Twin County residents have mixed reactions to the United Methodist Church’s recent announcement opposing same-sex marriage and gay clergy members.
Delegates of the church, which is the third-largest faith community in the United States, decided on the church’s position on sexuality at a four-day special session held in St. Louis from Feb. 23-26.
In a close vote, 53 percent of delegates voted for the traditional plan, which opposes gay clergy and same-sex marriage, though many United Methodist Church ministers perform same-sex marriages and approve the ordination of LGBTQ people as clergy.
Other options presented to delegates included allowing local churches to take their own position on the issue or splitting the church into separate denominations. A slim majority voted in favor of reaffirming the church’s traditional view of sexuality.
The Rev. Ken Coddington at Trinity United Methodist Church, at 555 Joslen Blvd. in Greenport, said it is unclear how the church’s decision will impact local parishioners.
“I wasn’t at the annual conference where this was called for,” Coddington said. “We are having a special meeting on the 16th of March to discuss the actual implications and what this means to the church.”
Linda Mussmann, county supervisor for Hudson’s 4th Ward, is a leader of Hudson’s gay community and thought to be part of the first gay couple to be married in New York when same-sex marriage was signed into law in the state, Mussmann said. She is active in the area’s LGBTQ community and opposes the world church’s position, saying it is exclusionary.
“As Christians, it’s a bizarre position to take,” Mussmann said. “There are so many families who have LGBTQ children and relatives and this leaves people out. If you are going to be a Christian, I would think you would include everybody — especially since same-sex marriage is a law in many states. To limit people’s basic rights — especially when it comes to love — it seems cruel to take a hostile stand against people who love one another.”
The Rev. Catherine Schuyler from Catskill United Methodist Church, at 40 Woodland Ave., said she is disappointed with the church’s decision.
“I am sorry that the Methodist church has turned its back on baptized members,” Schuyler said. “We baptize babies and welcome them to the family of God and encourage them to serve God in whatever way God may be calling them. But if they are gay, we tell them we will not welcome them or recognize their gifts in ministry.”
Schuyler has a gay stepdaughter but she said that hasn’t impacted her present position on issues of same-sex marriage or gay clergy.
“I have been supportive well before I met Mary or knew who she was fully. It is an issue I have been working on and speaking about since I was in seminary,” Schuyler said. “I didn’t decide that I was straight. God just called me to ministry and that is what happened to my gay colleagues, too, but the Methodist church does not welcome them or their love for one another. I cannot see any grace in the decision. The United Methodist Church is known for its foundation on the grace of God, so I am disappointed in this decision.”
Schuyler said she has not yet been asked to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony, but “I would not say no to doing a wedding if asked.”
In addition to serving the Catskill parish, Schuyler is also pastor of the United Methodist churches in Palenville and Quarryville.
The Rev. Carl Franson, who leads both the Chatham and East Chatham United Methodist churches, said he planned to address the issue with his parishes Sunday, and would explain the impact of the decision at that time.
“I have never expressed my viewpoint concerning human sexuality,” Franson said. “I have to serve people on both sides of the issue.”
United Methodist churches nationwide were asked to read a pastoral letter to their congregations Sunday from Kenneth H. Carter Jr., president of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church.
“I pray that we will move toward the pain and grief and especially among our members in the LGBTQ community,” according to Carter’s letter, and then referenced James 5:13-16 from the Bible. “James does not call us to identify the sins of one another. He calls us to confess our sins to one another, and to pray for one another so that we may be healed.”
Other nonevangelical Protestant denominations perform LGBTQ marriages, including the Presbyterian (USA) and Episcopal churches and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As a result, each has lost some congregations to conservative faith groups, according to the Washington Post.
The United Methodist Church exists worldwide with nearly one-third of the church’s membership in Africa. At last week’s conference, the most vocal proponents of the traditional plan were from outside the United States, including Russia and Liberia.
The Rev. Mary Langley, from First United Methodist Church of Coxsackie, said the global reach of the church had a substantial impact on the vote.
“A disadvantage of being a worldwide religion is that what others think in other parts of the world can impact us. We do not agree on all the issues,” Langley said, adding that she opposed the church’s decision and said many in her parish do as well.
“Personally, I disagree with the ruling and I know many in my congregation are very upset about it because members of their family are LGBTQ,” Langley said. “I am trying to be considerate of everyone’s opinion. The New York conference is actually the most liberal conference and we as a group disagree with the ruling as we have ordained ministers who are serving currently in our churches. Our bishop is meeting with all of the pastors on March 16, to help us understand exactly what the impact will be.”
Langley said she would be willing to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony if asked to do so.
The decision to oppose same-sex marriage and gay clergy met with strong approval from church leaders outside the United States.
Jerry Kulah, head of the UMC Africa Initiative, is a proponent of the traditional plan.
“The progressive groups are loud, but they don’t have the numbers,” Kulah said. If the church voted to affirm LGBTQ inclusion, it would have become a “laughingstock” in Africa, Kulah added.
“I’m happy to go back to old ladies and old men in villages who received the Bible from missionaries and let them know that the Bible hasn’t changed,” Kulah said.
The Washington Post contributed to this report.