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Oklahoma Methodists discuss St. Louis gathering

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Protestors chant during the United Methodist Church's special session of the general conference in St. Louis, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. America's second-largest Protestant denomination faces a likely fracture as delegates at the crucial meeting move to strengthen bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy. [AP PHOTO]
Protestors chant during the United Methodist Church's special session of the general conference in St. Louis, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. America's second-largest Protestant denomination faces a likely fracture as delegates at the crucial meeting move to strengthen bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy. [AP PHOTO]

The Rev. Scott Spencer said he wasn't surprised when United Methodists ultimately upheld the denomination's ban on full inclusion of gay people.

However, the Oklahoma City minister said the decision still caused him distress.

"I'm not terribly shocked but I'm sad because the Methodists have taken a stance that doesn't leave any room for any disagreement on this topic," Spencer said Tuesday, in a telephone interview from St. Louis.

The senior pastor of Mosaic United Methodist Church, Spencer said he became aware near the start of the Methodists' General Conference that conservative and "traditionalist" delegates had the votes to uphold the ban on same-gender marriage and ordination of gay and lesbian clergy.

He said he felt that the ban was particularly popular among delegates in other parts of the world like Africa, Eastern Europe, the Philippines and the Bible Belt in the U.S.

Spencer said he attended the conference as part of the Mainstream United Methodists, a group working toward full inclusion for gay people in the Methodist Church. Tuesday, he said he has decisions to make and his church, which is part of the Reconciling Network, has looming decisions, as well. The Reconciling Network is a network of United Methodist churches across the nation working toward full inclusion for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

"I want to go back to Mosaic and help lead them in any decision they made. We don't want to have a knee-jerk reaction. We're going to take it slow," he said.

The minister said before the recent Methodist gathering, some people in his church had expressed their hope that Methodists would approve measures more inclusive of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"Some people are just tired and they're hurt and they're going to leave," he said. "I've had people tell me in the last year that if this (reaffirmation of ban) came to pass, they would not want to be part of the Methodist Church."

In a broader context beyond his own church, he said he knew that conversations about splitting from the denomination have now begun in earnest.

"We've just reached a point where how much longer do you stay and try to change the rules versus leaving and having the freedom to live out your beliefs without fear of retribution or punishment," Spencer said.

The Rev. Linda Harker participated in the Methodist gathering as a clergy delegate and leader of a delegation of 14 clergy and laity from the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference and Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.

"While it was a sacred privilege to serve as a delegate, it was also heartbreaking in so many ways," Harker, senior pastor of McFarlin United Methodist Church, in an email.

While I believe our Oklahoma delegation conducted ourselves with love and grace towards each other, my hope was that the world would see the love and respect that we as a denomination have for all people, even when we disagree on things. I’m not sure that’s what the world saw. However, we in Oklahoma will go back to our churches and do what we are called to do: 'preach the gospel, and if necessary use words' (St. Francis of Assisi). We are committed to loving all people and will continue to make disciples for the transformation of the world."

Bill Junk, a lay delegate from Edmond's New Covenant United Methodist Church, had previously expressed his hope that the denomination would make a decision on the matter after several years of delay.

"In the end, the Church continued to affirm its' historic position regarding human sexuality. We are all children of God and of sacred worth," he said.

Like Spencer, the Rev. Trina Bose North, senior pastor of Crown Heights United Methodist Church, was not a voting delegate at the Methodist meeting but she attended as part of the Mainstream United Methodists group.

Tuesday, North said she thinks she will remain with the United Methodist denomination to continue to strive for full inclusion for gay and lesbians.

Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›

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