The First United Methodist Church of Austin, Texas, voted Sunday, Feb. 10, to join the Reconciling Ministries Network, a group actively opposing the denomination’s stance on homosexuality.
The UMC’s official position, stated in the Book of Discipline, is that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The UMC does not allow “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” to be ordained as clergy and does not allow clergy to officiate at same-sex unions.
“To remain silent in the face of these rather graceless and unbending prohibitions implies consent to them, and such implied consent we are no longer willing to give,” said the Rev. John Wright, senior pastor at First UMC Austin.
A supermajority of 357 members of the church who attended a church conference voted for joining Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN).
“We all know gay people who love God and desperately want to join the church in worship and service,” said the Rev. Barbara Ruth, co-pastor at First UMC Austin and wife of Mr. Wright. “This is about making a public witness that we want the language in the Discipline changed.”
First UMC Austin is the fifth and largest Methodist congregation in Austin to join RMN, and about a dozen others are not affiliated, according to a First UMC Austin press release. First UMC Austin had 1,850 professing members at the end of 2011, as reported in the Southwest Texas Conference 2012 Journal.
Even though it is joining RMN, First UMC Austin will not perform same-sex unions.
“We will work to bring the general church’s policies into greater conformity with Christian teaching, as we understand it,” Mr. Wright said. “However, we will continue to abide by the current provisions of church law until such time as they are changed.”
Reconciling Ministries Network has not received an official statement from First UMC Austin about the vote. But First UMC Austin would rank seventh in membership among the network’s churches, according to 2010 statistics, said Rachel Harvey, associate executive director.
Glide Memorial UMC, in San Francisco, is the largest, with more than 12,000 members.
Currently, RMN includes 373 churches, 41 campus ministries and 120 communities, such as Sunday School classes and United Methodist Women units, Ms. Harvey said.