The special United Methodist Church General Conference decision last week to toughen punishment for churches that perform same-sex marriages or ordain LGBTQ clergy shocked and dismayed Methodists — and members of other dominations, as well. (The Atlantic has an excellent article on the issue.) In Little Rock, First United Methodist hung a rainbow banner on Sunday to let its parishioners know how it feels. Britt Skarda, pastor of Pulaski Heights United Methodist, which sponsors Pridecorps for LGBTQ youths and Pridecorps Prime for adults, posted the following on the church Facebook page:

The General Conference is not the church. It is a legislative body. Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church is the living breathing body of Christ called to LOVE GOD, LOVE NEIGHBOR AND CHANGE THE WORLD. I can’t wait to return to Little Rock and to you as we continue to unashamedly open wide our doors and our arms to the world God so loved. John 3:16.

John Willis, singer/songwriter and the worship music leader at Argenta United Methodist also posted a moving and many-faceted essay about being gay and his desire for an accepting church family, which he’s found at Argenta.

As we all sit this week with the decision made by the larger governing body of the United Methodist Church and the implications for individual churches, many of us both inside and outside the church are reflecting on what this means for the integrity and validity of religion as a whole. If global religious bodies are making the decision in 2019 to exclude thousands, perhaps millions of people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, then how are they even doing the work that they are supposed to do? Why be religious at all if religions have become about exclusion and perpetuating hatred and fear of the other? And for those of us who are actively involved in UMC communities, what does it say about us if we stick around? 

Willis’ essay is titled “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” and that is a question being asked by many American Methodists. Seventy percent of the U.S. delegates to the conference voted for a moderate proposal that would have allowed churches to decide the LGBTQ issue individually, the “One Church” plan, but the church is international, and delegates from Africa and Asia voted to not just maintain the traditional plan but to punish clergy who strayed from the anti-LGBTQ measure.

Will Choate, the pastor at Argenta UMC, said that sexual orientation has never been an issue at his church. ” ‘You are included in the full life of our church’ — we’ve never had to say that. Those who are leaders in our church who are openly gay, they’re not there because of that, they’re just there.” They thought that 2019 was post-discrimination.

Choate has never performed a same-sex marriage. It’d believed that no Methodist church in Arkansas ever has, though other Methodist churches around the country have and the church has an openly gay bishop. “It was part of my hope that we could and I would be able to officiate. It’s been “wait until 2019,” he said.

To not welcome gay people into the church “is so incongruent with the church that I’ve been a part of and has been on the front lines of grace,” Choate said.

Choate and Skarda both suspect the U.S. Methodist church will eventually split from the international body. “Our differences are too difficult to resolve,” Skarda said.

The judicial council of the church will meet in April to study the constitutionality of the traditional plan. It could find some of the plan violates the church’s Book of Discipline. The traditional plan approved last at last week’s special conference does not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2020. The Methodists’ regular General Conference meets in May, where the issue will be raised once again.

Meanwhile, Pulaski Heights Methodist plans to hang a banner on the church this week that says “All are welcome. All means all.”