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In Charlotte, United Methodists reorganize over LGBTQ bans

A banner welcomes all inside First United Methodist Church in uptown Charlotte.
First United Methodist Church
A banner welcomes all inside First United Methodist Church in uptown Charlotte.

The United Methodist Church is charting a new direction. At their General Convention in uptown Charlotte Thursday, delegates from churches all over the world voted to allow different geographic regions to make their own rules about ministry.

Called “regionalization,” it’s seen as a possible first step for Methodist congregations in the U.S. to remove long-standing bans on same-sex marriage and openly gay clergy.

WFAE's Nick de la Canal spoke with Bishop Ken Carter, who presides over Western North Carolina, about the vote.

Nick de la Canal: What's your initial reaction to yesterday's vote, and was this expected?

Bishop Ken Carter: I thought the vote was very positive. What that vote meant was one, it meant that we are trying not to be a U.S.-dominated global church. But it also gives people in the United States and the church in the United States, the permission to adapt the discipline to the U.S. culture, which is very different than parts of Eastern Europe or Africa or parts of Asia, and so it was to me, the maturing of the church.

De la Canal: There are still proposals on the table to lift the church's global ban on performing same-sex marriages and ordaining openly gay clergy. I guess, where does the process go from here? Will those proposals still go to a vote? Or do individual regions now need to come up with their own proposals to vote on?

Carter: I think the action will be to remove the sentences from our Book of Discipline and it is for our global church. However, other parts of the world have had the freedom to adapt our Book of Discipline to their cultures, it's just that we've not had that freedom to adapt the Book of Discipline to our culture.

De la Canal: Are you saying that potentially the church could still vote to lift these global bans on same-sex marriage and openly gay clergy? But maybe then the individual regions could work out those rules? On their own individual level.

Carter: I think that's possible. I don't know that the removal of the language, I don't know that bans would be returned or discriminatory language would be returned. And listening to some African leaders, they simply say this is a subject we are able to live with in our country, but not a subject we discussed the way you do in the United States.

De la Canal: There has been a vocal faction of the church that's been pushing for a more progressive stance with same-sex marriages, openly gay clergy. And many of them have been openly defying church rules by marrying same-sex couples. There are also multiple bishops and clergy members who are openly gay. But still, there are many congregations that aren't in agreement on this issue or have serious misgivings. What do you say to those congregations or those individual members?

Carter: We say there is a home for you and there always has been. There always will be. My message has been that the LGBTQ community has been one group we've singled out for discrimination and these are people in our families, they're people in our Sunday school classes, our workplaces, and for me, this is like a breath of fresh air that we're just going to kind of lay aside this language and we are not forcing anyone who strongly disagrees with that to do anything. We're just saying we can live without this.

De la Canal: There is a lot more that's going on at this conference and within the Methodist Church that has nothing to do with this topic. What's your hope for the future of the church once this conference wraps up next week?

Carter: Well, my hope for the future of the church is that it will be relevant and be a force for good. In a very divided polarized, lonely kind of world, it's really to benefit the common good of a community, especially a community like Charlotte.

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal