In the wake of an historic vote by the United Methodist Church’s General Conference, the head of the denomination’s Washington, D.C.-based lobby office has chastised the denomination’s governing body.
“The 2019 General Conference brought unbearable pain to the body of Christ,” the Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, general secretary of the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) wrote in high dudgeon. “The delegates’ resistance to hear and honor the presence and voices of LGBTQIA people has created a wound. The wound may one day be healed by the grace of God, but the scar left behind will be visible forever.”
A plan enacted during the February 24-26 gathering in St. Louis, Missouri increases accountability measures for clergy and annual conferences that violate the denomination’s existing rules on sexual ethics and marriage.
“The 2019 General Conference chose to further deepen the divide in The United Methodist Church,” excoriated Henry-Crowe. “The plan adopted by a slim majority is punitive, contrary to our Wesleyan heritage, and in clear violation of the mandate given to us in 1 Corinthians 12.”
The plan passed with 53 percent of the vote on Tuesday. An earlier vote on a competing plan backed by U.S. progressives and most of the denomination’s Council of Bishops was defeated with nearly 56 percent of the vote.
Henry-Crowe has served as the agency’s top executive since 2014. Her comments were delivered in a GBCS press release appearing on the agency’s web site using church letterhead. It was disseminated using church resources.
Writing that there were moments “that broke the heart of God” at General Conference, Henry-Crowe struck a defiant tone, focusing upon the agency’s “work for LGBTQIA equality”:
“We will seek justice for LGBTQIA migrants. We will seek to end conversion therapy, the dangerous and discredited idea that you can change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. We will work to ensure that no one is fired from their job or prevented from access to housing because they are LGBTQIA. We will work to end hate crimes against LGBTQIA people, especially LGBTQIA people of color. We will seek a climate in which LGBTQIA children are protected and enabled to live full and flourishing lives.
“Whatever comes next for The United Methodist Church, I am steadfast in my belief that the General Conference cannot release us from our responsibility to love and care for a world groaning for justice,” Henry-Crowe wrote.
General Conference is the only body that speaks for the entirety of the 12.6 million-member global church. Since 1972, the body has upheld language in the denomination’s Book of Discipline that regards the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Henry-Crowe, in contrast, wrote to persons identifying as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA) telling them “your relationships are sacred and holy.”
LGBT activist groups within the church have unsuccessfully attempted to modify or remove the language at each successive General Conference, stymied by an alliance of U.S. Evangelicals and a growing international contingent largely rooted in the Global South. United Methodists in Africa and Southeast Asia consistently report growth, resulting in a greater voice within the General Conference’s proportional representation system that allots seats for voting delegates. The share of overseas delegates is again expected to increase for the regularly scheduled 2020 General Conference.