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Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church Approves Ordaining Gay Clergy

More than 90% of clergy members in attendance at the Conference’s annual meeting voted in favor of the move

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The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church at its annual meeting last week approved allowing openly gay clergy members to serve in its churches.

“The die is cast. We’ve crossed the Rubicon. It’s done. There’s no turning back,” said Larry Rankin, a retired minister who was at the meeting.

More than 90% of clergy members in attendance voted in favor of commissioning a slate of 24 clergy candidates that included three who are known to be LGBTQ, The Ledger reported.

“The Florida Annual Conference is committed to providing a strong and vibrant future where all persons are welcomed to participate,” said Bishop Tom Berlin, the conference’s top official, in a statement emailed to The Ledger.  “We continue to be a spiritual home for persons with a variety of theological perspectives.”

All of the 24 candidates committed to the denomination’s policy of “celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage.”

Most of the candidates were part of a ballot that was not approved at last year’s meeting. The commissioned clergy are now considered provisional ministers and will remain under direct supervision during a training period.

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One of the three openly gay candidates has already been assigned to a church, another is a ministry chaplain, and the third will join a church in July, a conference spokesperson said.

In 1972, the United Methodist Church adopted a doctrine that labeled the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The doctrine was increasingly disputed by liberal churches over the years, and in 2016, a special commission suggested that the denomination either make existing guidelines about ordaining gay clergy stronger, eliminate them altogether, or allow regional conferences to set their own rules.

Church leaders then established a disaffiliation plan for churches that wanted to leave the United Methodist Church over those or other issues.

In April, the Florida Conference approved the conditional disaffiliation of 55 churches over human sexuality issues, including same-sex marriages and the potential ordination of pastors who identify as LGBTQ. Some joined a new denomination, the Global Methodist Church.

The churches take with them nearly 30,000 members, or 15% of the total membership of the Florida Annual Conference. The Conference placed the value of the assets in the departing churches at $35.8 million, plus real estate valued at more than $300 million.

Rankin told The Ledger that he expects the language about homosexuality in the 1972 doctrine will be expunged at the denomination’s global meeting next year.

Main photo: Florida UMC Foundation in Lakeland, Florida / Screenshot from Google Maps

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Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.