United Methodist Church Reverses Ban on Gay Clergy

The United Methodist Church removed a longstanding ban on the ordination of practicing gay clergy on Wednesday morning, making official a shift from a policy that had already begun to fray in practice, prompting the departure of a quarter of its congregations in the United States in recent years.

Methodist leaders are meeting for the first time since 2019, after several delays because of the pandemic. The overturning of the 40-year-old ban on “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” passed overwhelmingly and without debate in a package of measures that had already received strong support in committee.

Delegates, meeting in Charlotte, N.C., also voted to bar local leaders from penalizing clergy or churches for holding (or declining to hold) same-sex weddings. Further votes affirming L.G.B.T.Q. clergy and churchgoers are expected before the meeting adjourns on Friday.

Last week, the conference approved the first phrase of a “regionalization” plan that would restructure the global denomination to give different regions autonomy on adapting rules on issues including sexuality. The move is seen as a way to diffuse tensions between the increasingly progressive American church and more conservative factions internationally.

Wednesday’s vote follows years of turmoil in the denomination over sexuality, an issue that has prompted tumultuous debates and schisms in other Christian traditions and institutions. At their most recent meeting in 2019, Methodists voted to tighten an existing ban on same-sex marriages and gay and lesbian clergy.

Since that vote, however, the denomination’s makeup has changed, in large part because of conservative congregations departing in anticipation of the loosening of strictures around homosexuality that are becoming official this week.

Conservatives were given an exit ramp when Methodist leaders opened a window in 2019 for congregations to leave over “reasons of conscience,” in most cases allowing them to keep their property and assets if they received approval to depart by the end of last year. Many conservative congregations accepted the offer, prompting an extraordinary decline for the geographically and culturally diverse denomination.

In Texas, for example, a historic stronghold, more than 40 percent of United Methodist congregations left the denomination. Some joined the breakaway conservative Global Methodist Church, while others have remained independent.

After the vote on Wednesday morning, jubilant delegates gathered on the floor of the meeting to sing a Methodist song that has become a refrain for many L.G.T.B.Q. Christians. “Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still,” they sang. “Let this be our song: No one stands alone.”

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