Another rapidly declining part of the United Methodist Church has added itself to the list of annual conferences supporting abortion and the promotion of homosexuality at the same time it moved ahead with a plan to dissolve itself out of existence.
At its recent June 16-18 gathering at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Helena, Montana, the Yellowstone Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church passed a resolution affirming support for abortion provider Planned Parenthood. The Annual Conference also called for a special appointed bishops’ commission on issues of human sexuality authorized by the 2016 General Conference to “include LGBTQI persons so that such voices will be represented in what will otherwise be a conversation about LGBTQI persons by heterosexual, cis-gender persons”.
The conference-passed resolution stated that “such a conversation will lack integrity if LGBTQI voices are not included”.
The moves mirror policies that a handful of other, majority-liberal annual conferences have enacted since the denomination’s governing General Conference cut church agency ties to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), abandoned language that had broadly affirmed the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling, and declined to take up legislation that would undo the denomination’s prohibitions on openly homosexual clergy. All of the annual conferences dissenting from these decisions are in a state of decline.
The conference includes United Methodist congregations in Montana, northern Wyoming and a small section of Idaho. While the states of Montana and Wyoming lack local RCRC affiliates, the conference resolution instead affirms public support for Planned Parenthood Wyoming and Planned Parenthood Montana. The Rocky Mountain Annual Conference passed a similar resolution commending the work of Colorado’s RCRC affiliate.
The tiny Yellowstone Annual Conference, small even by the standards of the shrinking Western Jurisdiction, reported a total membership of 11,727 and attendance of 5,328 in 2014. The conference accounts for only 3.6 percent of membership and 3.2 percent of attendance for the Western Jurisdiction, and has lost more than a quarter of its membership in the past decade. That small size has made the work of the Annual Conference difficult, according to conference officials. During the Yellowstone gathering, one church was closed, three clergy were retired, and the Conference did not ordain, commission, or receive into associate membership a single new pastor. The group voted to move forward with a plan to discontinue the conference and merge into the neighboring Rocky Mountain Conference, with which the Yellowstone Conference already shares a bishop.
Pastor Karen Oliveto of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, California, was elected by the Western Jurisdiction and consecrated a bishop July 16 in Scottsdale, Arizona. In September, Oliveto will replace Bishop Elaine Stanovsky who has served the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area for the past eight years. Oliveto’s election was controversial, as she is legally married to another woman. The United Methodist Church’s highest court, the Judicial Council, is expected to take up a question of law about the legality of electing a “self-avowed” homosexual during their October gathering.