From February 23-26, 2019, the worldwide United Methodist Church is holding a special session (General Conference) to try to resolve ongoing disagreements within the denomination about issues of human sexuality: specifically, under current policy, the United Methodist Church does not ordain LGBTQ individuals, and the denomination also currently does not allow same-sex weddings to be conducted in our sanctuaries.
Over many years, Oconee Street United Methodist has welcomed LGBTQ members and visitors, and we have been grieved by our denomination’s current exclusionary policies. For the past several months, we have engaged in a process of discernment, discussion, prayer, and Bible study as we have explored our congregation’s stance on the current policy proposals.
As a result of this discernment process, our church overwhelmingly voted to endorse the following statement, calling on the UMC to end its discrimination against LGBTQ people and to extend them the full rights and privileges of membership, including ordination and celebrations of marriage. Oconee Street stands with all marginalized groups, and we aim to be a church home where all are fully seen, fully embraced, and fully invited to use God’s gifts.
This is the statement to General Conference delegates approved by the OSUMC church council on Jan. 16, 2019:
Dear North Georgia Delegates to the 2019 Special General Conference,
The congregation of Oconee Street United Methodist Church “welcomes all people regardless of age, race, ethnic background, immigration status, economic status, marital status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, involvement with the criminal justice system, struggles with addiction, physical and mental challenges, or educational level. We come seeking the healing balm of salvation through Jesus Christ.” This is our welcome statement, and our goal is to enact it in all we do.
In keeping with our Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson’s call for prayerful deliberation of The Way Forward at February’s special General Conference in St. Louis, our congregation has engaged in multiple intersecting venues for prayer, discernment, and action. We have
- engaged in three 2-hour congregational meetings to discuss and discern our affirmation of LGBTQ people in the UMC and in OSUMC in particular
- participated in two Bible studies led by Oconee Street member Dr. Jodie Lyon, a faculty member in the UGA Department of Religion (with a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology), on developing a welcoming and reconciling position theologically and biblically
- contemplated heartfelt, personal weekly devotionals written by members of the congregation from people of all ages, sexual orientations, and experiences in the church
We agree with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral that gives primacy to Scripture in our theological reflection. But we also recognize that New Testament (NT) scholars disagree on the interpretation of all the key passages from the NT used in this debate (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10). Therefore, we believe we must turn especially to our own experience with the members and long-term visitors of our congregation who identify as LGBTQ. As Jesus says, “By their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:16). Our experience indicates that the LGBTQ persons in our congregation have lives that testify to the redemptive work of God in Christ Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. They serve and teach in every capacity in our church, bear the fruits of the Spirit in their lives, and prove faithful witnesses to the love, justice, mercy, compassion, and truth of God in Christ Jesus within our local community. We believe that showing God’s love to these our friends and fellow congregants, as well as God’s justice to the broader community, requires that we welcome them in full membership to our church based on the certain witness of Christ’s work in their lives, rather than reject them based on passages whose meaning is disputed. Full membership and participation in the life of the United Methodist Church requires that the same criteria for marriage and ordination should be available to all believers, without any discrimination based on age, race, sex, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
It is our deeply held conviction that LGBTQ Methodists should be ordained, that our congregation would welcome an LGBTQ pastor, and that the UMC should perform and celebrate same-sex marriages with sacred love and support in our churches. We support the striking of all language to the contrary from the Book of Discipline, in keeping with the Simple Plan. Further, we support language that affirms God’s unconditional, inclusive, and expansive love for all people regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, and which calls for the Christian Church to be at the forefront of fighting systems of oppression against marginalized groups in society, including members of the LGBTQ community.
Therefore, we prayerfully request that our delegates vote in a way that endorses full LGBTQ inclusion, including ordination and marriage. Our first choice would be a vote for the Simple Plan. While we feel the One Church Plan falls woefully short of our convictions (by allowing clergy to continue to discriminate and by inserting non-affirming language into the Book of Discipline), we urge you as our delegate to vote for the One Church Plan if the Simple Plan is not placed into consideration.
Thank you for your service in this important process, and we join you in praying for God’s expansive love and unwavering justice to grow stronger in the life and ministry of the United Methodist Church.
Oconee Street United Methodist Church Church Council, on behalf of the congregation
(This statement was endorsed by our Church Council on January 16, 2019)
This statement was also signed individually by 100 members & regular attendees of Oconee Street Methodist.