Leaders of the United Methodist Church voted this week to uphold restrictions prohibiting gay clergy and same sex weddings.
At a special session of the church's general conference this week in St. Louis, delegates rejected a plan that would have allowed individual churches to decide how they handle these issues.
A member of the New England delegation, Pastor Becca Girrell of Lebanon, New Hampshire, joined us to talk about the vote.
Pastor Becca Girrell: I was privileged to be on the floor, because I identify as LGBTQ, and so we felt it was important to make sure that my voice and perspective was represented. So I was able to vote for a couple of different measures to try to make the church more progressive, more inclusive of different perspectives.
There was a measure to just remove the restrictive language, not say anything positive, but not say anything restrictive. Kind of the old standby: if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.
And that measure actually threw about 40 percent of the vote, which was better than we were hoping, and that was really affirming.
Kari Njiiri, NEPR: What's your reaction to the final vote?
There's a lot of pain. But mostly my reaction is one of confusion.
The final vote puts in place some legislation that — most of which had been already ruled unconstitutional by the court system within our denomination. And so it's very confusing as to what will take place if the restrictions, which were actually increased, will hold, or if they will be ruled to be impossible to implement.
So there's a little bit of “we still need to wait for the dust to settle” to see what will be from here. In the meantime, I'm hopeful that we can just continue to do the ministry that we are doing together in New England.
Our conference is focused on immigration justice, and lots of feeding ministries, lots of ministries with young people. And we really want to continue to do that good work together and sort of wait for the legalities to settle out.
Are you concerned that this could cause a split in the church?
Yes, I think what we're seeing is that there is definitely an ideological split already, a theological split, and a split in the way which we approach not only scripture, but the way in which we approach our understanding of — kind of the nature of who we are as God's people, and what our task is, as the church.
So I think that has already happened, that division, and the question was really could we, as people coming from really different perspectives, agree that there was more that kept us together than what might drive us apart.
And that for me is the heartbreak. For some, not for all, but for some in the denomination, their answer was no. And that was the answer that I did not hold. I was hoping we could live together in our difference. But we're seeing that for many people, that's just not within their conscience, to be able to do that.
What about your congregation? How do you think the vote impacts your local church?
The folks of Lebanon United Methodist Church are relatively — well, we're a large congregation in New Hampshire, in our area. But some around the country might see us as a smaller congregation.
We have been what we call a "reconciling congregation" for many years, for over a decade. That's a congregation that is open and affirming to LGBTQ folks, and our policy is that we would welcome weddings of same-sex couples. And that had already been against the rules of the Book of Discipline in our denomination, and was our position, nevertheless.
So what I told my congregation before I left is the same thing I'm going to tell them when I return a little later this week, and that is simply we are going to continue to be the people that we have been called to be in this time and place. We are going to feed the hungry in our community; we are going to continue working toward the building of a homeless shelter in our area, which is greatly needed; we are going to continue to welcome all people in love and joy in our church; we're going to continue teaching and raising another generation of people of faith. And this can't take that away.
What could happen to you?
That's a good question. All clergy people in the denomination have some questions, again, about the way pensions and things like that will be handled. As a queer clergy person, I'm very privileged to live in a region, and in an area, that has been very progressive. And I would be very surprised if this changed the approach of my region toward LGBTQ clergy, such as myself.
So I'm less worried where I am, and more concerned for my siblings, who are in places that are not quite so safe for them, and the ministries that they do, which are really important, and need to continue.