Methodists to vote on GLBT inclusion

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This winter, the University United Methodist Church at 24th and Guadalupe streets may join a growing list of Methodist churches across the country that are officially open to GLBT Christians. The church’s leadership will vote in December or January on whether to join the Reconciling Ministries Network of the United Methodist Church, a group of 300 churches that explicitly accept gay congregants. It’s a move that has been a long time coming, said senior pastor John Elford. The official law of the United Methodist Church says homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings. “One of the struggles the early church had was whether gentiles had to be included, because Jews weren’t supposed to spend time with gentiles,” Elford said. “The early church was stretched at that point just like we are stretching now, but our stretch is how to include women, people of other ethnicities and people of diverse sexual identities.” Only two of the 300 Methodist Churches in the Southwest Texas Conference are members of the Reconciling Ministries Network, one in San Antonio and Trinity United Methodist Church in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin. Trinity joined the network in 1992 under the leadership of Pastor Sid Hall, who has worked to include GLBT Christians into the Methodist Church since the early 1980s. Hall said in the early years he received threats of damnation from anonymous Methodists and came into conflict with his overseeing bishop, but now the Reconciling Ministry is simply a part of Trinity’s culture. University United is well-suited to join the network, especially under Elford’s leadership, he said. He added that the more churches that join the network, the more pressure there will be on the larger Methodist Church to change its laws to accept homosexuals. “Having a church-wide polity that says you must not discriminate based on sexual orientation, that time is coming,” said Hall, who is still pastor at Trinity. University United’s bulletin each week includes a statement of acceptance to all sexual identities. Joining the network will help the church and its members to fully embrace an environment of inclusion, Elford said. University United’s young adult ministries pastor Bill Frisbie said the church’s campus ministry has always welcomed GLBT students. “We’ve had GLBT people in our group, and it doesn’t change what we do,” said chemical engineering senior Linda Conway, the church’s co-chair of campus ministry. “The problem is that young GLBT people in college see our church and may assume that it’s just another church like back home. By signing onto [the network], it’s showing we are actively open.” For Christian students who identify as GLBT, there are several churches around campus whose ministries say they actively include GLBT individuals, including the Lutheran Campus Ministry on San Antonio Street. The University Catholic Center has a student group called Prism that works to bring GLBT Catholic students, allies and those with questions together for discussion. Although it is currently inactive, group leaders said they are hoping to reenergize it in the spring.