Methodist Church members from around the world traveled to St. Louis to witness this historic vote.
The United Methodist Church (UMC) voted to bar LGBTQ members from getting married or becoming clergy in the church on Feb. 26. The ruling caused progressive members to protest on the floor of the Edward Jones Dome.
The UMC Special Conference, held in St. Louis Feb. 23-26, debated the status of LGBTQ persons within the church. The delegation proposed two separate plans.
The Simple Plan would take out discriminatory language towards the LGBTQ community in their code of laws called the Book of Discipline. The One Church Plan would have kept the church in its current structure and allowed local conferences to determine how churches dealt with the issue.
The Traditional Plan, which passed, would not allow church support for LGBTQ marriage or clergy. The traditional plan has worse consequences for reconciling churchs that already welcome LGBTQ participants.
Webster student and UMC Assistant Pastor Joshua Krakos attended the conference. He said he hoped the church would not adopt a plan that banned LGBTQ members from serving the church in a clerical capacity.
“The high influx of young people coming into the church are going to be the generation going forward that simply doesn’t want to be a part of this [traditional plan],” said Krakos.
Freshman Krakos said he hopes to communicate to his classmates that the UMC is a friendly and inclusive place. He said that this will be harder after delegates from around the world decided against that message.
“It’s terrible what happens when somebody comes to me like, ‘Hey, I want to be a part of this but I’m a member of the LGBTQ+ community and like, what happens when I want to get married?’” Krakos said. “As it stands right now, we can’t, or we’ll have to directly disobey the conference.”
Krakos attends Webster Groves UMC, led by Rev. Sharon Kichline. Kichline has preached at Webster Groves UMC for almost eight years. Her church displays a gay pride flag outside its front door.
“We feel very strongly that God is about diversity and diversity is part of the character of God. When you look at the earth and all of that living things within it, there’s not just one kind of this or one kind of that,” Kichline said. “Why shouldn’t there be a multitude of ways to love?”
Kichline described her congregation as progressive. There was a movement within the church to become a reconciling church community, she said. Reconciling churches allowed LGBTQ Christians to practice and serve in the congregation but still could not allow marriages. Under the old plan of the UMC, a reconciling church would be legal. Now, Kichline fears this will not be possible as a united denomination.
Like many Methodists, Kichline fears the church may split over the issue of LGBTQ in the church.
The UMC has split in the past. The church split over the issue of slavery in 1844. Today, topics like slavery and segregation are non-issues. Kichline hopes that one day homosexuality will become a non-issue.
Krakos said the past misjudgments of the church should not be repeated in the future.
The delegates at the conference also expressed their fear of a split church. Delegates took turns at the conference speaking for or against the inclusion of LGBTQ persons.
One delegate, Gregory Gross, claimed it was unreasonable for a body of sinners to determine who is or is not a sinner in the eyes of God.
“I am a man who loves another man,” Gross said, “If you’re going to go after me, let’s go after everyone. I believe in the Bible, it is said ‘let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.’”
The St. Louis conference was called as a special session to vote solely on LGBTQ status in the UMC. The regularly scheduled General Conference will take place in Minneapolis in May of 2020. They will vote on whether or not to adopt the Traditional Plan into the Book of Discipline.
Delegate JJ Warren said the fight is not over and is staying with the church. For now, he said he wants his fellow LGBTQ Christians to know they are not alone.
“We will fight. We will go forward and together. We will drag this cross of flames of the Methodist Church through the wilderness and into the promised land,” Warren said.
In his speech he said his dream is to one day be a pastor and show that God’s love is for everyone. Warren decided after losing the vote by only 4 percent, he wants the moderate factions of the church to be allies in the fight for inclusion.
“They [LGBTQ Christians] didn’t know God could love them because their churches said God didn’t,” Warren said.
Krakos said he is willing to fight for inclusion. As an assistant pastor, he feels like he has to be optimistic for the LGBTQ community, for the Methodist community and for the future of Christianity.
“I want people to feel empowered knowing that the community that they belong to is moving in a true direction,” said Krakos. “That truth for me is that members of the LGBTQ community have just as much worth and place in the pulpit and place with on the altar for the marriage day as myself does.”