Several dozen Methodists from across the Greater Houston area gathered outside of the Texas Annual Conference headquarters on Thursday, April 12, to protest the United Methodist Church’s recent decision against LGBTQ inclusion.
LGBTQ-affirming clergy and church members held rainbow-colored signs with statements such as “Beloved Yet Betrayed” and “God Loves Everyone” while standing outside of bishop Scott Jones’ office in the Museum District. In February, the United Methodist Church (UMC) decided at its General Conference that it would retain an existing church policy stating that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Bering Memorial’s senior pastor, Rev. Diane McGehee, attended the General Conference to show support for LGBTQ indivudals. Despite the vote, she remains committed to fighting for inclusivity within the denomination.
“We are here because we object to and are protesting the act of the General Conference of the UMC, because [leaders] made decisions that are discriminatory to LGBTQIA+ persons,” McGehee said during the protest. “To not fully include [LGBTQIA+] people in the life of the church is a violation of the core of Methodism, and a violation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
McGehee, who described the February decision as “devastating,” said she feared for the mental health of LGBTQ people who feel discriminated against by the church.
“The suicide rate for LGBTQIA+ people is five times the rate of their straight [and cis] counterparts,” McGehee said. “[Those suicides are often the result] of a religious message that says God doesn’t fully embrace their identities. That is just wrong. It’s harmful. And we’ve got to speak out against it.”
Kim McCumber left the Baptist church eight years ago because she believed that the Methodist church would be fully embracing of her son, who identifies as gay. McCumber, who attends St. Peter’s UMC in Katy, said she was very wounded by the UMC’s decision, but still feels supported by her congregation.
“I had about a week-long meltdown,” McCumber recalled. “Then I put everything into perspective. Where I am now is very welcoming and supportive of my child. I have decided to stay and fight the fight. My son is okay with it.”
Bishop Jones, who oversees United Methodist congregations in the Greater Houston area, was unavailable to comment. His official statement following the General Conference’s vote emphasized that while the UMC’s “views on same-sex marriage have not changed,” it would “continue to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons to our churches and affirm their sacred worth.”
However, more conservative Methodist conferences in other countries are increasing penalties for those who break the rules by violating the church’s ban on same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy, and a split within the denomination is now looming.
LGBTQ-affirming United Methodist congregations across the nation, including Bering Memorial and St. Paul’s in Houston, say that they will remain inclusive of all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“We’re not changing and we’re not stepping down,” McGehee said. “We will continue to care for people who have been hurt by religious messages, and we will continue to work until that changes.”