United Methodists from Kansas and Nebraska are in support of allowing gay marriage in the church and enabling gay people to become ministers.
At the Great Plains United Methodist Conference on Saturday, about 1,000 representatives from churches across the two states voted to pass Petition 7, which called for “acknowledgement of diverse beliefs regarding homosexuality.”
The petition itself, which passed with a roughly 60 to 40 percent majority, does not change the church’s policy – rather, it gets sent to the United Methodist General Conference in 2016, which is regarded as the legislative body of the church. The general conference “can revise church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues,” according to its website.
Currently the church does not allow gay people to become ministers and it does not recognize gay marriage. Ministers who perform gay marriages can have their credentials – a license to preach and operate a church – revoked.
The vote sparked heated debate inside Century II, where the conference was held, and some got up to leave after the vote was taken.
One of those people was the Rev. Rob Schmutz, of the United Methodist Church at Park City.
While the petition was being discussed, he spoke out, saying he would resign as a minister should the petition pass. After the votes were tallied, Schmutz handed his credentials over to Bishop Scott Jones, who was presiding over the conference, and left, said David Livingston, a pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Lenexa.
“We have roughly 1,000 pastors in the conference,” Livingston said. “One pastor chose to turn in his credentials today. For a divisive issue that’s not bad. United Methodists stay united, even if there are issues that divide us.”
Schmutz did not respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment.
Jones said the Park City church “will get a new pastor as soon as we’ve gone through the conversations and discernment process to keep that congregation going strong.”
Rick Just, superintendent of the Wichita East district, also spoke out against the petition.
Just did not respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment.
Others leaving the conference Saturday afternoon who voted in support of the petition said it was the morally just thing to do.
“There were some that said it would hurt the church ... but the majority felt like it was the right thing to do,” said Helen Carey, a representative from First United Methodist Church in Valley Center. “They’re God’s children too. Even though some might not agree with their sexual orientation, they are important people as well.”
The petition would strike language from the Book of Discipline – the guiding principles for United Methodists – that reads “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching,” in addition to other sentences such as, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not certified to be candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
Before the Great Plains Conference was created last year, there were three conferences in the region: Nebraska, Kansas East and Kansas West – which included Wichita.
Mark Holland, who serves part time as the pastor at Trinity Community Church in Kansas City and full time as the mayor of Kansas City, Kan., supported the petition. He said he and his colleagues in the old Kansas East conference have pushed for similar legislation for the past 12 years.
“There’s been a major cultural shift in the world, and unfortunately the church tends to lag behind the civic community in issues of social justice,” Holland said.
He cited various examples: Women gained the right to vote in 1919, and the Methodist Church didn’t allow full clergy rights to women until 1956. Segregation was banned in 1964, and the church didn’t officially desegregate until 1968, when the United Methodist Church was created.
“We’re behind the public sentiment in terms of homosexuality, so it’s a joy for me to see this Great Plains Conference is taking a step in the right direction,” he said.
Holland said he is “guardedly optimistic” about the petition’s chances of success at the General Conference, but added that it has “historically been hard to convince the delegates from ... the African countries to support this more progressive view.” He said 40 percent of delegates at the international conference live outside of the United States, mostly in Africa.
“There’s just a very different view of social issues generally,” he said. “I do believe this: If there was a vote just among U.S. delegates, it would pass at the national level. It would be close, but it would pass. When you tie in a full 40 percent of the vote from a much more conservative world view. ... We’re struggling in Africa with still putting gay and lesbian people to death. We’re a long way from full inclusion.”
Livingston, the Lenexa pastor, authored the petition. He said he hopes it will not divide the church and be allowed “to completely overwhelm all of the other things that happened that we all agreed with.”
“One of the important things is that, that was a 60-40 vote, roughly, but that doesn’t mean that the 40 percent are ready to leave the Church,” he said. “Sometimes it feels to me like these major controversial issues can be overplayed. The United Methodist Church has been debating this in one form or another for more than 40 years, and we’ve stayed united, so, yeah, I think we are going to work through this.”