Parishioners from the two United Methodist churches in Jamestown, North Dakota, gathered in March to learn, ask questions, and share conversations about the differing theologies and practices concerning marriage and ordination regarding people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). Pastor Jennifer McDonald of St. Paul’s UMC and Pastor Marty Toepke-Floyd of First UMC presented the traditional and progressive approaches to the matter. The differences in theological approaches are leading to a division in The United Methodist Church.
St. Paul’s church has its roots in the Evangelical United Brethren church, and First church was established in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Both churches have a long history of working together in ministries and missions of the Dakota Conference of the UMC.
“We want to keep our church members in fellowship with one another,” said Pastor Jennifer. “Regardless of which direction the churches may go in the future.”
So, the purpose of having these events was not to debate or try to change anyone’s mind but for people to hear what the other side affirms.
Tyrel Schlecht, a member of First UMC, attended the session on March 13 and felt it was informative. “I have been following the issue for four years. I felt the session was informative. I learned and gained an understanding of both sides of the issue,” said Tyrel.
“We want our people to realize and respect that it is possible for sincere and committed Christians to see some issues from more than one perspective,” said Pastor Marty. “Yet still be able to work together in mission.”
Pastor Jennifer presented the traditional and current stance of The United Methodist Church on human sexuality and marriage. It affirms sexuality as God’s good gift and teaches that sexual fulfillment is only found in heterosexual marriage. Since 1972, this has been the explicit policy in the Book of Discipline affirmed by each successive General Conference. The policies that prohibit United Methodist pastors from blessing same-sex unions and bar “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from being considered for ordination are based on this traditional interpretation of the Bible and two millennia of Christian teaching.
Pastor Marty presented the progressive viewpoint that these Biblical prohibitions do not reflect the reality of same-sex loving marriages that are now legal in the United States. The Bible has been misapplied in the past to justify the subjugation of women and non-white peoples and condone things like polygamy and genocide. Since the time of Wesley, the Methodist movement has been in the vanguard to end slavery, discrimination, and inequality. Thus, it is time to update policies on same-sex marriage and no longer dismiss out-of-hand people who feel called to ordained ministry yet are openly LGBT, according to Pastor Marty.
Clara Peterson, a member at First UMC, appreciated the efforts of both pastors who facilitated the sessions. “It was scripture-based, and I appreciated that. There is no doubt that we all believe in the same God,” said Clara. “Both churches have shared experiences and Bible studies together. It has been good to work together. The sessions helped affirm that we want to continue working together.”
The first two-hour session took place on March 13 with a brunch at First UMC, and the second occurred at St. Paul’s UMC on March 27. Around 40 persons from both churches attended each session. Conversation around tables was facilitated at the second session for people to share their thoughts on the matter.
“The questions and conversations were respectful, and people listened to one another,” Pastor Marty said. “I could not have articulated the progressive case without having Jennifer presenting the traditional side so well.”
Pastor Jennifer was impressed with the quality of the questions people asked and the heartfelt and insightful conversations attendees shared.
“I hope it can be an example for others around the conference of clergy and churches actively seeking a loving way to move forward even when we disagree,” said Pastor Jennifer.