A newly formed group of United Methodists is organising to facilitate marriage services for LGBTQ couples. Performing same-sex marriages is banned for ministers credentialed by the denomination, which last spring strengthened its enforcement measures for doing so.
Under the new rules, which went into effect in January, a credentialed minister could face suspension for presiding over a same-sex marriage. A minister who performs a second such marriage could lose their United Methodist clergy credentials.
The new group, Marriage Rites, defines its ministry as two-pronged.
It’s “a ministry of presence” to LGBTQ couples, its website says. “Standing together before God, we embrace all who, as disciples of Jesus Christ, are devoted to love of God and neighbour and wish to enter into holy matrimony.” The group is enlisting ministers willing to volunteer their services to Christian couples who have prepared for marriage through prayerful consideration of their vows and participation in pre-marital counselling.
And secondly, it’s “a ministry of resistance, standing in faithful defiance against the unjust and hurtful discriminatory bans on marriages of LGBTQ couples,” as well as “against discriminatory policies,” and pledging “in convicted humility to conscientiously challenge unjust and unloving practices and choose a better way.”
The group is associated with Resist Harm, a campaign opposed to the denomination’s LGBTQ rules.
According to a report by United Methodist News, more than 500 United Methodist clergy have volunteered to officiate at weddings of LGBTQ couples, despite faced with the denomination’s ban and the stronger enforcement rules.
The effort by Marriage Rites may not be an issue within a few months. There is widespread expectation that United Methodists – the nation’s third-largest denomination – in May will vote to split into two denominations, largely over divisive LGBTQ issues.
The division widened after last year’s rules changes. In early January, church leaders said they had agreed to carve out a conservative-leaning “traditionalist Methodist” denomination, which would continue adhering to its opposition of same-sex marriage and the denomination’s refusal to ordain LGBT clergy.
The remaining congregations of the United Methodist Church would be free to adjust policies to support same-sex marriage and LGBT ministers.
The plan could be approved in May at the worldwide conference of the denomination.