clergy and LGBT allies who have been impacted by the current UMC policy and been punished by the church. The denomination also does not allow clergy to celebrate same gender marriages.

Some of those featured in the film include Rev. Gregory Dell, a graduate of Duke Divinity School, who performed a ceremony for a gay couple. He was convicted by the UMC for disobedience and suspended for a year.

Also featured is Rev. Beth Stroud of Texas, who had been a UMC pastor for seven years when she came out as a lesbian and had her ministerial credentials removed.

"For me, it was an experience of seeing a risky act someone needed to take," she says in the film, and that for some reason God wanted her there in the struggle. While she felt strength even when the denomination decided to defrock her, it was harder later on when she faced an uncertain future.

Dell said he thinks the UMC is guilty of murder because of the people who have committed suicide because of church policy. It is complicity in the church blasphemy that people are trash, he says in "Incompatible with Christian Teaching."

Filmmaker Brown answered questions after the Duke screening and will again Sunday at Calvary UMC. The audience of mostly Divinity students asked her about the filmmaking process and any backlash she has received.

Brown said she didn't include the opposing side of the issue in her documentary because 27 pastors turned her down for interviews, including one who backed out at the last minute and urged 700 others in the Baltimore district not to cooperate as well. So most of those interviewed were from Northern Virginia. She made the film in 2008.

Plus, she wanted to show the side of those who love Jesus Christ and are gay. The film shows several examples of Reconciling UMC churches -- those who fully include and welcome LGBT members.

Brown said that because she is straight, and straight members of the United Methodist Church have kept the "incompatible" wording in the Book of Discipline, she feels obligated to change it.

She said she takes a lot of pride in being United Methodist, and would rather fight to change the law than just walk away from the denomination.

"It's learning on both sides and trust on both sides. Whenever you're dealing with that, it's slow and steady," Brown said.

The next meeting of the UMC General Conference, the governing body of the denomination, is in 2012.

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