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UMC Passes Historic Changes for our LGBTQ+ Family: An op-ed from Pacific School of Religion faculty Rev. Dr. Kristin Stoneking

This week, the United Methodist Church (UMC) excised discriminatory policies against LGBTQ+ persons, many of which have been a part of its rules since 1972. While this is a celebration for those inside the denomination, it’s also a victory for champions of dignity and human rights everywhere. The UMC is the second-largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., with a global membership of 10 million. With this change, it becomes one of few, and one of the largest, worldwide Protestant bodies without anti-LGBTQ positions.

The impact of this change for the rights and protection of all people and the new discourse now possible is significant. As a denomination with consultative status in the U.N., United Methodists are now uniquely positioned to speak on behalf of LGBTQ+ persons in a transnational body through the language of faith.

While algorithms create smaller and more niche echo chambers, large, non-governmental institutions that cross nationality boundaries but carry unifying identities like common faith or denominational identity have the power to be conduits of both complexity and community.

This change in UMC policy has been labored for by many, some of whom contributed decades of work but didn’t live to see this day. For me, this journey began in 1998 with a refusal to answer anti-LGBTQ+ questions during the ordination process. The courage of the body in Eastern Kansas, which affirmed my gifts and graces for ordination despite the ban on LGBTQ+ ordination, is an example of the many who have resisted and brought us to this day. In 2016 I worked with a team to organize a mass coming out of queer United Methodist clergy, which led to the founding of the Queer Clergy Caucus. Now that our work and prayers have been answered, I give thanks and celebrate all who have made this change possible.

Pacific School of Religion (PSR), where I teach, has also been at the forefront of this work. Their Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS), founded in 2000, is the country’s first seminary-based LGBTQ+ center. Since then, it’s been working to advance the well-being of LGBTQ+ people and transform faith communities and society through a new public discourse on religion, gender, and sexuality through education, research, community building, and advocacy. Karen Oliveto, the first openly queer bishop in the UMC, is a PSR alumnx, along with many other groundbreaking theologians and leaders in the fight for social justice.

At PSR, our vision is to create a world where all can thrive, and are grateful to be partners with the UMC at this historic moment. We invite all into furthering transnational communities that champion spirituality, compassion, and dignity for all persons.

Rev. Dr. Kristin Stoneking is Associate Professor of United Methodist Studies and Leadership at Pacific School of Religion, a progressive Christian seminary, graduate school, and center for social justice committed to a radically inclusive Gospel. Rev. Stoneking is also an ordained elder in the California-Nevada annual conference of the UMC and has served as a local church pastor, district superintendent, and campus minister with a ministry focused on the intersection of social justice, revitalized faith communities and organizations, faith formation, and interreligious engagement.

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