For Catholics and Protestants, LGBTQ Signs of Hope from the United Methodist Church

Lisa Fullam

Today’s post is from Bondings 2.0’s newest blogger, Lisa Fullam, D.V.M., Th.D. 

Lisa  teaches moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, California. Her research interests include Virtue Ethics, sexual and medical ethics, and Ignatian spirituality. Her essays include: “Toward a Virtue Ethics of Marriage: Augustine and Aquinas on Friendship in Marriage,” “Joan of Arc, Holy Resistance, and Conscience Formation in the Face of Social Sin,” “Sex in 3-D. A Telos for a Virtue Ethics of Sexuality,” “Why Ordination Matters: A Reflection from Jamaica,” and “Juana, SJ: The History (and Future?) of Women in the Society of Jesus.” 

She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic, and has co-edited, with Charles E. Curran, three volumes in the Paulist Press series Readings in Moral Theology. A few years back, she climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. The view from the top is just glorious.

Lisa is no stranger to New Ways Ministry and Bondings 2.0.  She was a keynote speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Chicago, April 2017.  In April  2014, she published the article “Civil Same-Sex Marriage:  A Catholic Affirmation” on Bondings 2.o. That article is now archived on New Ways Ministry’s web page on Marriage Equality.

Welcome back to Bondings 2.o, Lisa!

Signs of Hope from the United Methodist Church

The bishops of the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church (UMC) recently announced that their churches would provide “safe harbor” for LGBTQ clergy, stating “We do not believe The United Methodist Church has the authority or the power to impose limits on the movement of God’s Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s beloved LGBTQ+ children.” This decision is good news for the Methodists, but for Catholics, also.

To understand why this is good news, we first need some background information. This announcement comes at a fraught time for LGBTQ Methodists. At the Church’s quadrennial General Conference in 2016, delegates established a commission to study inclusion of LGBTQ Methodists in ministry and norms relating to clergy presiding at same-sex weddings. In 2019, a special conference session was called to consider the work done by the commission where delegates voted to adopt the “Traditional Plan,” reinforcing and in some ways strengthening the church’s opposition to same-sex relationships and ordination of “practicing” LBGTQ clergy and bishops. Interestingly, the Council of Bishops (bishops have no vote in General Conferences) had recommended a plan wherein individual conferences and individual churches would decide whether to marry and/or ordain LGBTQ Methodists, but their advice did not convince the delegates. The UMC’s Judicial Council subsequently upheld most of the Traditional Plan as constitutional under church law.

Why is the Western Jurisdiction’s announcement good news for the Methodists? I see hope in the fact that even as the commission was doing its work, a number of conferences continued to ordain LGBTQ clergy and to issue “non-conformity” resolutions in support of a change in church law. The Western Jurisdiction comprises seven conferences of the western US. One of these, the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area, is led by Bishop Karen P. Oliveto, who was consecrated as the United Methodist Church’s first openly LGBT bishop in 2016.

United Methodist Church logo

Moreover, the Reconciling Ministries network of the UMC, working for LGBTQ equality, invites its members to “stand your holy ground” in the face of the General Conference vote, and promise that they will not stay silent. Church unity, a powerful value, must yield to the values of justice and inclusion for LGBTQ Methodists.

Of course, a number of other Protestant denominations are also LGBTQ-affirming. For example, more than a quarter of United Church of Christ congregations have formally covenanted as “open and affirming” of LGBTQ people, a process involving congregational training and discernment. More and more Christian groups are coming to understand that in the face of assaults on the dignity of LGBTQ people, it is not enough to stay silent in the name of Church unity or in the service of biased and hurtful “tradition.”

And why is this good news for Catholics? Two reasons: it is a “Stonewall Moment” for the Christian community, and it is a mustard seed.

The 1969 Stonewall Rebellion was a precursor of “stand your holy ground,” when oppression was met with fierce resistance. Stonewall was not the first incident of LGBTQ resistance, of course, but it marked a turning point: the rioters called out persecution for the injustice it is, and the Stonewall rioters took their declaration into the streets. The “safe harbor” Methodists are standing with their LGBTQ members for their full and open inclusion. This decision isn’t the first social justice stance for the Western Jurisdiction: in their official statement they note that they had

“elected the first Asian-American bishop, the first African American woman bishop, the first Hispanic American woman bishop, the first out gay bishop. A bishop in the West was the first to appoint an out gay clergy person.  We have helped to lead the Church into border ministries, refugee and immigrant ministries, and ministries that move outside church buildings into communities. “

A Stonewall Moment is one that throws down a gauntlet to others, implicitly asking, “do you see the harm, the cruelty, the persecution? Which side are YOU on?” The Methodists invite other Christian groups to demand real inclusion of their LGBTQ members. Not “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Not grudging toleration. Rather, as the statement says to LGBTQ Methodists, “You are precious children of God, and you help us all see a fuller glimpse of the face of God.”

Stonewall Moments rouse the energy to persist, especially for LGBTQ Catholics who are still too often turned into an issue to be talked about, rather than precious members of the community. It can be hard to remain in this truth: LGBTQ Catholics are still too often assailed with bad bible exegesis and obsolete, medieval theological jargon. New Ways Ministry, of course, has been creating Stonewall Moments throughout its history,  so we can now welcome the dissenting Methodists to the movement.

Second, along with New Ways, the Open and Affirming UCC ministries, DignityUSA, and others, the Western Jurisdiction’s decision is a mustard seed in the Christian community. The mustard seed in scripture wasn’t just a tiny seed—once planted, it becomes an ineradicable weed. When Jesus used this metaphor for the Reign of God, he was pointing to the way that justice and holiness spread, and even take over: once rooted, nothing can stop it. This is good news indeed: justice is taking hold all over the place. There are still too few Catholic parishes and ministries that are truly welcoming of LGBTQ Catholics. May this mustard seed take root in our Church as well.

So “safe harbor” Methodists, welcome aboard!

–Lisa Fullam, Jesuit School of Theology, Santa Clara University, November 14, 2019

2 replies
  1. Mary E. Hunt
    Mary E. Hunt says:

    To learn more about this important topic check out Bishop Karen Oliveto’s WATERtalk at Scroll down (Shawn Copeland’s is there too) and you will find both the audio and the notes to the conversation. She mentions this “safe harbor” plan and much, much more, including her current research on women in the United Methodist Church, some of whom lived with other women. Best wishes to Methodist siblings.


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