LGBT Methodists, supporters surprised by votes upholding anti-gay church policies
FORT WORTH — LGBT members and their supporters suffered two major setbacks on Wednesday, April 30, at the United Methodist Church’s 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth.
Delegates to the General Conference voted to retain language in the church’s Book of Discipline, its governing document, which states that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching." The delegates also voted to uphold a decision by the church’s Judicial Council that allows pastors to deny people membership based on their sexual orientation.
Both votes went against majority reports from committees at the General Conference, a lawmaking session held once every four years that ends Friday, May 2.
Eric Folkerth, senior pastor at Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, called the votes "shocking." Members from Northaven, where about one-third of the congregation is gay, have spent the last year lobbying delegates to the General Conference from North Texas.
"It’s not what we expected," Folkerth said. "We have a big problem on our hands."
In response to the two votes, LGBT members and their supporters staged an impromptu demonstration by breaking out in song inside the Fort Worth Convention Center, according to Kelli Busey, a transgender activist from Dallas. "Instead of being a welcoming faith, they’re being a faith where you have to pry the door open, and it gives people who are homophobic an opportunity to exercise homophobia," Busey said Thursday.
Busey was attending on behalf of Soulforce, an LGBT civil rights group that staged a demonstration at UMC’s General Conference in 2000 that resulted in nearly 200 arrests.
Paige Schilt, a spokeswoman for Soulforce, said a "gay-affirming procession" on the floor of the General Conference was set for Thursday morning, May 1. Schilt also said "ecclesial disobedience," including a same-sex wedding celebrated by a UMC pastor, was set for Friday.
In a statement, Soulforce President Mel White and Executive Director Jeff Lutes called on UMC members and clergy to take a stand against the church’s anti-gay policies, even if it means leaving the denomination.
"We cannot wait for the next General Conference," the statement said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 2, 2008.