That’s how Pastor Troy Bowers of Manhattan’s First United Methodist Church describes his feelings following the denomination’s decision to reaffirm bans on clergy presiding over same-gender marriages as well as on the ordination of LGBT clergy.
The United Methodist Church’s General Conference met in St. Louis in February and voted 438 to 384 — 53 percent — to reaffirm the bans, which were first instituted in 1972. Multiple U.S. leaders within the denomination have come forward to express their opposition to the vote.
“I really thought this was a time that we would open it up to allow differences and flexibility among churches,” says Bowers.
The “traditional plan” reaffirming the bans was one of three proposed approaches regarding the LGBT worshippers and pastors. The “simple plan” would have simply removed any ruling on officiating same-gender marriages and the ordination of LGBT clergy. Bowers says he’s a proponent of the “one church plan,” which would have allowed pastors and churches to autonomously decide what approach to the topic they’d prefer in their specific societal context.
“Some areas of the country and some areas of the world, it wouldn’t be a helpful decision,” Bowers says. “But in other areas, it would be very helpful to have that freedom as they understand the scriptures to go ahead and be involved in those practices.”
Bowers says FUMC’s membership has a wide range of members with a variety of opinions, beliefs and viewpoints and that some may agree with the vote.
“But the membership [that have]reached out to me have been the ones who felt disappointed, discouraged and really quite hurt,” says Bowers.
The ruling also opens the door to possible laicization of clergy who do not abide by the rulings, either by living openly as an LGBT individual or by presiding over same-gender marriages. Bowers says some priests may choose to continue officiating such marriages despite that risk.
“There are many who I think are ready now to say ‘you know, it’s 2019 and our understanding of scripture in our context leads us to this action, this decision’,” Bowers says.
The vote also highlights a rift in UMC clergy based on their nation or continent of origin. Bowers says a significant portion of those in favor of the vote came from outside of the country, while those from the U.S. tended to favor one of the alternative plans. Nearly one-third of the denomination’s membership hails from various African nations.
Since the vote, UMC pastors and leaders across the U.S. have begun organizing meetings to talk about the next steps. Some in Kansas City have floated the idea of secession.
“[It’s] a last option, a last resort, but I think it’s on the table,” Bowers says, adding that it’s not the first time such a decision has been made. “I think it’s part of the discussion.”