Reaction to keeping same-sex marriage ban draws mixed reaction from local Methodists

For some Charlotte-area Methodists, their denomination’s decision Tuesday to stick by its ban on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage was a rejection of Jesus’ call for inclusive love.

But for others, the delegates’ 438-374 vote to approve what was called the Traditional Plan strongly endorsed core Christian teachings that Methodists have believed since the Protestant denomination was formed.

“It was a reaffirmation of what Methodist people have believed for 275 years,” the Rev. Charles Kyker, who leads 1,400-member Christ United Methodist Church in Hickory, told the Observer in a Tuesday phone interview. “I’m glad the denomination of my father and grandfather still stood for its understanding of human sexuality.”

The Rev. James Howell, the senior pastor of Charlotte’s 5,300-member Myers Park United Methodist Church. was among the 20 delegates from the United Methodists’ Western North Carolina Conference who attended the gathering in St. Louis.

He was a vocal supporter of the One Church Plan, which would have let individual conferences and churches decide on same-sex weddings and ordination of gay and lesbian clergy. Howell called the vote in favor of the Traditional Plan “disappointing.”

“Most of all because it wounds so many of God’s children,” Howell said in a Tuesday email to the Observer. “It’s a demeaning way some Christians choose to be — but we are all demeaned by it.”

His reaction was echoed by the Rev. Val Rosenquist, who defied denominational rules in 2016 by marrying two male members of her congregation of 500 at First United Methodist Church in uptown Charlotte.

“It’s such a step backward for the Methodist Church and it’s so cruel and hypocritical on so many levels,” she told the Observer in a phone interview. “From our standpoint (at First United Methodist), it just seems unholy, unChristian. ... We stand together with people of all identities and orientations. It’s hard to be part of a larger church that would marginalize, segregate and discriminate.”

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, she said, First United Methodist plans to hold “a service of lamentation and hope.”

What’s next for the deeply divided United Methodist Church?

“What will unfold for the larger denomination probably isn’t pretty. There are bound to be departures on both sides, and the erosion of institutions and activities,” Howell said. “(But) there is a lot of hope ... among the centrists and progressives and young people who are united and feel signs of a beautiful church emerging out of the ruins of this one.”

Tim Funk has covered faith & values for the Charlotte Observer for 15 years. He has won three national awards from the Religion News Association and numerous awards from the North Carolina Press Association. He has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri.