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Methodist clergy takes stand against anti-LGBT bias
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Going against the wishes of the church hierarchy and doctrine, United Methodists in the Northern Illinois Conference (NIC) recently signed a pledge of resistance and non-cooperation towards the church's discriminatory policies against LGBT people and their allies.

NIC members made the commitment "to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves" and embrace the higher law of "biblical obedience" at their annual conference "Celebrate God's Amazing Work" held June 6-9 at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Ill.

The NIC's pledge of resistance comes on the heels of the worldwide general conference for Methodist clergy. The conference was held this past spring in Tampa, Fla. and during the conference—which is held every four years—the global denomination voted to continue its discriminatory policies against LGBT people.

Speaking out against the anti-LGBT policies that the wider Methodist church voted to uphold at the conference, the "Love Your Neighbor" Common Witness Coalition held an event, "Altar For All—Celebrating Marriage: Witnessing God's Inclusive Love," to affirm its support for marriage equality.

Currently, the United Methodist Church (UMC) prohibits clergy from performing same-sex weddings and recognizing same-sex couples. More than 1,200 Methodist ministers have already pledged to fulfill their ordination vows to minister to all people and they are calling for more United Methodists to pledge their support for marriage equality.

The groups that make up the Common Witness Coalition include Affirmation: United Methodists, Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, the National Federation of Asian-American United Methodists, the Native-American International Caucus of the United Methodist Church and the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). According to their website the coalition "works for a more inclusive church for LGBT people, always in a broader context that strives for justice around issues of race, gender, global partnerships, peace, stewardship of creation and economic justice."

According to their website the RMN is "a growing movement of United Methodist individuals, congregations, campus ministries and other groups working for the full participation of all people in the United Methodist Church. We have mobilized United Methodists to create full inclusion of all God's children regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity since 1982."

Chairperson of the RMN board and lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in Arlington Heights, Ill., Rev. Bonnie Beckonchrist remarked that there are more than 500 RMN congregations and communities nationwide—30 of which are in the NIC. However, she noted that "the church's witness is critical to those places where the church's official stance continues to do harm."

RMN Executive Director the Rev. Troy Plummer said, "We are building relationships in tough states like Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia and we are also advancing equality in Minnesota, Washington and Iowa. In Tennessee, United Methodists passed an anti-bullying commitment, and over 70 percent of our Minnesota United Methodist voters oppose the anti-gay marriage amendment coming to the ballot in November.

"This past year, we also reached out to United Methodists in the Philippines and Africa where LGBT people can be incarcerated and executed. Across the spectrum, we are helping people take the next step wherever they are to foster the inclusive church we know Christ calls us to be."

The Rev. Marti Scott, pastor at Euclid Avenue UMC in Oak Park, said, "We must refuse to obey unjust laws. In northern Illinois, our congregations are filled with LGBT persons who are in our Bible studies, leadership committees, and every aspect of ministry in the church. Our declaration in favor of LGBT people affirms the ministry we are already dedicated to and practicing."

Rev. Lois McCullen Parr—pastor at Broadway UMC in Boystown—added, "It's a luxury to be in northern Illinois and to serve in an open and affirming congregation filled with LGBT folks in leadership and ministry. I know there are people who left Tampa and went back to places that are hostile and do harm. I think that clergy members like myself need to be a witness to the wider church with the work that we do as members of the RMN."

Of the RMN and its work, Ann Craig said, "As a lifelong United Methodist and the daughter of a minister, I know that Reconciling Ministries has opened the hearts, minds and doors of so many United Methodists.

"In my home church one young person recently came out and her parents were able to turn to their minister for support—largely because RMN has educated pastors across the country on the life-saving importance of welcoming everyone. At this General Conference we did not vote a policy change, but the church was changed. I believe we will see the United Methodist Church be more open, less punitive and more willing to set aside unfair—and even un-Christian—rules in favor of living out core values of love and service."

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