After months of conversations, presentations, prayer, and writing workshops, the series of Reconciling Conversations have culminated in three proposals: to approve the Reconciling Ministries Network welcome statement, to join the Reconciling Ministries Network, and to approve the unique Two Rivers Church Welcome Statement.
Before an official decision is made, a straw poll has been created to gauge the thoughts of the congregation. The straw poll has been concluded. The results were nearly overwhelmingly positive in wanting to approve the welcome statements and join RMN.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are we leaving the United Methodist Church?
In a word, no. Drafting and approving a statement of welcome is not an act of disaffiliation. Defiance, perhaps, but we will remain a part of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. At this time, no one has proposed that Two Rivers Church should disaffiliate from the UMC. There are churches in our conference that are leaving the UMC. Most are leaving because they feel that the UMC is too tolerant of LGBTQ+ inclusion.
Does affirming LGBTQ+ people go against the Bible?
It goes against some interpretations of the Bible. It is possible however, to affirm both your faith in the Bible and your LGBTQ+ friends. There are many scholarly, well-researched, and deeply thought-out reasons to affirm all people, even “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” (this language that is used in the United Methodist Book of Discipline that excludes people from being ordained as clergy). There are issues of translation, social context, cultural awareness, and biological understanding. There are more resources to explore this idea at the bottom of this page. but it boils down to the simple fact that loving another person is never a sin.
Why are we focusing on LGBTQ+ people, aren’t all people welcome?
Jesus Christ loves all and welcomes all. The earliest Christian creed – one that Paul quoted in his letter to the Galatians states that “There is no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free, no male and female.” This is the foundation of who we are as Christians, but that message has been lost over centuries of patriarchy, racism, and antisemitism.
We may feel that all people are welcome in our congregation, but the default message proclaimed by Christians in general, and the United Methodist Church in particular, is that LGBTQ+ people are not welcome. The Christian Church has done much to vilify, persecute, and demonize gay people. They have been made to feel unsafe within the walls of the Church. During the 2019 General Conference, The United Methodist Church upheld language that declared that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and thus LGBTQ+ people shall be barred from ordained ministry and no church shall sanctify a same-sex wedding. This is the default position of the UMC. If we believe that LGBTQ+ people are of sacred worth, created in the image of God, and worthy of full inclusion into the life of the Church, we must state it explicitly. If we say nothing, we say that LGBTQ+ are not welcome.
We have been talking so much about LGBTQ+ inclusion. Why now?
Because it might save the life of a young person you know.
LGBTQ+ people are under attack. They are being threatened by lawmakers. They are made to feel unsafe in public. They are targeted by mass shooters. In February a Davenport man was arrested for making known his plans to stage a “mass shooting” targeting the gay community. LGBTQ+ young people are hearing messages of exclusion from their churches and pastors. If the United Methodist Church is making any headlines, it is about disaffiliation and churches splitting over how to respond to gay people in the church. The Global Methodist Church was born on May 1, 2022 because the UMC was too lenient toward LGBTQ+ people and too slow to make accommodations for schism. The overwhelming message that LGBTQ+ people hear from the Church is, “You are not welcome.” LGBTQ+ young people are more likely to die by suicide than their straight friends, but having a welcoming and affirming adult in their lives has been shown to greatly reduce their risk. Making a statement of welcome can literally save the life of a gay, lesbian, or transgender kid who is contemplating suicide.
Can’t we just wait until General Conference 2024 makes the UMC more inclusive?
There will be a General Conference meeting in 2024. It is possible that at that conference, the hurtful language that excludes LGBTQ+ people from the church is removed from the Book of Discipline. Given the voting dynamics of an international church, that is not guaranteed. Even with churches disaffiliating and joining the Global Methodist Church, there is no guarantee that 2024 will completely remove the harmful parts of the Discipline.
What is more likely to pass in 2024 is the “Christmas Covenant,” which is a “Regionalization” approach. This plan would allow for the United States to adopt its own rules for ministry (as every other nation is able to do. The United States is the only area of the global church that cannot alter the Discipline for its own ministry context). A United States conference would be much more likely to remove the harmful language in our Discipline and allow us to remain in conversation with international siblings in Christ who are not able to do so yet. There are a small, but growing, number of reconciling churches, ministries, and clergy in Africa and other areas, but they are overwhelmingly outnumbered. Remaining in connection with them will keep them resourced and help them feel less isolated and endangered.
So yes, we could wait, but the unfortunate truth is that the wait may be much longer than we want. And in the meantime, harm is being done. As the anti-LGBTQ+ noise (especially this close to Iowa) grows louder, it becomes more important to raise a voice of love and inclusion – Now.
(There is more information on some of these terms below)
What does it mean to be a Reconciling Church?
To be a part of the Reconciling Ministries Network, a church must go through a process of discernment, discussion, and prayer (which we are currently doing). The congregation must also approve the following Welcome Statement:
“We celebrate God’s gift of diversity and value the wholeness made possible in community equally shared and shepherded by all. We welcome and affirm people of every gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, who are also of every age, race, ethnicity, physical and mental ability, level of education, and family structure, and of every economic, immigration, marital, and social status, and so much more. We acknowledge that we live in a world of profound social, economic, and political inequities. As followers of Jesus, we commit ourselves to the pursuit of justice and pledge to stand in solidarity with all who are marginalized and oppressed.”
Once this has happened, we may join a national directory of churches that are considered safe places for Queer Christians to worship and join. It would also mean that we include an explicit statement of welcome in visible places, such as bulletins, websites, newsletters, church doors, and interior signage. The statement above is the boilerplate statement for Reconciling Churches, but we will undergo a process of writing our own statement.
Will we lose members if we affirm LGBTQ+ people in all aspects of the church?
Maybe. There may be some people who cannot in good conscience be a part of a church that affirms all people. This is unfortunate. A church is strongest when conservative and liberal people can remain together. There is value in having diversity of opinion. It is possible to disagree on Biblical interpretation and still remain in communion with one another.
Our intention is to be more inclusive and more welcoming, and not alienate anyone. It is also possible that not doing anything would lead to losing members as well. There are people who have been waiting for change within the United Methodist Church for a long time. Remaining silent may alienate them and make them search for a place that they feel is more inclusive.
If you are “on the fence,” it is important to consider: If we know the harm that is done to people when the church maintains exclusive language surrounding LGBTQ+ people, then the question we must ask however is this: Are we more worried about the harm that is done to people for trying to live their truest lives, or about the discomfort some may feel at living in disagreement? It is possible that we may lose members. It is also possible that we will save the lives of young people who are looking to us for answers and support.
How will outsiders respond to this? Will we become the “Gay Church”?
It is impossible to know how outsiders will react. It is highly unlikely that LGBTQ+ people will start streaming in. They have been harmed by the church for too long to just start coming in to worship next Sunday. Hopefully, however, in time we may be able to heal some wounds and earn trust with LGBTQ+ people and allies alike.
It is possible that there is a public backlash. Churches who have made affirming statements in the past have been targets of vandalism, or worse. Tensions in our society are high, and it is possible that if we make a public statement on inclusion, there could be repercussions. We must take that seriously.
The affirmation of LGTBQ+ persons as well as people of every color, age, physical, social class, ethnic background, nationality, and physical ability, is not only a necessary part of countering the discrimination explicit in the UMC Social Principles, but it is a crucial part of living into our social justice advocacy. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is an individual spiritual good news AND it is also a public social good news.
It is important that we do not stop with a welcome statement and a sticker on the door. We will work together as a people of faith to discern what it will mean to be a Reconciling Church beyond the day that we cast our votes. This might mean hosting workshops and speakers that are LGBTQ+ affirming. It might mean being involved in advocacy, supporting local LGBTQ+ organizations, or participating in Pride events. We will live into the details as we move forward. We must also recognize that many of God’s children are being persecuted, marginalized, and forced to suffer injustice. Being a Reconciling Church means that we will remember our baptismal vows to “accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”