HUNTSVILLE — By a vote of 236 to 151, the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to remove language regarding restrictions on homosexuality from the Book of Discipline, its governing document. The resolution approved by The Commission on Petitions and Procedures before the meeting stated that "the current language … on human sexuality has fostered painful division."
The vote comes as over half the churches in the Conference have decided to disaffiliate, part of a broader movement within the denomination, with much of the impetus coming from the ordination of openly gay Bishop Karen Oliveto in 2016. To date, 51.9 % of North Alabama Conference churches have disaffiliated, and around 60% of parishioners, with others expected to follow. In addition, according to the financial report given at the meeting on Thursday, 2023 giving is expected to be down over 45%, or around $3 million.
As indicated by the vote, not everyone agreed with the direction the UMC was taking.
Thomas Hammock, Lay Delegate from Asbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, moved to postpone the resolution, claiming it would drag the conference back to a spirit of divisiveness.
"It should be handled by the General Conference," Hammock said.
But the motion to postpone failed by a vote of 235 to 152.
James White, Lay Delegate for The Church at Cahaba Bend, an UMC parish in Helena, was also against the resolution. According to White, his church has been growing by avoiding these type of issues.
"We've been so blessed during this time by focusing on what God's calling us to do, and our church has grown tremendously," he said. "Most new families could care less about how all this is going."
There were early signs that the resolution might pass, as many delegates were wearing rainbow-colored hearts on their name tags, the rainbow symbolizing the LGBTQ movement. Also, just before the vote, a sermon was given by Conference Lay Leader Lisa Keys-Mathews, in which she stressed unity by referring to the African term "Ubuntu," which, according to Keys-Mathews, was popularized by Nelson Mandela, means "because I am, you are."
One supporter, Rev. H.N. Gibson, associate pastor of East Lake United Methodist Church in Birmingham, and Rev. Brian Erickson, senior pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood, submitted the resolution and described the issue in arguably theological terms.
"It's part of a journey of perfection," Gibson said. "We are moving onward toward perfection, though we haven't yet arrived.
All this said, the resolution bears no more weight than that of "recommendation," as the issue is ultimately up to the General Conference to decide on. This meeting will take place April 23-May 3, 2024.
Allen Keller can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
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