United Methodist Church faces backlash from local congregations

After the United Methodist Church’s governing body voted to strengthen its stance against same-sex marriage, local Methodist churches rebelled.


Reba Zatz

Pastor Sean McRoberts at St. Marks United Methodist Church on Thursday, March 14, 2019.

Kate Pixley, News Reporter

Methodist churches in the Iowa City area have condemned the United Methodist Church’s recent decision to strengthen its stance against same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy members as discriminatory, and they are considering noncompliance with the decision.

The United Methodist Church voted on this stance, dubbed the Traditionalist Plan, in February after a conference in St. Louis. Some fear the move will divide the nation’s second-largest Protestant church, which has 12 million members worldwide.

Pastor Sean McRoberts of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Iowa City said his congregation is dismayed by the decision, and that it has stepped up for LGBTQ rights for several years.

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“We will not comply with these discriminatory policiesm,” McRoberts said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “Four years ago, our congregation committed to open our doors for weddings for same-gender couples, against the rules of our denomination. Today, we remain fully committed to ministry with all people, despite the policies of the United Methodist Church.”

McRoberts said he has met individually with LGBTQ congregants to discuss the fallout from the United Methodist Church’s decision.

“We recognize that there are differences of opinion among us but believe that we can love alike even though we may not think alike,” McRoberts said. “St. Mark’s is a place where ALL are welcome and invited to join us in our faith journey toward greater love, understanding, and mutual respect.”

McRoberts said the future of St. Mark’s in the denomination of the United Methodist Church is in flux, and the congregation is going through discussions.

“I’m hearing varied responses about remaining in the United Methodist Church to work for justice and change these policies, and others that say we depart, because we can cannot abide by these discriminatory policies,” McRoberts said.

Similarly, the Coralville United Methodist Church has met to determine its response. The congregation intends to vote on March 31 about whether to take an official stance against the plan.

The Rev. Leigh Brown of Coralville United Methodist said her congregation plans to not comply with what it deems a discriminatory policy.

“Personally, I’m devastated at what the General Conference passed in the Traditionalist Plan,” Brown said. “Personally, I’d like to apologize to all LGBTQ people for the harm that was done by our denomination.”

Chris Hawes, the community-outreach coordinator for Iowa City Pride, said community members who are concerned about the vote and its effect on LGBTQ people can support local organizations that work to assist LGBTQ communities.

Hawes specifically pointed to organizations such as Transverse, which supports transgender community members, and United Action for Youth, which supports LGBTQ youth.

While the United Methodist Church’s decision doesn’t affect the legal rights of LGBTQ individuals, its effect is still felt across the community.

“Year-round, these types of things are happening,” Hawes said, referencing the ongoing debate around President Trump’s proposed ban on transgender military-service members. “The sense of rejection is pretty universal among the letters of the abbreviation.”

McRoberts emphasized the importance of standing alongside marginalized individuals in the midst of persecution.

“We step up to stand with and alongside folks who are being targeted,” McRoberts said. “LGBTQ rights are human rights, and each person as a precious child of God needs to know that we have a space in the community.”