Local church advocates for religious equality

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While several state senators continue to advocate for LGTBQ rights in the Texas Legislature, similar support for religious equality has become more apparent in Christian churches nationwide.

In an overwhelming majority, congregation members of the First United Methodist Church, or FUMC, voted to join the Reconciling Ministries Network. The network, founded in 1982, advocates for the rights of gay individuals to serve in United Methodist ministry and be married in the church. The vote took place Feb. 10, making the church, which is located on Lavaca Street, one of more than 500 United Methodist communities to advocate for religious gay rights, according to the Reconciling Ministries Network website.

FUMC senior pastor Rev. John Wright said the vote required more than 75 percent of the congregation voting in favor to join the network, rather than a simple majority. He said the actual vote surpassed the requirement by far.

“For six months we have been in an intense process of discussion and discernment trying to make sure that everyone had an opportunity to be exposed to the issue and to voice their opinions,” Wright said. “We’re not giving blanket approval to every form of sexual expression, but we’re saying when two people are of faithful love and exclusive love for each other, the church should be able to encourage that love.”

Although several congregation members chose to leave the church because of the decision to join the network, Wright said FUMC has always welcomed the LGTBQ community with open arms.

“For a long time we’ve had a policy in our own local church of welcoming all persons regardless of sexual orientation,” Wright said. “We say that every Sunday. We’re not prepared to break church law, but we have taken an official position as a congregation that we want to work officially towards trying to change that law to the extent that we have the power to do that.”

Religious studies junior Cole Kirby, who said he works at a United Methodist church not affiliated with the network, said he believes practicing gay individuals should not be serving in ministry in the same way alcoholics or other “habitual sinners” should not.

“I think the gospel of Jesus Christ commands that we welcome people of all walks of life into the church, and homosexuals are not excluded from that,” Kirby said. “I do, however, believe that scripture is clear that God ordained sexual behavior as to be between a married man and woman. It’s the same as walking in heterosexual promiscuity.”

While gay persons should not be ordained or married by church ministry, they should still be welcomed by the church, Kirby said.

“I don’t think that sexual sin is something that is specific to homosexuals,” Kirby said. “They should not be leading the church, but should be loved and cared for by the church in the hopes that they might one day repent.”

Ryan Hernandez, advertising senior and public relations assistant for the Texas Wesley United Methodist Campus Ministry, said the way modern culture has changed has made it evident that gay individuals should be allowed to serve in ministry.

“I’m definitely in favor of the church joining the network,” Hernandez said. “[Homosexuals] should be allowed in the church and should be allowed to minister. A year ago I probably wouldn’t have felt that way. It’s just the way society has moved and culture has shifted, and I believe [it] too should be accepted.”