Delegates to the annual meeting of the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church take advantage of a moment of "personal privilege" to invite others to join Do No Harm Iowa.
It's been interesting to read coverage in both the media and on the Iowa United Methodist Conference Web site this week of peaceful protests over the weekend during its annual state conference in Des Moines regarding LGTB equality issues within the denomination.
The bone of contention is the global denomination's unwillingness to alter discriminatory language within its Book of Discipline, demonstrated most recently during the 2012 General Conference, held during early May in Tampa, Florida. More information about Iowa protests involving several hundred delegates is available in an Iowa Conference report, which is here, and also in a story in this morning's Des Moines Register.
Although the Book of Discipline apparently presents no barrier to LGBT people who wish to join United Methodist congregations or receive its sacraments, the book does single us out as especially wicked in this provision related to clergy:
"While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. 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."
United Methodist buildings are not open to same-sex marriages or union ceremonies and clergy, forbidden to officiate under the following provision:
"Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."
And United Methodists also apparently are forbidden to spend funds to either "promote acceptance of homosexuality" or at the opposite end of the spectrum, to lobby against us.
"(The General Council on Finance and Administration) shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of The United Methodist Church "not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends"
None of this language is likely to change anytime soon principally because the denomination is growing in conservative places, like Africa, but shrinking along with other denominations in the West. So the base of power is shifting internationally while United Methodists in the United States remain divided.
Language sometimes doesn't reflect reality, so it's useful to remember that some of the most LGBT-affirming congregations in the United States are United Methodist, and many United Methodists are among the most welcomng of people. But the tension between official policy and practice is likely to cause more trouble for the denomination as time passes in Iowa and elsewhere.
It's estimated that about 180,000 Iowans are members of some 800 United Methodist congregations scattered across the countryside. Some are conservative, others not. In all, however, LGBT people remain officially second-class citizens who, while perhaps not directed to sit at the back of the church upon entering, certainly are not offered an equal share of grace either.