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The splintering of the United Methodist Church

(Catherine McQueen/ Getty)
(Catherine McQueen/ Getty)

Once the second largest protestant denomination in America, the United Methodist Church lost about a quarter of its members over issues of sexuality.

Now, the church is overturning its prohibition on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

Today, On Point: The splintering of the United Methodist Church.


Beth Stroud, lecturer in the Princeton writing program and a United Methodist Church pastor. She was defrocked in 2004 after revealing her relationship with another woman, and was reinstated this Tuesday.

Ashley Boggan, general secretary for the General Commission of Archives and History of The United Methodist Church. Author of “Nevertheless: American Methodists and Women’s Rights” and “Entangled: A History of American Methodism, Politics, and Sexuality.”

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, episcopal leader of the Baltimore-Washington and Peninsula-Delaware Conferences of the United Methodist Church.


Part I

CHAKRABARTI: Today we’re joined by Pastor Beth Stroud. Just two days ago, Pastor Stroud was reinstated into the United Methodist Church as pastor. Pastor Stroud, welcome.

PASTOR BETH STROUD: Thank you so much for having me, Meghna.

CHAKRABARTI: Will you describe that moment from Tuesday?

STROUD: It’s a closed session.

So I was waiting outside the room. It was a long wait. I knew I was number, item 32 on the agenda, and I was following along outside, outside the room. And then all of a sudden people were texting me and saying, you’re up. We’re on item 32. It’s you now.

And then before I even knew what was happening, the vote had happened, and they were inviting me to come in. And a colleague, a good friend came out and took me by the hand and brought me into the room. And people were clapping and cheering and standing up and singing, and I just didn’t know which way was up.

I couldn’t even tell where I was or where the front of the room was. Just complete disorientation.

CHAKRABARTI: So the key word in the question that I asked you is reinstated, right?


CHAKRABARTI: So you were reinstated as a member of the clergy for the United Methodist Church.

And this moment was 20 years in the making.

STROUD: It was. At one point outside the meeting, one of the candidates for ordination this year said, “Oh, waiting outside. I feel like I’ve been put in time out.” And I said, “I’ve been in time out for 20 years.”

CHAKRABARTI: Oh, I’m smiling because it’s a really positive way of looking at what the last 20 years have been like. (LAUGHS)


CHAKRABARTI: Oh my gosh. So let’s talk about why this moment was 20 years in the making. What happened in 2003?

STROUD: I decided that I needed to come out, that it was something that I needed to do for my own faith, for my own integrity. Just to be the person that God had created and called me to be.

I needed to be clear and public about who I was, and I was fortunate to have a congregation that was incredibly supportive of me, and that was ready to walk through this with me. And so I was very deliberate about it. I sent the bishop a letter saying, I’m going to come out to my congregation and I’m going to come out in a sermon on April 27th, and here’s what I’m going to say.

And I wanted you to hear it from me. So it was all very public, and it was all very deliberate. And at the time, the church had a ban in place against, it’s the old language was ‘self-avowed practicing homosexuals’ could not be ordained ministers. And so the outcome in many ways, it felt predictable. But it also, yeah, the reverberations were more than I think anyone anticipated.

CHAKRABARTI: Can I ask, do you remember exactly the language that you used to share this aspect of yourself with your congregation?

STROUD: I think it was a whole sermon. But I think that the language I was using was, I am a lesbian in a committed relationship with a partner, and I’m called to be a minister.

CHAKRABARTI: I’m so glad to hear that your congregation received this news from you with support, right? And responded with support. But obviously, you did not get that same response from church officialdom, right? You were then soon called to what’s called a church trial.

STROUD: Yes. And the church trial, church law provides for a church trial, is I don’t know, a measure of last resort. If someone is, there are all kinds of steps, if someone, if a clergy person is not following church discipline, church law, church best practices, there are ways of trying to resolve conflicts. But the trial is supposed to be a last resort for a situation where it just can’t be resolved by talking about it or by any changes that anyone is willing to make.

CHAKRABARTI: Is it you standing before other members of the church?

STROUD: It is. It was. It was. The trial was held at one of our church camps, and the gym was set up as a courtroom with a defense table and a prosecution table. And I had a civil attorney assisting him, and there were witnesses and there was cross examination. And the jury was made up of other clergy people. And yeah, then they returned a verdict and a sentence. And the sentence was withdrawing my credentials as an ordained minister.

CHAKRABARTI: And that happened in 2004.

STROUD: That happened in 2004.

CHAKRABARTI: Can I ask you Pastor? First of all, it’s a delight to be able to call you Pastor Stroud again.

STROUD: Thank you.

CHAKRABARTI: But, so here’s the thing. When you’re in that trial and you’re being told by members, like a church sponsored prosecutor, for lack of a better term, that who you are, and the revelation that you brought to your congregation is somehow in severe conflict with the institution of the Methodist Church.

How does it feel to hear that and to understand that your church is accusing of that? Whereas what you had just said at the beginning of our conversation, that you felt in order to fulfill your calling, to continue the path that you’ve been on, in terms of your relationship with not just the church, but with Christ.

That that is what led you to actually want to come out to your congregation. It’s two different worlds coming together.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah, and I think the irony was not lost on anyone. I think everyone who was in the room felt just … how bizarre that contradiction was. Just what the church law said and who I was.

And it just wild and wrong that these two things should be in conflict. But I think going on trial exposed, that irony was always present, but I think going on trial exposed that irony and that wrongness in a way that a lot of people who weren’t queer had never thought about it before, never quite experienced it before.

CHAKRABARTI: I’m asking the following question as, just to be totally transparent, not as a Christian, not as a church goer. So my knowledge is limited by that. But it seems to me that this is one of the continuing questions or conflict within not just the Methodist Church, but all churches, insofar as is the church an institution of man?

Or humankind? Or is it an institution of divinity, right? And how do you square the two? We’re going to come back to that a little bit later, because we had some callers actually, some Methodist callers share those answers to that exact question, which we’ll hear in a little bit.

But, so this horrible moment was 20 years ago, and you decided to actually continue to attend a Methodist Church even though you had been defrocked.

STROUD: It wasn’t, I didn’t plan to, Meghna. I was, when my then partner and I and our daughter moved to New Jersey, I was perfectly fine with taking a break from the United Methodist Church and going somewhere else.

But we visited a couple of different congregations, and then this one, Turning Point United Methodist Church in Trenton was just, we walked in, and it was the right place. It was this just warm, vibrant, multiracial community. And people were kind to our daughter and they remembered our names from week to week, and they were always happy to see us. And they made us feel we belonged. And there was a spirit that felt right.

And so I’ve been a member there ever since.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. So just to be clear, until recently, the church had a longstanding rule against LGBTQ pastors and same sex marriages, but in terms of members of the church, congregants, the same rules did not apply.




CHAKRABARTI: So how are you feeling now that your 20 years in timeout have come to an end?

STROUD:  In some ways I felt on Tuesday like Rip Van Winkle. Like I’d fallen asleep in one reality and then woken up in a reality that was the same, but also completely different. Because of the time that had passed. There were colleagues that I’ve certainly stayed in touch with, but for the last 20 years, especially since I’ve been in another, kind of working in my second career, people that I just haven’t seen on a regular basis.

And a friend who I almost didn’t recognize from the back, because 20 years ago, his hair was red and now it’s white. (LAUGHS)

CHAKRABARTI: (LAUGHS) It’s so interesting that’s how you answer the question because I suppose I had presumed that you’d bring a theological answer to it.


CHAKRABARTI: But no, but you’re pinpointing something important, that church is community also.

STROUD: It is. It is. It’s the relationships.

Part II

CHAKRABARTI: Today we’re talking about significant changes that have been going on within the United Methodist Church, a very large Christian denomination worldwide, but especially in the United States. And those changes have to do regarding the ordination of LGBTQ clergy and same sex marriage.

We’re joined today by Beth Stroud. She’s a lecturer in the writing program at Princeton. And as of Tuesday, this week, just a couple of days ago, she became once again an ordained minister in the UMC, after being defrocked 20 years ago, when she revealed that she was in a same sex relationship. Now what’s taken place in the intervening 20 years?

Five years ago, at the UMC’s 2019 General Conference, human sexuality surfaced as a key topic of discussion. The United Methodists have banned lesbian and gay clergy and same sex marriage since 1972, when the church deemed homosexuality quote, “incompatible with Christian teaching,” end quote.

In 2019, they held onto their ban in a very close vote, but they also passed a disaffiliation plan, which would provide guidelines for congregations who wished to leave the United Methodist Church for, quote, “reasons of conscience regarding issues of sexuality.”

So here’s what happened.

Over the next four years, more than 7,600 UMC congregations disaffiliated from the denomination. That’s about a quarter of the membership, and the largest denominational divide in the United States since the Civil War. Then, earlier this month, at the 2024 General Conference, delegates voted overwhelmingly, 692 to 51, to repeal that 52 year old ban.

BISHOP TRACY MALONE: These decisions that have been made over these last few days is a testimony that we are claiming that we are a church where everyone belongs. We are a church with open hearts, open minds, and open doors. And as John Wesley said, although we cannot think alike, may we not love alike, may we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion. These last two days, is a testimony to the diversity and the beauty of that diversity.

CHAKRABARTI: That’s Bishop Tracy Malone, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops. Beth Stroud does join us today, Pastor Stroud. And I’d like to bring Bishop LaTrelle Easterling into the conversation now. She’s Episcopal leader of the Baltimore, Washington, and Peninsula Delaware Conferences of the United Methodist Church.

Bishop Easterling, welcome to On Point.

BISHOP LaTRELLE EASTERLING: Hello, Meghna. Thank you so much for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: So tell me from your perspective a little bit about what’s been changing within the church since 2019.

EASTERLING: I think that this debate that has had us in its grips for 52 years, for many, it has kept us from focusing on the main thing, which is making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The special session that was held in 2019 came because of a plea from delegates at the 2016 general conference, for the bishops of the church to lead us beyond the morass of this debate.

I believe that the delegates, I believe the full breadth of the United Methodist Church, again, yearned to recenter ourselves on introducing people to the love of God, to a relationship with Jesus Christ, and to transforming our communities, helping individuals in our communities to be able to experience the fullness of life, to be able to live life in a way that God had intended for them.

And so I just think that over the last year, since 2019, persons have called us back to that center. Now, we also know that during that time, as you rightly articulated, many persons and congregations decided to leave the United Methodist Church. Because they did not necessarily agree with what they might determine to have been a more liberative understanding.

Of the word of God and the inclusion of all people, not only in ministry, but to be able to enjoy all that the church has to offer in terms of being able to be married in our sanctuaries and for clergy to be able to perform those marriages.

CHAKRABARTI: This is really interesting to me. Because, as I also mentioned, essentially the denominational divide that occurred over this, which was swift, when churches, when congregations were allowed to leave as a matter of conscience, was the largest since the Civil War.

Meaning, more specifically, the Methodist Church experienced something similar over calls to conscience and morality, over the issue of slavery. How do you see the two as being related in terms of what church congregations believe they stood for and what the church should stand for between the Civil War and now?

EASTERLING: I think that what everyone privileges to be the heart of the word of God will be the shaping force in their life of faith. If you believe that the love of God is the center of God’s word, then that is a grounding for you. That will shape your theology. It will shape your relationship with God and with other individuals.

If you believe that adherence to what you think is the law, is the center and the heart of God, then that might ground and shape your relationship with God and with others. What do you hold as sacrosanct? And so for many, it was more the love of God. If we think about John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley preached more on 1 John 4:7-8 than any other biblical text. That is, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

CHAKRABARTI: Pastor Stroud, can I turn back to you here? Because again, the echoes between the sort of self-examination that congregations went through in the Civil War.

And now they’re too powerful for me to just set aside, right? Because, I mean, from the earliest days of the Methodist Church in the United States, congregations did debate slavery and many congregations wanted clergy who owned enslaved people to promise to set them free.

And ultimately, since my best understanding is that because the general conference couldn’t necessarily come up with a firm conclusion on what to do. That’s when they left the option open to congregations to decide what was best for them. How do you see, Pastor Stroud, in your life as a member of the LGBTQ community and as a pastor, this struggle of conscience within the Methodist Church?

STROUD: And I’m also a historian and I know this history that you’re referencing of the church splitting in two over slavery. People call that split, historians often call that split in the Methodist church a prelude to the Civil War.

It was a kind of foreshadowing of what was about to happen, of what was about to happen in the nation, to the rift that was taking place in the nation. And I think what astonished me on Tuesday was this is, when I walked into the room, and I learned that the vote had been overwhelming, overwhelmingly to reinstate me. Like people said it wasn’t even close. And I wasn’t, I know that room. It’s not a room of 200 progressives. It’s really not.

The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference encompasses, it goes, the boundaries are from the Susquehanna to the Delaware, that encompasses coal country. And Lancaster and Lebanon counties, like some very, some of the people in that room are very conservative theologically. And I don’t think all of them, I wasn’t walking into a room of people who agreed with me theologically or socially, or politically. But somehow, I was walking into a room of people who are ready to recognize my gifts and receive me as one of their own.

CHAKRABARTI: Many people who are members of the Methodist Church sent us their thoughts about this moment, about the UMC reversing its ban on LGBTQ clergy and same sex marriage. So here’s one of them. This is Reverend Andrew Ponder Williams, a former United Methodist, who’s now a United Church of Christ pastor.

REV. ANDREW PONDER WILLIAMS: There were and are so many LGBTQ people like myself, who have been a part of decision making, a part of the leadership, and who have offered incredible witness and testimony and have lived who they are with integrity and joy and authenticity. The frustrating thing about this time, and what has happened with the split in the United Methodist Church, is that there have been deeply held divisions in that denomination for decades.

And unfortunately, folks who wanted to break up the United Methodist Church put all their effort into scapegoating gay people for why the United Methodist Church can no longer continue as it was known to be.

CHAKRABARTI: Bishop Easterling, I wonder what you think about that.

EASTERLING: And I know Reverend Ponder Williams and love him very much and lament that he is no longer with the United Methodist Church.

I think that if one accepts that every human being is created in the Imago Dei, in the image and likeness of God. And accepts that they are whole people in the way that God has created them, and does not allow there to be any hierarchy of human worth. Then one has to stand back and allow God to be preeminent. And to accept God’s creation in its fullness and in its diversity. But when we begin to introduce human understandings of that creation, of that worth, that is where we begin to see those divisions. That’s where we begin to see this love break down. And so I completely resonate again with what Reverend Ponder Williams has articulated.

CHAKRABARTI: Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, the Episcopal Leader of the Baltimore, Washington, and Peninsula, Delaware Conferences of the United Methodist Church, it’s been a great pleasure to have you. Thank you so much for joining us.

EASTERLING: Thank you.

CHAKRABARTI: Let’s listen to some other listeners who had really strong thoughts about this major change in the UMC. This is Nikki Erwin in Ogallala, Nebraska, and she chose to remain as a member of the United Methodist Church, because she believes it’s continuing to follow the example of Christ.

NIKKI ERWIN: We welcome conversation and discussion and continue our faith journey, realizing that we are growing in our faith day by day.

And so is everyone else. So it is not for me to be God and judge people because they may have a different lifestyle, a different culture or anything else.

CHAKRABARTI: Nikki Erwin who listens to On Point from Ogallala, Nebraska. I’d like to bring Ashley Boggan into the conversation now. Ashley is General Secretary for the General Commission of Archives and History at the United Methodist Church.

Ashley, welcome to the program.

ASHLEY BOGGAN: Thank you so much for having me, Meghna.

CHAKRABARTI: So I think what I’d love to do now is expand our circle of knowledge to include people who don’t know a lot about Methodism. Because there’s some really fundamental aspects of the founding of the Church and of John Wesley that will help us understand the sort of journey the Church has taken, especially over the past five years.

So can you give us just the little potted history of who John Wesley is and why he founded Methodism?

BOGGAN: Sure. So John Wesley was a priest within the Church of England. He was born in 1703, lived to 1791. And he was a person who I would say struggled with a call in his life and trying to figure out how best to live into that call that he felt from God.

And one of the ways and spaces that he begins to live into his call is after his days at Oxford University, his younger brother, Charles, was a student at Oxford. And his younger brother, Charles, began this small group pietistic meeting on campus of Oxford University. And John sees it as something that he thinks he might want to do.

And so he takes it over as the older brother and this small group really begins to do religion differently. So back then, the church of England, you were considered a good member in standing if you came to services on Sunday. But these early holy clubbers, as they were called, did was they did religion.

So they made it a practical, lived out, embodied, methodical thing.


BOGGAN: This included, waking up early, fasting, studying scripture intently, asking questions of scripture, and also going out and doing good in the world. By visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, founding orphanages and schools, and living into what it means to be a person of a God of love in this world.

CHAKRABARTI: Thank you for answering a question I’ve long had about where the word Methodist comes from, actually. So this is really fascinating. That distinguished the then Methodist church and its congregants from, as you said, the Anglican church at the time.

How does that distinction then carry through to the modern church? What distinguishes it now from other denominations?

BOGGAN: I would say we are still a church, a denomination that lives out our theology in different ways. We have what are called the social principles and those are really the space and place where we get to discern how and in what ways we are witnesses to our Methodist or United Methodist theology.

We are also a connectional church. And this means that we are connected both theologically, politically, institutionally, and at different levels. And so part of this connectional system is the itinerant ministry, is the apportionment system, is the work of our general agencies. And at its heart, what it does is allows small congregations to have a vastly larger impact around the world, through our mission and ministry as a connectional system.

CHAKRABARTI: When we come back, I want to talk a little bit more about what it seems to be one of the things that distinguished John Wesley, right? Because he  and the early Methodists were confronting an established church. And is that history of being willing to confront established norms still part of the church?

So we’ll talk about that when we come back. This is On Point.

Part III

CHAKRABARTI: Let’s listen to a little bit more of certain members of the church who reached out to us.

This is Anna Beard in Missouri, who’s been a Methodist for about 40 years.

ANNA BEARD: When General Conference finally voted to take out the harmful language in our Book of Discipline, which had kept people from being able to be married in the church, which had kept LGBTQ people from being able to be ordained, and that told them that they were incompatible with Christian religion, I celebrated that those rules were changed.

I am so thankful that finally, after all these years, the United Methodist Church is moving towards the direction of not harming people and being inclusive and treating people equally.

CHAKRABARTI: So why was this change made? Lots of people have different answers. Here’s Tom Johnson Jr. in Pine Mountain, Georgia, retired clergy in the United Methodist Church, and he says the debates over the issues of sexuality within the church has a lot to do with internal church differences in how to interpret the Bible.

TOM JOHNSON JR.: I see the current controversy as being the continued struggle with literalism and fundamentalism, of biblical interpretation. And because of where the vast majority of the church disaffiliations have come from, a continuation of old ways of thinking that are reflected in the lines of the confederacy.

CHAKRABARTI: That’s Tom Johnson Jr., retired clergy in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Pastor Stroud, this gets us right down to not so much the lofty theological debates, but down to the level of congregants and what they want from their church. And it seems as if both in the Civil War, and now they’ve been voting with their feet, saying that this literalist interpretation of the Bible is not a way of seeing the world or a way of absorbing the Bible that they can get behind.

What do you think about that?

STROUD: I think people have great diversity of theological outlooks, but I don’t think most people, I guess there are people who go to a church wanting to know what their doctrine is. I think most people come to church because they want to be a part of a community, or they want guidance and support figuring out just the problems of everyday life.

They come because they’re hurting, they come because they want to make a difference in their neighborhoods, in their communities. And I think, like I think all of these years that the church has been really just paralyzed by this debate over human sexuality.

I think it’s really gotten, for progressives and conservatives, I think for everyone, it has gotten in the way of remembering what’s really important, what we’re really there for, which is to welcome people and love them and help them and help them find God and follow Jesus in the way that makes sense, in the way that they’re called to.

CHAKRABARTI: Let me turn to back to Ashley Boggan, because Ashley, not only are you basically the historian for the UMC, you’ve also written several really interesting books about this tension, right? “Nevertheless: American Methodists and Women’s Rights” and the other being “Entangled: A History of American Methodism, Politics, and Sexuality.” Is it that the internal debates within the UMC have also pretty closely mirrored the broader debates in this country, not just over slavery, but over issues of sexuality.

Can you tell us more about that?

BOGGAN: Yes. I would say that’s exactly right. And I would add gender in there too, particularly women’s rights. And part of that is the Methodist Episcopal Church is founded in step with the United States. And they are both seeking to be democratic institutions that struggle with how to embody the worthiness of all persons with kind of the lived realities of the time, I think, and the particular white supremacy and heterosexist and very male way that society was.

And so what we see is the United States is trying to figure out what it means to be fully a citizen and what that looks like. And at the same time, the Methodist Episcopal Church was trying to figure out what it means to be fully ordained. And to have access to full ordination rights or a voice, an authoritative voice from the pulpit.

And so they’re wrestling with kind of these different categories of personhood at the same time, and coming to similar conclusions as history progressed and went on. And we see African Americans get the right to vote along the same time that they get the right to full ordination and a full voice at general conference.

The same kind of goes for women. Women have second wave feminism in the 1950s and suddenly have greater access to education and to equal opportunities for work. And that’s also when women are granted full ordination in the Methodist Church in 1956. And then in the 1960s and 1970s, as the United States begins to talk about a sexual revolution that we see, and free love and the birth control pill hits the market and divorce is legal in most states.

The United Methodist Church is just forming during this time and is also trying to figure out how it understands sexuality, and it’s coming to terms with its own racist past. And so all of this kind of gets entangled with American politics and American rhetoric as the United Methodist church is figuring out what it is and what it stands for.

CHAKRABARTI: Again, forgive me. I’m asking the following question from the perspective of someone who’s well outside the church or Christianity. But what do you think it is about homosexuality that has allowed or been the particular target of literalist readings of the Bible and therefore rules, in various churches, including until recently, the UMC, that we don’t see with other aspects of what’s written in the Bible, like stoning or polygamy, things like that.

It seems like there’s been a historical picking and choosing of what aspects of the Bible were going to be read literally so that certain groups could be excluded or targeted by the church.

BOGGAN: Yes, absolutely. And I think a lot of it comes down to power, I would say, as society changes. And by society, I’m talking about kind of contemporary society, as society changes, persons who are holding onto power at a given moment, in order to hold on to that power, they have to other somebody else.

And what we see in 1972, within the United Methodist Church, when the incompatibility clause is added in, it was in the midst of shifts of power. So in 1968, when the United Methodist Church is formed out of a merger of the Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodist Church, the two denominations came together.

And one of the things that they did was they dismantled the central jurisdiction. Now, the central jurisdiction was created in 1939 at another merger, that created the Methodist Church, and it was a race-based jurisdiction. So it was the Methodist Church essentially condoning segregation within our institutional system.

This is erased in 1968. It’s fully erased in 1973, but it is erased from the polity at least in 1968 at the insistence of the evangelical United Brethren. And on agenda for 1972, at that general conference, was a space to hold ourselves accountable for past harm when it came to our own racism and white supremacy.

And instead, what happened was conversations shifted towards sexuality. And so there was this sense of, okay, if we’re no longer going to be racist on paper, how do we continue to other someone so that certain groups maintain power? And I think that’s where we’ve long weaponized scripture in order to other.

Which is wholly against the purpose of scripture, right? Scripture is all about bringing people into the loving arms of God and of one another. And the way that we’ve weaponized it continuously, throughout the Methodist traditions’ history and other traditions’ histories as well. It’s just so harmful.

And this, really, one of the things that sticks out to me as to why what happened at this general conference is so huge, is that it’s the first time, where on our paper, the United Methodist Church is not discriminating any category of persons, and that to me is huge, but I also need to remind people that is something that’s happened on paper.

It’s now up to us to do the hard work of making it embodied in practice.

CHAKRABARTI: On that point, let’s listen to just a couple more folks who wanted to share their thoughts with us. And Ashley, your point about how big the lack of any discrimination on paper for the UMC is well taken. Here’s Maggie Emery in Pennsylvania, who says she will remain in her Methodist church.

MAGGIE EMERY: There is no perfect church. The Jesus I love and who loves me asks that we follow him. Not a denomination, not a set of rules. Him. For me, that includes loving the community God has provided, even when there is disagreement.

CHAKRABARTI: And here’s Renee Cuffe in Salem, Oregon, who used to be a member in an evangelical church.

But when she fell in love with a woman, she and her partner were asked to resign from their positions on the Evangelical Church Council. So they ended up leaving that church.

RENEE CUFFE: In the end, we visited a few churches, some who said all are welcome, and we quickly found out we weren’t. A year went by when on a whim we went to First United Methodist Church in downtown Salem.

We were greeted at the door with the most welcoming message I have ever seen. We were instantly surrounded by love and community, by a group of people who didn’t want anything from us, and the love wasn’t conditional. So all I can say is the General Conference repeal of the church’s longstanding ban on gay clergy is a breath of fresh air for the gay community and those who support them.

CHAKRABARTI: So we just have a couple of minutes left and I have one more question for both of you. So Pastor Stroud, let me start with you. I don’t want us to sort of paper over the truth that the previous stance on the church had a very profound impact on your life for 20 years, right? It robbed you of your vocation.

And,this change that Ashley’s been describing is a long time coming in the UMC. Do you think, though, that it would have happened in the profound way that it did, in the most recent general council, if a quarter of congregations hadn’t said, we don’t want to be a part of this church if it’s going to be so exclusionary?

STROUD: No, and I don’t think that this change could have happened with, what am I saying? The demographics of the denomination are really, really important. And the previous iteration of the church, the previous makeup of the church. Before all of the departures, time after time, at every general conference, there would be a movement to try to. And it wouldn’t pass and it wouldn’t pass. But the vote was always very close, the vote was getting closer and closer. And but it was just, the church was at an impasse.

CHAKRABARTI: Ashley Boggan, you get 30 seconds, I’m afraid, only for this last thought. I heard you earlier talk about the work now has to be done, at the level of each individual churches.

It feels like that a lot of the leadership on that front may come from the very congregants we’ve been talking about. What do you think about that?

BOGGAN: Yes. Yes. I think we’ve always, the Methodist Church has always been a grounds up connection, we start with the people who are sitting in the pews and we listen to them and we hear them, and we provide different ways and spaces to empower them to live out the love of God in this world.

That’s what it means to be a connectional system. And I hope now that the persons we’ve heard call in, the persons like Reverend Stroud, get to lead us into this next iteration of the United Methodist Church.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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