United Methodists across the U.S. have protested the global denomination’s crackdown on LGBTQ members in all kinds of ways.
But now a group of teens in a confirmation class at a historic United Methodist church in the Midwest has taken the unprecedented step of refusing to join the church.
Eight teenagers, aged 13 and 14, who make up this year’s confirmation class at First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Neb., stood before the congregation on Confirmation Sunday (April 28) and read a letter saying they do not want to become members at this time.
The teens said they took their stand on principle because they believed the denomination’s vote to uphold and strengthen its ban on LGBTQ ordination and marriage to be “immoral” and “unjust.”
“We are concerned that if we join at this time, we will be sending a message that we approve of this decision,” the confirmation class wrote.
“We want to be clear that, while we love our congregation, we believe the United Methodist policies on LGBTQ+ clergy and same-sex marriage are immoral,” they said.
The eight teens received a standing ovation. As is customary following confirmation, the church treated the youth to dinner: lasagna and salad and a gift of journals for each teen.
Since the February vote at a special session of the General Conference in St. Louis, some Methodist churches across the United States have protested through newspaper ads. Others rallied in front of their church administrative offices. Still others voted to withhold their annual dues, called apportionments.
But this is the first known refusal to join the church at the end of confirmation, a formal rite of passage that includes education in the faith. Traditionally, confirmation classes spend a year learning about Christianity, the history of the United Methodist Church, its social principles, its polity, and what it means to be a member.
They then decide if they want to join the church as members.
In keeping with First United Methodist of Omaha’s history of confronting its denomination’s policies, the Rev. Kent Little, pastor of the church, supported his young people. “Myself and our associate pastor are in full support of their decision,” he said. “We’re proud of them. It’s not an easy thing to do to resist.”
The congregation, which predates the establishment of the state of Nebraska in the 19th century, now has about 350 active members.
In 1997, its then pastor, Jimmy Creech, performed a same-sex blessing for two women on church grounds. After a church member complained, Creech was put on trial and defrocked.
More recently, the church council voted to host same-sex weddings should its clergy choose to perform them and to withhold funding, or apportionments, to the denomination for the remainder of the year.
Even supporters of the church’s LGBTQ bans acknowledged that the confirmands’ decision was novel.
“I’m not aware of anything like that having occurred,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a group that supports the ban on LGBT clergy.
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Source: Religion News Service