Reconciling Congregation FAQs
For more than 175 years, Community United Methodist Church has been a welcoming presence in downtown Naperville, a place where people from all walks of life can experience Christ’s love in action.
In 2006, we formally expanded our welcoming statement:
As a congregation with open hearts, open minds, and open doors, we fervently live into the words of John Wesley: ‘If thou lovest God and all humankind, I ask no more; give me thine hand.’
Our welcome knows no boundaries of age, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, economic condition, physical or mental ability.”
But does that welcome statement fully describe the Community UMC of today? Or, like the people of Community, is it continuously expanding and evolving?
In the summer of 2014, a Core Team formed to lead an exploration of what it would mean for CUMC to formally identify itself as a Reconciling Congregation – one fully welcoming of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer persons. It is a lay initiative, supported by our pastors, in the context of providing ministry to all beloved children of God.
For the past year, the committee has been discerning our congregation’s readiness to take this step, providing educational and conversational opportunities, and developing resources for the congregation. In that spirit, we are offering this Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page to share some of what we’ve learned.
If you have other questions not answered here or would like to talk to someone privately, feel free to talk to any of us individually (contact information is in your church directory) or by sending an email to LGBTQ@communityunitedmethodist.org.
Your team: Carol Craig, Alexander Dungan, Carl Gilmore, June Green (chair), Mary Catherine Long, Nancy Schroeder, Susan Keaton, Clyde Uebele, Tyler Ward (now a seminary student in Atlanta), Jennifer Weddle, Nancy Whittington, Mary Wu and Amanda Zigterman.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does it mean to be a “Reconciling” congregation?
A Reconciling Congregation openly welcomes persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities to fully participate in all aspects of its congregational life. It also supports like-minded people who are making a difference in The United Methodist Church and in the world.
To formally identify itself as a Reconciling Congregation, Community would expand its welcoming statement to include people of all gender identities. We could then make an annual donation to join the Reconciling Ministries Network, a movement of tens of thousands of United Methodists committed to making the entire denomination more welcoming of LGBTQ people.
RMN would list CUMC on its website, and we could use a rainbow logo on our church signs, publications and website, identifying ourselves in a way recognizable to the community at large.
More specifics on RMN’s mission and goals can be found on this page of its website.
But we already welcome everybody – why do we need an “official” designation?
The United Methodist Church holds official policies that explicitly and categorically exclude one group of people – Gays and Lesbians — from full participation in congregational life. Because of that, United Methodist congregations in the Reconciling Ministries Network specifically include LGBTQ people in their welcoming statements. RMN provides a support and communications network to congregations wanting to be in ministry with LGBTQ persons.LGBTQ persons face discrimination because their sexuality is viewed as different, but this issue is about more than sexuality, it’s about whether we are truly open to all people who want to follow Christ.
What does LGBTQ stand for?
is the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. Those with these diverse identities are joined together because of their shared oppression under heterosexism, homophobia, sexism and genderism. LGBTQ people are from every socioeconomic class, education level, political affiliation, age group, religion, race and ethnicity.
What is sexual orientation, and what do the different terms mean?
Sexual orientation is the overall term that is used to describe people’s physical and/or romantic attractions to other people. The most common labels:
- Heterosexual (or straight) refers to a person who is attracted to and falls in love with someone of another gender.
- Homosexual (or gay man or lesbian woman) refers to a person who is attracted to and falls in love with someone of the same gender.
- Bisexual people are attracted to both men and women, and may not be equally attracted to both sexes.
- Asexual people lack sexual attraction to anyone, or have low to no interest in sexual activity. The term refers to a person’s sexual orientation, not to a person who willfully abstains from sexual activity.
What is gender identity, and what does it mean to identify as transgender, gender fluid or intersex?
Gender identity refers to the internal sense people have that they are female, male, or some variation. For many people, biological sex (which is based on chromosomes and sexual anatomy) and gender identity are the same; the term for such a person is “cisgender.” For others, however, gender identity and biological sex may be different.The term “transgender” describes a range of people who experience or express their gender differently from what most people expect. Transgender is an overarching term including anyone expressing gender characteristics that do not correspond with those traditionally ascribed to the person’s presumed sex. It is NOT a sexual orientation.Some transgender people identify themselves as female-to-male or male-to-female transsexual. They may take hormones prescribed by a doctor and undergo medical procedures, possibly — but not necessarily — including sex reassignment surgery. Others don’t change their bodies at all but identify as other than their birth gender.Some people identify as transgender because they don’t feel comfortable with either the male or female gender exclusively. They might fluctuate between gender identities, or between having a gender and not having one, and might describe themselves as gender fluid. Many gender fluid persons prefer the pronoun “they” rather than “he” or “she” (or prefer to be addressed by their name exclusively rather than a pronoun).Another type of gender identity is intersex, a term used for a variety of conditions in which someone is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male. Some intersex people have anatomy or genitalia of two genders; others have anatomy or genitalia that fall somewhere else on the female-male spectrum.Some people enjoy wearing clothing commonly associated with the other gender for comfort, disguise, entertainment or other motives. Cross-dressing behavior does not automatically imply transgender identity.
What does queer mean?
“Queer” is increasingly used as an umbrella term for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and gender fluid persons or for anyone who feels somehow outside the societal norms regarding gender or sexuality. It is a political statement that advocates for breaking stereotypes and binary thinking as well as a term for sexual orientation. It is also a simple label to explain a complex set of sexual behaviors and desires. The term is fluid and allows the person who uses it to identify as different without specifying how or in what context.
Isn't queer an insult?
Originally the word “queer” meant “different” or “unconventional,” but at some point it began to be used in a negative way to refer to people who were seen outside of the heterosexual or gender “norms.” Many people who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s remember the term being used negatively and, therefore, don’t feel comfortable using it. Some LGBTQ people do not like identifying with the term, but in recent years, it has been reclaimed by some members of the LGBTQ community. Many young people actually prefer to identify themselves as queer because they find it less limiting than identifying themselves with one category that defines their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. For them, queer is a broader, more inclusive category.
Isn’t Community UMC already a Reconciling Congregation?
No, although we’ve considered it on at least two other occasions.The most recent discussion occurred after a November 2005 UMC Council of Bishops’ letter on sexual inclusiveness was read to the congregation, which responded with applause. At the next charge conference meeting, a member asked church leaders to affirm the congregation’s stance on inclusivity. An Inclusivity Task Force was formed early in 2006 and quickly determined that the congregation was ready to consider an official welcoming statement.The Administrative Board adopted the statement on May 10, 2006. It read:“As a congregation with open hearts, open minds, and open doors, we fervently live into the words of John Wesley: ‘If thou lovest God and all humankind, I ask no more; give me thine hand.’ Our welcome knows no boundaries of age, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, economic condition, physical or mental ability.”An edited version of this statement is printed in our worship bulletins, and a version is on the website. But even though the statement has been in use for 10 years now, the congregation never officially joined the Reconciling Ministries Network because at that time, a Judicial Council ruling discouraged it. (More information on this topic is available under the “Can we becoming reconciling and still be United Methodist?” question).
Should we discern that we want to be a Reconciling Congregation, our welcoming statement would include “gender identities” as well.
What does the United Methodist Church say about this issue?
The church’s official Human Sexuality statement in its 2012 Social Principles says, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Book of Discipline bans “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordination and forbids the performance of same-gender unions in the denomination’s sanctuaries and by its clergy in any setting.
However, the denomination’s Human Sexuality statement also says, “We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”
According to The United Methodist Church’s official website, umc.org, “Conversation continues among United Methodists regarding the church’s official position on human sexuality. The church’s legislative assembly has shaped this position over a period of four decades, and the issue continues to be debated. Survey data from United Methodist Communications found that about 46 percent of U.S. members agree with the church’s ban on same-sex marriage, while 38 percent disagree with it. The global denomination has about 7.3 million members in the United States.”
You can read in more detail about this topic on this page of The United Methodist Church’s official website, which also contains links to the UMC’s official stand on homosexuality, official statements from the Book of Discipline and Social Principles, news coverage and members’ opinions of the church’s position.
Can we become a Reconciling Congregation and still be United Methodist?
Yes, we can.
As previously mentioned, Community UMC decided against officially joining the network 10 years ago because of a 1998 UMC Judicial Council Ruling that said, in part:
A local church . . . may not identify or label itself as an unofficial body or movement. Such identification or labeling is divisive and makes the local church subject to the possibility of being in conflict with the Discipline and doctrines of The United Methodist Church.
However, the ruling clarifies that an annual conference “has the right to correct” actions by local churches that violate the decision. Our annual conference, the Northern Illinois Conference, has never asked a congregation to remove itself from affiliation with the Reconciling Ministries Network, and, in fact, it appears no annual conference ever has.
RMN lists more than 700 reconciling congregations or other worship communities on its website. Our neighbor at Center Street and Franklin Avenue, Wesley UMC, is one of them, as are four other churches within 10 miles of us: Bethany of Fox Valley UMC (Aurora); First UMC (Downers Grove); Winfield UMC; and Wesley UMC in Aurora.
The issue of homosexuality was first openly debated in the UMC at the 1972 General Conference, four years after the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren churches joined to form the denomination. Issues related to sexuality have continued to be debated at General Conference gatherings since then.
After the 2012 General Conference, many church members and leaders adopted practices of ecclesial disobedience to church laws they consider discriminatory and unjust. Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert named this movement “Biblical Obedience.” As a result, we have seen a dramatic increase in church members and pastors openly defying the church’s official stand on homosexuality.
On October 25, 2013, Talbert officiated at the union of two United Methodist gay men near Birmingham, Ala., even though the North Alabama presiding bishop had asked him not to do it. Charges were brought against Talbert for officiating at the ceremony and for undermining the ministry of a colleague. In January 2015, the issue was settled in a “just resolution” that allowed Talbert to retain his credentials and not face a church trial.
The resolution expressed regret “over harm to gay and lesbian sisters and brothers, and all those involved, through the complaint process” and urged the Council of Bishops to do more study on the issue and how the church can be in ministry to all. Northern Illinois Bishop Sally Dyck has written about discussions with Northern Illinois clergy and also about the bishops’ subsequent statement on human sexuality.
The 2016 General Conference in Portland, Ore., will consider petitions on the topic, including one from the NIC asking it to delete Book of Discipline language saying homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and to remove restrictive language on marriage.
Doesn’t the Bible say homosexuality is a sin?
For many years, some Bible verses have been interpreted to say that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful. For the past 30 or 40 years, though, biblical scholars have been challenging those interpretations. Many point out that Jesus never spoke about homosexuality at all, instead calling on us to love one another.
The Rev. Edwin Womack of Cottonwood, Ariz., a Methodist pastor for 60 years, gives his thoughts on the biblical interpretations here.
We have assembled other resources that address this issue (under the “resources” question below), and members of the Core Committee are willing to lead a book study on any of the books we have gathered if anyone is interested (write us at LGBTQ@communityunitedmethodistchurch.org).
Does this mean we agree to gay weddings in our building?
Not automatically, although this is one question we’ll need to consider as we determine how to live out our commitment to welcoming all of God’s beloved children.
Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled gay marriages are legal in every state, the UMC Book of Discipline still prohibits them from being held in United Methodist Church facilities. Many of the congregations who have affiliated with RMN still abide by that prohibition. Other congregations have come to different conclusions on how to carry out their ministry. For example, here are the Marriage Equality policy from First United Methodist Church, Chicago, and a pastoral letter on marriage equality from Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C.
One factor in determining how we carry out our commitment could be if the General Conference changes the Book of Discipline language. The General Conference has been petitioned to consider removing the prohibition on gay marriages in church facilities. The next General Conference is May 10-20, 2016.
If we become a Reconciling Congregation, do we put our pastors at risk of losing their credentials?
Not by making this decision.
Just as our pastors have always prayerfully considered any couple’s request to marry, they would continue to make individual decisions on marriage requests regardless of whether the couples are heterosexual or homosexual. Our becoming a Reconciling Congregation would not change this process.
However, pastors who perform commitment ceremonies or gay marriages could face charges of violating the Book of Discipline. After Illinois legalized gay marriage, Northern Illinois Conference Bishop Sally Dyck released some guidelines for pastors “in the spirit of providing leadership to the majority of clergy who don’t want to violate or defy the Discipline, but also want to be in ministry to all people in their churches and communities (which the Discipline also instructs).”
After the U.S. Supreme Court made gay marriage legal in every state, the United Methodist News Service ran an article describing how bishops were responding to the ruling.
While the decision on how to handle marriage requests is up to the individual pastors, some congregations have found ways of being supportive of their pastors celebrating gay marriage. For example, the marriage equality policy of First United Methodist Church, Chicago, includes the provision that, “in the event that one of our pastors is brought up on charges for presiding at a same-sex wedding, we will support them in whatever ways possible and appropriate, including but not limited to, emotionally and spiritually. We will explore forming a not-for-profit to help defray financial and legal expenses.”
How is our congregation preparing for this step? What resources are available to me?
The Core team, a group of lay members representing different age groups and ministerial areas within our church, has followed a process suggested in Building an Inclusive Church, a Welcoming Toolkit 2.0.
- We did an assessment of the church’s readiness for action.
- We took the pulse of the congregation with a simple survey in late 2013.
- We engaged in individual conversations with people who requested more information or answers.
- We hosted numerous informational comment-and-question sessions.
- The Rev. Dr. Bonnie Beckonchrist, outgoing president of the Reconciling Ministries Network, preached at all services April 18-19, 2015, and then met with parishioners to take questions and comments.
- Retired Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader preached at all services April 25-26, 2015, and also participated in conversation sessions with members of the congregation.
- Lay members of Reconciling Congregations spoke to adult Sunday School classes on Sept. 20, 2015 (Open Circle and Fidelis) and Sept. 27, 2015 (Sojourners-Forum and Kairos) about their churches’ experiences and answered our questions.
- During Advent, the pastors sponsored three special movie and discussion nights.
- On Jan. 16, 2016, some members of our congregation attended the “2016 Winter Warming” event to discuss ways congregations can better welcome LGBTQ persons.
Members of the Core Team have been commissioned and are wearing rainbow scarves so that you can easily identify them. Any person wearing a scarf is willing to answer questions or discuss any concerns you might have.
We have set up a special collection of books in the church library that you are welcome to check out and read. Each book has a card in it saying which members of the Core Committee have read it and are available to talk it over with you. We will have these books available in a “rainbow basket” at the back of the sanctuary or outside the sanctuary this fall to make it even easier to check them out. The books are:
- Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today by Adam Hamilton.
- Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality by Jack Rogers.
- God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
- Changing Our Mind by David Gushee
- For the Sake of the Bride by Steven Harper
- And God Loves Each One by Ann Thompson Cook
- Claiming the Promise by Mary Jo Osterman
We also have made photocopies of two readings that you can take from the Rainbow Basket and keep (or download directly from our website). They are:
We hosted a showing of the acclaimed documentary “An Act of Love” in our sanctuary May 1. The film tells the story of Rev. Frank Schaefer, who was defrocked for officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding. The film was followed by a discussion and question-and-answer session.
Other resources you might find helpful:
What are the next steps in the process?
On May 15, Pentecost Sunday, we are holding a special Church Conference meeting to consider whether we want to formally identify ourselves as a Reconciling Congregation.
What happens after that?
The agreement to become a Reconciling Congregation is only one step on a journey. What would we like the Reconciling Congregation designation to mean at Community? How will we expand our welcome? How will we incorporate ministries with LGBTQ persons into our ongoing ministries? How would we grow in the reconciling spirit? We need thoughts and ideas from everyone.