As the United Methodist Church (UMC) grapples with a potential schism concerning non-discrimination of LGBTQ communities, Methodist students and clergy at the Yale Divinity School are now wrestling with the future of their church as well as how the split may impact their religious lives.
In 2019, the UMC convened to discuss the issue of discrimination against persons of LGBTQ identities in the church. A progressive group within the church — the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus — proposed the “Simple Plan,” which removed all anti-LGBTQ policies such as the exclusion of queer people from the clergy and performing marriages for only heterosexual couples. But instead, proponents of the “Traditional Plan” won out, prompting discussion of a schism in the church. The Traditionalists, a more conservative faction within the UMC, passed rulings that initiated stricter regulations against LGBTQ participation in the UMC, affirming limitations imposed on “self-avowing homosexuals.”
In interviews with the News, members of the Methodist community at Yale said that conservative move has left many Methodists disillusioned. Now with the proposed schism — largely centering on the issue of same-sex marriage — on the agenda for a national meeting this spring, Methodists and queer religious people across the Yale Divinity School are wrestling with the future of an intersectional religious landscape.
“There’s this whole question of ‘Should I be ordained in the UMC?’” Rev. Vicki Flippin DIV ’08 pondered in an interview with the News. “In seminary, students are getting through their ordination process, and it’s hard in this moment somewhat because you don’t know what kind of church the UMC will be. This is a time of turmoil for the church, trying to decide where to invest your many, many hours and months it takes to get ordained in this church. It can be daunting.”
Flippin, who preaches at New Haven’s First and Summerfield UMC and directs the Divinity School’s Methodist Study Certificate Program, reflected on the sadness many members of the Divinity School expressed following the 2019 ruling. Because the UMC is one of the largest denominations, she explained, it has the potential to play a large role in Christian treatment of LGBTQ groups in the United States.
Divinity School queer student group DivOut co-president Victoria Slabinski DIV ’21, who identifies as a queer Methodist, emphasized the permanence of LGBTQ identities in religious spaces.
“There will inevitably be LGBTQ people in the churches of every denomination, even Traditionalist ones, and that’s something that affirming Methodists will need to remember in their future efforts, regardless of what type of division (if any) passes this May,” Slabinski wrote in an email to the News.
While nothing has yet come to a vote, the potential break has instigated a variety of emotions — ranging from anxiety over the split to pride over the potential for increased inclusion. Kelsey Evans ’21, leader of the queer Christian support group Ichthys and one of Flippin’s parishioners, said that she was proud to see leaders in the UMC move to prioritize affirming LGBTQ inclusion in the church, schism or no schism.
She added that she feels “fortunate” to be in a Methodist congregation that will remain affirming.”
The World Methodist Council has representation from Methodists from 138 countries.
John Besche | firstname.lastname@example.org