Holston Conference United Methodist Laity & Clergy Statement
We share in ministry and lament over the continued discrimination and exclusion of LGBTQIA+ people from the full life of our church. As such, we, the undersigned clergy and laity of the Holston Annual Conference, commit ourselves to working for new life breathed into our denomination that fully reflects God’s love and longing for all people.

We recognize that we have broken Wesley’s first General Rule to “do no harm” and that God’s grace enables us to repent and to reconcile broken relationships. We acknowledge that the tone and results of General Conference have inflicted deep harm on our LBGTQIA+ colleagues, church members, community members, friends and family. Many of us have spent hours offering pastoral care to those harmed. Some of us are so wounded that we are struggling with the question of whether or not to remain in the denomination we love. We are struggling to convince our members and friends to continue to engage, tithe or at the very least to stay. We are saying broken-hearted farewells to those who cannot.

We confess the ways our silence, privilege, and concern for the preservation of the institutional church has harmed LBGTQIA+ people, excluding them from the life of the Holston Annual Conference for too long. We confess this is part of a long history of harm. We have and continue to struggle against racism and sexism in the life our church, and we continue to find need to broaden the conversation to include these systemic sins that still plague our connection.

Therefore, we are called to proclaim both our belief and our dissent.

We refuse to uphold any exclusionary provisions against LGBTQIA+ Christians. We reject the notion that the lives of LGBTQIA+ people are “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The God we know in Christ Jesus astounded and annoyed people by eating with those deemed sinners in his day (Luke 19:1-10), by offering God’s grace and healing in ways that sometimes made sense and other ways that made no sense at all (Mark 3:1-6), and by accepting comfort and love even when it interrupted the proceedings or offended the faithful (Luke 7:36-50). As faithful followers of Christ, we strive to be as connected to and invested in our communities as Jesus was in his. We affirm the diversity of sexual orientations and gender expressions that God has created and called good (Genesis 1:26-31), and we commit ourselves to live faithfully out of this understanding, especially in this uncertain time.

For Those Called To Ministry
Because we are living into obedience to our baptismal vows to “accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves,” and because we baptize everyone without regard to their sexual orientation or gender/gender identity/gender expression, and

Because the call to licensed, commissioned, or ordained ministry flows from the waters of baptism,

We therefore recognize, nurture, welcome, mentor, and celebrate everyone called by God into the fullness of licensed, commissioned, or ordained ministry. We urge our Board of Ordained Ministry, District Committees on Ministry, and local congregations to recommend qualified candidates for ministry, without respect to their gender/gender identity/gender expression or sexual orientation, and to refrain from using criteria that exclude persons solely on this basis. When called to serve on these committees ourselves, we will support candidates and make our recommendations in this manner.

For Those Who Marry
Because scripture teaches us that we are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28a), bestowed with the good and holy gift of sexuality (Song of Songs 4), and created to live in covenantal relationship with God and one another (John 13:34-35), and because, as with the call to ministry, marriage vows flow from the waters of baptism and because marriage is a means of grace,

We are called to recognize, affirm, and celebrate the covenant of marriage between any two persons who meet the commitments and standards for marriage, regardless of their gender/gender identity/gender expression or sexual orientation. We cannot deny the covenant of marriage to committed, same-sex couples.

Until our church changes its discriminatory stance regarding LGBTQIA+ weddings, we commit to upholding the same standards for all weddings.*

In Regard to Clergy Ethics
Because we expect clergy to dedicate themselves to “the highest ideals of Christian life” (Discipline, par. 304), it is not acceptable to insist on mandatory sentences with respect to a narrow range of sexual conduct, while affording our bishop discretion with respect to most aspects of clergy ethics and clergy sexual conduct, and because to do so strips the bishop of authority and discernment and limits outcome possibilities which, in turn, precludes a just resolution,

We will not convict our colleagues for extending the grace of marriage to committed couples or for any charges related to LGBTQIA+ inclusion.

As Retired Clergy
Because the call to ordained ministry is a call on the whole of our lives, extending beyond our years under appointment, and because those of us who are retired clergy are no less faithful than our actively serving colleagues to the example of Christ, the persuasion of the Holy Spirit, and the call to serve God and God’s people,

In support of and alongside our active colleagues, we will not accept interim appointments or otherwise fill in for pastors who are removed from their appointments for any charges related to LGBTQIA+ inclusion.

Laity
Because, as baptized Christians, we are all ministers, this call extends to laity as well.

We will work with our churches toward full inclusion in all facets of our life together and we will support clergy in this commitment and partner with them to extend the grace of marriage to all people. Additionally, we will support all qualified persons who express a call to ministry and welcome LGBTQIA+ ministers who are appointed to our faith communities.

When called to serve on Staff-Parish Relations Committees, District Committees on Ministry, or the Board of Ordained Ministry, we will support candidates for ministry and clergy appointed to our congregations, without respect to their sexual orientation or gender/gender identity/gender expression.

Faithfully Forward
We stand ready to chart a way forward for United Methodism – in Holston and around the connection. Now is the moment to unite in confessing the harm we have done and continue to do to our LBGTQIA+ siblings; covenanting to faithfully keep our baptismal vow to follow Jesus Christ in resisting “evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves;” and boldly sharing the good news of God’s abundant grace.

*How spiritual leaders carry out these standards is left up to their individual conscience.

Holston Conference stands in solidarity with other conferences who are standing publicly in the face of this injustice. We are especially grateful to the Virginia Annual Conference and the Michigan Annual Conference for their assistance with language.

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