Reconciling Q&A

These questions and answers were published in Onalaska United Methodist Church’s weekly eNews. The questions were posed by members and leaders of OUMC, and the answers were prepared by Pastor Park Hunter and members of the Reconciling Team.

  1. What is the goal of the Reconciling process? (2019/9/4)
  2. What is Onalaska United Methodist Church’s stance on LGBTQ people? (2019/9/11)
  3. Why do we need to talk about LGBTQ inclusion now? (2019/9/17)
  4. Who leads the Reconciling process? Who determines what pamphlets, small groups, and educational opportunities are offered? (2019/9/24)
  5. How should we as United Methodists approach LGBTQ inclusion? (2019/10/2)
  6. Will Onalaska UMC be assigned an LGBTQ pastor? (2019/10/9)
  7. Will Onalaska UMC host same-sex weddings? (2019/10/16)
  8. Would an LGBTQ person ever be placed in a position of leadership with youth or children? (2019/10/21)
  9. Now that we’ve finished our sermon series, what’s next in OUMC’s Reconciling Process? (2019/10/28)
  10. How can we be polite to new guests who visit church? (2019/11/05)
  11. Are people leaving OUMC because we are talking about Reconciling? (2019/11/12)
  12. Why haven’t we heard more from a traditional point of view during the Reconciling process? (2019/11/18)
  13. If we vote to become a Reconciling church, do we have to pay a fine to the denomination? (2019/11/25)
  14. If I believe scripture prohibits homosexuality as a sin, does that make me homophobic? (2020/12/03)
  15. What are the next steps in the Reconciling Process? (2019/12/10)
  16. What are some sources of information about this issue in The United Methodist Church? (2019/12/17)
  17. I saw in the news that The United Methodist Church is going to split. What does that mean? (2020/1/7)
  18. Who is writing OUMC’s reconciling statement? What is the schedule for voting on it? (2020/1/14)
  19. If The United Methodist Church splits at General Conference 2020, who owns our church building? (2020/1/21)
  20. I missed the rescheduled “Future of the UMC” panel discussion this past Saturday. Is there video? (2020/1/28)
  21. The following note was left for Pastor Park last Sunday. It has been rearranged and divided into three questions to make the response easier to follow. (1) “Don’t we belong to church because we believe in the Bible?” (2) “Doesn’t the Bible say marriage is between a man and a woman, so same-sex marriage goes against the Bible?” (3) “So why would we marry two men or two women in our church when they can just live together or go to a justice of the peace?” (2020/2/2)
  22. At the recent Church Council meeting, this question was asked: “Aren’t paragraphs 4 and 5 of the proposed Reconciling Statement in opposition to denomination policy in the Book of Discipline?” (2020/2/11)
  23. I don’t understand the LGBTQ+ABCDE… alphabet soup, language, or social etiquette. How do we even know how to talk about this? (2020/2/18)
  24. I haven’t felt comfortable sharing my thoughts about the Reconciling process yet. Is there still time? (2020/2/25)
  25. What is the Reconciling Statement? (2020/3/3)
  26. What have we done as a church to prepare for this Reconciling vote or for General Conference 2020? (2020/3/10)


Q: What is the goal of the Reconciling process? (2019/9/4)

A: Our short-term goal is to listen to our brothers and sisters with differing views, in a loving and respectful manner. We don’t necessarily expect anyone to change their minds, just to recognize that we are all trying to be faithful to the same Lord Jesus, whom we love. The Reconciling Team is organizing educational opportunities for those who want to learn more. Our long-term goal is to consider and adopt a specific Reconciling statement for LGBTQ people to worship and participate in our congregation at a church conference in March or April 2020. This will clarify our vision that we “love all people unconditionally,” and is necessary because many churches that claim to be welcoming really are not. Same sex marriage may or may not be part of the Reconciling statement.


Q: What is Onalaska United Methodist Church’s stance on LGBTQ people? (2019/9/11)

A: Following The United Methodist Church’s GC 2019 decision in February to reinforce traditional United Methodist language about homosexuality being incompatible with Christian teaching, our own Church Council voted unanimously to re-emphasize the first point of OUMC’s vision statement: we “welcome all people unconditionally.” That doesn’t mean that we all agree on everything! But, we do agree to love Jesus and love one another, warts and all.

One possible outcome of the Reconciling Process is an official OUMC statement explicitly welcoming LGBTQ people in the life of our church. We have church members and friends who are LGBTQ and are faithful Christians and valued members of our congregation, but who aren’t comfortable sharing their identities because this has been a grey area.


Q: Why do we need to talk about LGBTQ inclusion now? (2019/9/17)

A: Jesus says, “when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

We have some members who feel strongly one way or another about LGBTQ inclusion, and many who haven’t really thought about it. The Reconciling Process is a framework for us to talk with our sisters and brothers and reconcile with each other. We don’t need to agree on every point, so long as we can remember to love each other as Jesus loves us.

Additionally, we seek to discern our congregation’s mind on this issue before OUMC must react to denominational decisions. The United Methodist Church may split over the issues of same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ clergy at the May 2020 General Conference.


Q: Who leads the Reconciling process? Who determines what pamphlets, small groups, and educational opportunities are offered? (2019/9/24)

A: Sue Weber (slweber2@charter.net) and Kelly Dunn (kellydunn321@gmail.com) co-chair the Reconciling Team, an informal group open to all which meets monthly to plan and coordinate in consultation with Pastor Park (pastor@onalaskaumc.org or 608-799-4484). The Reconciling Team, in consultation with Pastor Park, selects resources for the table display in the lobby. We are always looking for volunteers to share a God Moment witness, lead a book study, or host a speaker, so if you have a suggestion you can volunteer to make it happen.

The Reconciling Team will be drafting a statement for the church to consider. After open feedback from church leaders and church members, the statement will be voted on by professing members at a church conference in March or April of 2020.


Q: How should we as United Methodists approach LGBTQ inclusion? (2019/10/2)

A: Not coincidentally, this is the topic of our October series, “The Methodist Way.”

The United Methodist Book of Discipline 2016, our denomination’s handbook, has mixed messages about homosexuality:  “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian or gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.” (Social Principles, par. 161G)

As the denomination and our congregation reconsider these statements, the Discipline holds up the teachings of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, as the definitive framework for our faith and thinking (Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task, par. 102-105). Wesley, who was more interested in practical Christianity than dogmatic doctrine, gave people called Methodist three General Rules: 1. Do no harm; 2. Do good of every possible sort; 3. Attend upon all the ordinances of God (“stay in love with God”).

Wesley used four tools to interpret the Bible: A. scripture; B. church tradition; C. reason; D. experience. These have been called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (terrible name!) and are very useful in our search for meaning.

Finally, Wesley did not insist upon 100% agreement on points of doctrine, only on love of God and neighbor. In his sermon On a Catholic Spirit, Wesley wrote, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.”


Q: Will Onalaska UMC be assigned an LGBTQ pastor? (2019/10/9)

A: Unlike many denominations, the United Methodist Church uses an appointment system. Instead of congregations “calling” the pastor they want, the bishop and district superintendent consult with each church’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) and “appoint” a pastor they feel the congregation needs.

The United Methodist Church’s guiding Book of Discipline prohibits ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” (par. 304.3), but we have always been able to ordain and appoint LGBTQ clergy who, unlike their heterosexual colleagues, choose celibacy. In recent years, some conferences have also ordained active LGTBQ clergy who show all the gifts and graces and have a clear calling for ministry. In some cases, these clergy have later been brought up on charges under the restriction in the Book of Discipline and had their ordination revoked. The Shower of Stoles includes some of these stories.

Might an LGBTQ pastor be appointed to our congregation? The SPRC, representing our church, lets the bishop’s office know what kind of pastor we think we need and interviews potential clergy appointments. They will be informed by the outcome of our Reconciling decision. If an LGBTQ pastor passes the UMC ordination process (a minimum 7-8 year journey of education, discernment, and testing), and if the bishop and our SPRC feel the pastor’s gifts and graces would be a good fit for our congregation’s needs, it is possible.


Q: Will Onalaska UMC host same-sex weddings? (2019/10/16)

A: The current policy of The United Methodist Church is that, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches” (Book of Discipline par. 341.6). This may or may not change at General Conference 2020.

Some United Methodist clergy have chosen to celebrate same-sex weddings for parishioners, and occasionally these pastors are brought up on charges and lose their job as pastors. Likewise, some churches have chosen to host same-sex weddings, although the penalties for churches are less well-defined. The movement to host same-sex weddings is sometimes called “an altar for all.”

If Onalaska UMC chooses to become a Reconciling church with a statement welcoming LGBTQ people fully into our community, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will also host same-sex wedding ceremonies. The decision to open our church facility to host same-sex weddings may be a separate option for us to vote on, in contravention of the Discipline.

Regardless of whether or not OUMC is open to hosting same-sex weddings, United Methodist pastors are always empowered to discern whose weddings they will perform. Pastors meet with couples to interview them, conduct counseling, and discern if this will be a viable marriage relationship. This will continue to be the case for both hetero- and same-sex weddings.


Q: Would an LGBTQ person ever be placed in a position of leadership with youth or children? (2019/10/21)

A: The short answer is yes, and we are grateful for their ministry. Our kids know that our all our volunteers love them and love Jesus, and that church is a safe place.

The long answer is that we don’t ask, and we don’t need to know. Everyone who works with children at Onalaska UMC has been screened by our staff and must pass a rigorous background check. We provide training and supervision for volunteers, and no one is ever left alone with a child behind a closed door. Onalaska UMC is a Safe Sanctuaries church, which means we follow best practices to protect our children from sexual predators of any persuasion, violence, bullying, etc. Our Safe Sanctuaries policy is available on our website under Resouces > Policies… http://www.onalaskaumc.org/resource/#policies


Q: Now that we’ve finished our sermon series, what’s next in OUMC’s Reconciling Process? (2019/10/28)

A: Reconciling is about listening to each other and trying to understand and love people with whom we might disagree. We will continue to have an occasional God Moment testimony, plus small groups, listening sessions, and special events.

Is there something you want to learn about, or a perspective you feel is missing? Attend a Reconciling Meeting or talk to Pastor Park, and we’ll help you make it happen.

The Reconciling Team is working on a draft welcoming statement, which will be shared with the congregation and Church Council in January. After listening to feedback and making adjustments, we will hold a church conference in March so that all members can vote on the new welcoming statement.


Q: How can we be polite to new guests who visit church? (2019/11/05)

A: As word spreads that we are a welcoming church, we have a lot of guests visiting these days. Onalaska United Methodist Church is large enough that we can’t always be sure whether a person we don’t recognize is a guest or a member. It’s okay to introduce yourself to someone this way: “Hi, my name is (name). I don’t think I know you?”

Because gender identity doesn’t always match appearance, many younger people these days also include their “preferred gender pronouns” (PGPs) in their introduction: “Hi, my name is Pat. My pronouns are he/his.” Other common options for pronouns are “she/hers,” or “they/theirs” for people who identify as gender neutral.

If you learn that someone is a guest, ask if they have any questions. Be sure they know where to find coffee and water, where the restrooms and nursery are, and how to find the cookies in the fellowship hall. Offer to sit with them. Introduce them to others with whom they might share interests. Building these connections is what helps to make us a welcoming church.


Q: Are people leaving OUMC because we are talking about Reconciling? (2019/11/12)

A: All churches have a natural ebb and flow of members. Familiar faces move or fade away; new folks visit the church and some decide to join. This happens all the time and for a wide variety of reasons.

Right now, the global United Methodist Church is in a season of discernment about LGBTQ inclusion. Decisions were made at General Conference 2019 and will be revisited at GC2020 which affect our local church. A few people have left our congregation because they don’t feel the UMC is inclusive enough; others are upset that we might be more welcoming.

As Pastor Park discussed in his sermon October 6 (https://youtu.be/iWCgAtjD6g4?t=1731), we will lose a few at either end, no matter what we do or decide. We pray those folks find new faith homes where they can grow in discipleship. However, most of us can co-exist with people who disagree with us on this issue, while still loving Jesus and each other. According to our survey last summer, 87% of members and friends said they planned to stay if we choose to become a Reconciling church that fully welcomes LGBTQ people.

Churches that do the Reconciling process well often experience net growth. Indeed, we are seeing many new guests visiting OUMC because they have heard we are working on Reconciling. Some comments shared by visitors in the past six weeks:

  • “I didn’t know a church could be so welcoming. I would like to be a member. I’ll be back next week, and I’m bringing friends.”   (… this person did come back with friends!)
  • “I have struggled with my faith for a while and have not attended church regularly for about the past year, but recently it has been feeling as if there is something missing from my life. I am looking to reconnect with my spirituality. After some brief research I found Onalaska United Methodist Church. We had a very positive experience this past Sunday.”
  • “This is the first time I’ve visited a church in eight years, and the first time I’ve EVER had a positive experience.”


Q: Why haven’t we heard more from a traditional point of view during the Reconciling process? (2019/11/18)

A: Reconciling is intended to be a conversation for our whole church. The process is being led by our Reconciling Team, which holds open meetings and welcomes all input. We would like to have a book study or host a guest speaker representing the traditional side, but we haven’t had any volunteers to work on this. If you have ideas, come to a Reconciling meeting or contact Pastor Park.

For the conversation to be effective, we need to hear from everyone. While we don’t necessarily expect anyone to change their mind, we do want everyone to have a chance to listen and learn from each other respectfully. Our ground rule is that we love all people, even if we disagree with them.

We will hear a traditional speaker as part of the panel discussion on “The Future of the UMC” Saturday, January 18.


Q: If we vote to become a Reconciling church, do we have to pay a fine to the denomination? (2019/11/25)

A: No. There is no penalty payment to the denomination for being a Reconciling church. Voting to become a Reconciling church does not mean leaving The United Methodist Church. The Reconciling Ministries Network (https://rmnetwork.org/) is entirely composed of UMC churches within the denomination.

At its most basic level, being a Reconciling church means adopting a statement that specifically affirms that we welcome LGBTQ people as members. This is in accord with the United Methodist Book of Discipline‘s paragraph 161G, which says, “We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian or gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”

This is also in keeping with Onalaska UMC’s vision that we “Love all people unconditionally.”

What is true is that under the Traditional plan passed at General Conference 2019, which takes effect January 1, 2020, churches (either traditional or progressive) which choose to leave the denomination could keep their property, but would have to pay one year of apportionments plus their outstanding pension liabilities. This is one of many things that will probably be renegotiated at GC2020.


Q: If I believe scripture prohibits homosexuality as a sin, does that make me homophobic? (2020/12/03)

A: No. This is a traditional, widely-accepted reading of scripture, although it is not the only interpretation.* Having this understanding of scripture is not inherently homophobic. Rather, how we treat others is the determining factor.

It is possible to believe that homosexuality is a sin, but still extend Christian love and acceptance to LGBTQ people. Colloquially this is known as the “Love the sinner, hate the sin” approach. Christian belief is that we ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Jesus loves us nonetheless, and we are called to extend the same grace and love to each other.

The question we need to ask ourselves is: if we consider homosexuality to be a sin, are we treating it differently than other sins such as lust, greed, drunkenness, gluttony, gossip, adultery, divorce, etc.?

A phobia happens when we fear, hate, or judge a group and therefore treat them differently. Homophobia happens when we exclude faithful LGBTQ people from the life of the church based on our judgment that they are sinners. Jesus specifically warns us against judging others (Matthew 7:1-5), and sets an example for us by fellowshipping with all sorts of people, including those commonly judged by others to be sinners and outcasts.

Bottom line: We don’t have to agree on whether homosexuality is a sin or not, but we do need to agree to love each other as Jesus loved us, warts and all (John 13:34-34). Leave the judging to Jesus Christ.

*For an alternate reading of key verses, see the pamphlet “What Does the Bible Say About LGBTQ People?” (http://www.onalaskaumc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Bible-and-LGBTQ-facts.pdf). In a nutshell, many modern interpreters believe the Bible condemns abusive, harmful same-sex relationships as sinful in the same way that heterosexual abuse and rape are sinful. In this interpretation, the Bible does not speak against loving, committed, monogamous same-sex relationships (ie, marriage).


Q: What are the next steps in the Reconciling Process? (2019/12/10)

A: The Reconciling process is all about education and discussion, with the goal of adopting a reconciling welcoming statement for our church at a special church conference March 29. Upcoming education and discussion opportunities…

Tuesday, January 14, 6:30pm –    Sharing Conversations (structured, respectful, small group sharing)

Saturday, January 18, 1:00pm –   Future of the UMC Panel (guest speakers representing variety of views)

Tuesday, February 11, 6:30pm – Listening Session (Pastor Park and leaders listen to congregational input)

Sunday, February 16, 12:30pm – LGBTQ 101 (presentation and Q&A with 7 Rivers Pride Center leaders)

The Reconciling Team has prepared a DRAFT statement for discussion:

  1. At Onalaska United Methodist Church, we believe in the teachings of Jesus: unconditional love, compassion, and justice.
  2. All persons are created in God’s image and are of sacred worth. We affirm and celebrate persons of all ages, gender identities and expressions, sexual orientations, family structures, abilities, economic statuses, races, ethnicities, national origins, and heritages. We honor the unique gifts of All persons and their call to serve according to their spiritual gifts. The body of Christ shares one baptism and God’s table is open to All.
  3. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are also called to be pastors. We support the ordination of LGBTQ+ individuals and welcome them to fill our pulpit.
  4. We will open our doors to celebrate the weddings of All prepared couples who seek to commit their lives to one another with the blessing of our creator.
  5. We are the people of open hearts, open minds, and open doors. In the words of John Wesley, “We can love alike, though we may not think alike.”

This statement will be discussed and revised at Reconciling Team meetings, presented to the Church Council for feedback and approval, and finally brought to the Church Conference March 29 for all members to vote on.

If you have thoughts or input, would like to host a small group, or invite a guest speaker, please attend a Reconciling Team meeting or contact Pastor Park.


Q: What are some sources of information about this issue in The United Methodist Church? (2019/12/17)

A: There are several groups or organizations providing information from different perspectives about the movement for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church.


Q: I saw in the news that The United Methodist Church is going to split. What does that mean? (2020/1/7)

A: Last Friday, a diverse team of UMC leaders released a suggested “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.” Although some national news stories reported this as “United Methodist Church agrees to split,” the actual plan is only one of many options, with the final decision to be made at General Conference in May.

However, because this plan was negotiated by several key traditional, progressive, and centrist leaders, it stands a better-than-usual chance of being adopted. Under the plan, traditionalist conferences and churches could leave The United Methodist Church to form a new denomination, and would receive $25 million to help them get started. The remaining global United Methodist Church would allow more regional autonomy for LGBTQ marriage and ordination. The protocol also calls for $39 million for racial reconciliation and ministry to address lingering issues with colonialism. The plan authors call for a voluntary moratorium on church trials related to LGBTQ marriage until General Conference can act.

Here is an article from the United Methodist News Service with many plan details…

https://www.umnews.org/en/news/diverse-leaders-group-offers-separation-plan

What does this plan mean for Onalaska UMC’s Reconciling process? Regardless of what the global United Methodist Church might decide, our leaders feel it is important for us to continue our own conversation, listening to all voices in our congregation. We still plan to vote on a Reconciling statement at a special charge conference March 29 to clearly state our local church’s position. We will then be prepared to address whatever plan is finally enacted at General Conference in May 2020.


Q: Who is writing OUMC’s reconciling statement? What is the schedule for voting on it? (2020/1/14)

A: The Reconciling Team drafted the statement last fall. They had a sub-group work on the draft, then reviewed the statement with the whole team. The draft was published on page 10 of the Winter newsletter, and was in the December 10 eNews. It is now available on the Reconciling table in the lobby. This first draft is intended to inspire conversation.

Our intended process is that the statement will be revised based on feedback at Reconciling Team meetings (2/ 9 and 3/8) and Church Council (1/28, 2/25, and 3/24). Reconciling Team and Church Council will both approve the final version that we send to charge conference.

At the charge conference March 29, all professing members of the congregation will have the opportunity to vote on the final Reconciling statement, with a supermajority needed for adoption. We want our church members to make their decision and be prepared to deal with the results of General Conference is May 5-15.


Q: If The United Methodist Church splits at General Conference 2020, who owns our church building? (2020/1/21)

A: In our denomination, local churches hold their properties in trust for the annual conference (in our case, Wisconsin). This is known as the “trust clause” and is an historic feature of Methodism going back to the days of John Wesley.

The “Protocol for Grace and Reconciliation Through Separation” plan that was proposed recently would allow a grace period for churches who voted to leave the denomination over the specific issue of LGBTQ inclusion to take their property, assets and liabilities with them. However, conferences and local churches would remain part of The United Methodist Church by default. Of course, this plan is not official until voted on at General Conference.


Q: I missed the rescheduled “Future of the UMC” panel discussion this past Saturday. Is there video? (2020/1/28)

A: Yes. The event was livestreamed on Facebook. Guests Jodi Parrins (lay leader, Algoma UMC), Park Hunter (pastor, OUMC), Banze Kyabuntu (pastor, Stoddard UMC), Peace Kim (pastor, Lodi UMC), Jessica Gobel (GC2020 lay delegate), and Krysta Deede (pastor, Tomah UMC & GC2020 clergy delegate) answered questions and had a far-ranging discussion.

You can watch the video here…

https://www.facebook.com/algomaumc/videos/216014282765622/

We will also have the video posted on our own YouTube channel later this week.


Q: The following note was left for Pastor Park last Sunday. It has been rearranged and divided into three questions to make the response easier to follow. (1) “Don’t we belong to church because we believe in the Bible?” (2) “Doesn’t the Bible say marriage is between a man and a woman, so same-sex marriage goes against the Bible?” (3) “So why would we marry two men or two women in our church when they can just live together or go to a justice of the peace?” (2020/2/2)

A: Let’s answer these questions in order. Go get a cup of coffee, and settle in for a long response!

(1) There are many reasons people belong to Onalaska UMC, but almost all of us believe in the Bible. That doesn’t mean we all read or understand it the same way. We don’t have doctrinal standards or tests for members.

(2) The Bible has a complicated witness about marriage. Serious Bible readers and theologians come to well-considered, faithful, but divergent opinions. Here are two possible ways to read the Bible on this subject…

(2a) According to one way of reading the Bible, marriage is intended for one man and one woman. Genesis 1:27-28 is cited to suggest that God intended people to reproduce, which is traditionally only possible in heterosexual relationships. Genesis 2:24 says that man and woman become “one flesh.” In Mark 10:1-12, Jesus cites these passages to refute a question about divorce. Matthew 19:2-12 repeats the same incident with some more detail.

The Apostle Paul, who composed many of the letters of the New Testament, wrote often about husbands and wives. For example, in Ephesians 5:22-33 Paul describes the relationship of Christ and the church as reflecting a husband and wife. In 1 Timothy 3:2, Paul says that a bishop or pastor must be the husband of one wife (monogamous). And in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul reflects extensively on faithful, monogamous marriage and re-marriage between men and women.

(2b) Another way of reading the Bible recognizes evolving concepts of marriage across scriptural history relative to the cultural context of the time. The second creation story suggests that marriage is about companionship rather than procreation (Genesis 2:18). The patriarchs and kings of the Old Testament generally had multiple wives and concubines (cf. Jacob/Israel, Genesis 29-30 or King David, 2 Samuel 3:2-5). Childless widows were to re-marry their husband’s brother in order to have a child who could care for their mothers and carry on the family line (cf. Deuteronomy 25:5, examples in Genesis 38 and Ruth 1:11-13).

Some religious scholars used this tradition of brothers marrying the same widow to test Jesus with a riddle – whose wife would she be in heaven? (Luke 20:1-35; Matthew 23-30 repeats the story.) Jesus replied that they did not understand how marriage worked in heaven. When Jesus talks about man and woman becoming one flesh in marriage (see above), he is actually answering a question about divorce, against which he takes a hard line, especially in Mark 10:11-12.

Paul recommended celibacy over marriage (1 Corinthians 7:7-9), and talks in the same chapter about when it might be permissible for a husband and wife to separate.

For more scriptures and interpretation on same-sex marriage, how to interpret the negative verses, and some potentially positive examples of alternate sexualities in the Bible, see the pamphlet What Does the Bible Say About LGBTQ People? (http://www.onalaskaumc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Bible-and-LGBTQ-facts.pdf).

(3) Same-sex civil marriage has been permitted in Wisconsin since 2014, so same-sex couples can have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.

However, marriage in a church is not just about the legal privileges. Pastors do premarital counseling to help ensure the marriage will be healthy. A church marriage celebrates a couple’s desire to solemnly promise lifelong love and faithfulness before God and a gathered congregation of witnesses. The couple seeks God’s blessing as well as the blessing of their friends and family upon their relationship.

For these reasons, the Church would never suggest to a heterosexual couple that they just live together or have a civil service instead of a church wedding. So why would we suggest that to a same-sex couple?

For many, who read the Bible according to 2b above, it makes sense to conduct same-sex church weddings. As Paul says, for those with sexual urges that can’t be repressed, “they should get married, because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9).

For others, who read the Bible according to 2a, the question is: how would the church allowing same-sex weddings for other people cause harm to you? For many, even if they disagree with same sex marriage according to their reading of the Bible, allowing others who believe differently to celebrate marriage in the church will not cause any problems. For some, however, this is a bridge too far and they don’t feel they can be associated with a church where some believe differently on this specific issue.

Onalaska UMC’s longtime stand that we welcome and love all people unconditionally means that we don’t reject anyone, including those who disagree theologically. Whether you are a 2a or 2b Bible reader, you are welcome here as long as you can lovingly co-exist with others who may differ from you.


Q: At the recent Church Council meeting, this question was asked: “Aren’t paragraphs 4 and 5 of the proposed Reconciling Statement in opposition to denomination policy in the Book of Discipline?” (2020/2/11)

A: Kelly Dunn, co-chair of the Reconciling Team, wrote this reply:

“The proposed Statement is intended to be a bold statement from Onalaska UMC members that we welcome and affirm LGBTQ persons.  If we were to adopt this statement with at least 75% of professed members in attendance at a Church Conference voting to support the statement, then we would join over 1000 other UMC churches who have approved similar Reconciling statements.

It is true that the ordination and service of ‘self-avowed practicing homosexuals’ is not permitted at this time in the UMC Book of Discipline. It is also true that UMC Clergy may not perform same sex marriages in Church owned property in the Book of Discipline at this time.  Those prohibitions may or may not be removed at the next General Conference in May.

Passage of this Statement would not obligate OUMC clergy to perform same sex marriages in our building, but it would show our support if they chose to do so.

Passage of this Statement would not change the Ordination procedures of clergy by the Wisconsin Annual Conference.  It is a message to future Bishops from our church that we would not support discrimination in the service of appointed clergy based upon their sexual orientation.”


Q: I don’t understand the LGBTQ+ABCDE… alphabet soup, language, or social etiquette. How do we even know how to talk about this? (2020/2/18)

A: It’s normal to feel uncomfortable talking about something we are unfamiliar with. In this case, the language is still evolving. Words that were once offensive are now used commonly by some… but may still be offensive to others. Even members of the LGBTQ+ community acknowledge this can be a challenge.

We will be hosting a panel from the 7 Rivers LGBTQ Center (https://7riverslgbtq.org/) Sunday, March 1 at 1:00pm to speak and answer your questions in this area.

When thinking about definitions, there are two different things to consider. “Identity” is how we identify our own gender, and may differ from birth gender. “Attraction” is to whom we are attracted. Here are some common terms…

Lesbian (L) – a woman who is attracted to other women.

Gay (G) – specifically a man who is attracted to other men; generically might be used for homosexual people.

Bisexual (B) – a person who is attracted to both genders.

Transgender (T) – a person who identifies as a gender different from that assigned at birth. Note that identification is different from attraction. May also be used more broadly for people who challenge gender norms in various ways.

Queer (Q) – originally and sometimes still an insulting term for homosexual people, but increasingly used by LGBTQ people to refer to themselves. (Remember that “methodist” was originally an insult, too!)

Intersex (I) – term used for the 2% of babies with naturally occurring variations in chromosomes, hormones, and/or genitalia.

Asexual (A) – a person who does not experience sexual attraction to others.

Ally – a supporter of LGBTQ people.

Cisgender – a person whose gender identity aligns with that assigned to them at birth.

Preferred Personal Pronouns (PPP) – often used when introducing ourselves or others to indicate preferred ways we identify gender and speak to each other. Examples are he/him (for someone who identifies male), she/her (for someone who identifies female), and they/them (for those who don’t identify with a gender). This is a sign of courtesy to LGBTQ people, and they usually offer grace to those who at least make an effort.


Q: I haven’t felt comfortable sharing my thoughts about the Reconciling process yet. Is there still time? (2020/2/25)

A: Yes. The Reconciling Team has offered a variety of ways to provide feedback, and truly wants to hear from everyone. However, the time is running short. The Reconciling Statement will have its final revision at the Team meeting March 8. You can provide feedback and suggest changes by…

  • Dropping a feedback form in the box on the Reconciling table in the lobby.
  • Attending the Reconciling Team meeting March 8 at noon.
  • Talking to Pastor Park, Kelly Dunn, or Sue Weber

After March 8, we can still talk about the statement and answer questions, but no more changes will be made as we prepare for the church conference March 29 at 1:00p. At the church conference, everyone will have a turn to speak, but only church members can vote. (You can join by attending the Tuesday, March 10 information meeting and becoming a professing member Sunday, March 15.)

We are looking for a minimum 75% yes vote March 29 in order to pass the statement.


Q: What is the Reconciling Statement? (2020/3/3)

A: If adopted at the March 29 church conference, this would become our congregation’s specific welcoming statement including LGBTQ people in the life of the church. The Reconciling Statement indicates that our congregation is a safe and welcoming place for LGBTQ people.

The draft of the statement was revised February 19 by the Reconciling Team. The statement currently says…

  1. At Onalaska United Methodist Church, we believe in the teachings of Jesus: unconditional love, compassion, and justice.
  2. All persons are created in God’s image and are of sacred worth.  We affirm and celebrate persons of all ages, gender identities and expressions, sexual orientations, family structures, abilities, economic statuses, races, ethnicities, national origins, and heritages.
  3. We honor the unique gifts of All persons including LGBTQ+ individuals and their call to serve according to their spiritual gifts. The body of Christ shares one baptism and God’s table is open to All.
  4. We support the ordination of LGBTQ+ individuals and welcome them to serve our Church.
  5. We will open our doors to celebrate the weddings of All prepared couples who, in consultation with our pastor, seek to commit their lives to one another with the blessing of our creator.
  6. We are the people of open hearts, open minds, and open doors.  In the words of John Wesley, “We can love alike, though we may not think alike.”

Paragraph numbers are added for ease of discussion and will not be part of the final statement. Please email feedback to Kelly Dunn (kellydunn321@gmail.com), Sue Weber (slweber2@charter.net), or Pastor Park (pastor@onalaskaumc.org). Feedback can also be placed in the box on the Reconciling table in the lobby. All are welcome to attend the March 8 Reconciling Team meeting, which is the last chance to make changes to the Statement before the Church Conference vote March 29.


Q: What have we done as a church to prepare for this Reconciling vote or for General Conference 2020? (2020/3/10)

A: Onalaska United Methodist Church has engaged in a year-long Reconciling Process designed to facilitate conversation and give everyone a chance to share input. Here are some of the milestones along the way:

2019

February

  • UMC General Conference 2019 narrowly approves the Traditional Plan, enacting harsher penalties on pastors who conduct same-sex weddings and ordination of LGBTQ clergy.
  • OUMC Council votes unanimously to emphasize our vision that we “love all people unconditionally.”

March

  • OUMC Council votes to begin the Reconciling process

May

  • Reconciling Team formed, begins monthly meetings open to all for planning of process
  • Congregation surveyed
  • OUMC hosts NC District Conversation about GC2019

June

  • 1 & Done: UMC and LGBTQ
  • Pentecost sermon: Wesley White, “We’ve Got to Talk”

July

  • God & the Gay Christian book study
  • 1 & Done: Father Jerry Anderson, Ordained By Angels: Memoirs of an AIDS Chaplain

August

  • Reconciling Images video Bible study

September

  • “For the Bible Tells Me So” video discussion

October

  • Sermon series: Park Hunter, “The Methodist Way”
  • Walking the Bridgeless Canyon Sunday morning adult study
  • Shower of Stoles exhibit

November

  • Making Sense of Bible book study
  • “What Does the Bible Say about LGBTQ People?” pamphlet available

December

  • Reconciling Statement first draft published

2020

January

  • 1 & Done: Reconciling Conversations
  • OUMC hosts Future of UMC Panel Discussion
  • Reconciling Statement first draft shared with Church Council

February

  • 1 & Done: Leader Listening Session
  • Reconciling Statement second draft published & shared with Church Council

March

  • OUMC hosts 7 Rivers LGBTQ 101 and Panel Discussion
  • Reconciling Statement finalized and published
  • Church Conference to vote on Reconciling Statement

May

  • UMC General Conference 2020 to consider Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation

In the past year, we have heard Sunday God Moments from… Nancy Dull, Jack Evans, Bob & Jan Mattson, Ruth Hallstead, Kelly & Loretta Dunn, Megan Barbian, Marion Hanson, Paul Bratsch, Paul Brown, and Megan Pence.