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Pastor On Proposed United Methodist Church Split Over LGBTQ Beliefs


We're going to spend the next part of the program digging into some recent developments that speak to the deep connection between faith and other important beliefs, including political views in this country. In a minute, we're going to hear more about how President Trump is mobilizing evangelicals ahead of the 2020 election. But first, we want to talk about tensions in the Methodist church over LGBTQ inclusion.

On Friday, leaders of the United Methodist Church, one of the country's largest mainline Protestant denominations announced plans to split over differences of opinion on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy. A formal vote on the split will take place in May, but we wanted to get more perspective. So we've called on Reverend Ginger Gaines-Cirelli. She is the senior pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. It's a congregation that's embraced LGBT inclusion for decades now.

Reverend Gaines-Cirelli, thank you so much for joining us.

GINGER GAINES-CIRELLI: Thank you. It's great to be with you.

MARTIN: So can you just remind us of what brought this to a head? I mean, the fact is, in some parts of the country, there are already LGBTQ clergy. And some ministers perform same-sex marriages. Others didn't. But then there are also individual ministers who are being sanctioned and even defrocked for doing the same thing. I mean, so what was the status quo? And what brought this all to a head?

GAINES-CIRELLI: Well, you're right. There - for some years now, there have been persons within the United Methodist Church clergy and laypeople who have been pushing back against the official position of the United Methodist Church, which has been exclusionary to LGBTQ people. Our official policy has been that LGBTQ persons will not be ordained, that we will not officiate at same-gender weddings. And in the last number of years, many folks have made a decision to intentionally break the rule to do what they felt their conscience was calling them to do and that the gospel was calling them to do, which is to fully include all people and to support them in their callings to ministry.

In 2016, there came a point of impasse where the General Conference asked for something different to happen. That led to a special General Conference in 2019 - February of 2019 in which we were given the responsibility as elected delegates - I was one of those present - to try to find a way forward that would keep the church together but allow us to minister according to our conscience.

MARTIN: So it's my understanding that at this conference, where the idea was to try to resolve this, in fact, the vote went in a completely different direction. Rather than sort of formalizing this arrangement, this kind of informal arrangement where individual conferences followed their own conscience...


MARTIN: ...The vote was to take a much more traditionalist approach and sanction...


MARTIN: ...Heavily clergy who perform same-gender weddings. And so what would have been - I mean, I have to ask, you know? What was the reaction to this vote?

GAINES-CIRELLI: People felt, you know, hurt, rage and just deep disappointment. We had a moment in 2019 where the church could've done something really different from so many other mainline denominations. We could've found a way to stay together in the midst of our differences and model something that - the country I think really needs right now is to see faith community who's able and willing to find a way to remain in relationship even in the midst of deep disagreement.

MARTIN: So what made this the right decision?

GAINES-CIRELLI: It allows the United Methodist Church to remain the United Methodist Church but creates a way for those traditionalist folks, more conservative persons within the United Methodist Church that wish to form their own denomination. And this protocol creates a very clear way for that to happen.

MARTIN: Can I ask - how do you feel?

GAINES-CIRELLI: My heart has been broken for years now as we have been in this struggle. And I have to say that 2019's General Conference was particularly painful for me, personally. I had worked hard. Foundry United Methodist Church and so many other partners had worked very, very hard to try to find a way for us to do something that felt like we could stay together as a family, even in the midst of such painful disagreement. So in this moment, I feel both that same pain because we've gotten to this point, but I'm also feeling hopeful because I've begun to come around to a place of resolve, you know?

MARTIN: That was the Reverend Ginger Gaines-Cirelli. She's the senior pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. Reverend Gaines-Cirelli, Pastor Ginger, thank you so much for talking to us.

GAINES-CIRELLI: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.