In late 2005, the Judicial Council released Decision 1032. The question at hand was whether the UMC Book of Discipline (BoD) permits pastors to come up with their own rules for membership. The case was brought because a Virginia pastor refused to accept an openly gay man into the church membership even though he met all membership requirements set forth by the BoD.
As Rev. Eric Folkerth explains, the Judicial Council found that the word may (“All people mayâ€¦become members”) must be defined as may or may not. Thus, even though a candidate meets all requirements, an individual church’s pastor has the sole authority to accept or reject his membership request.
Here are the two paragraphs specifically mentioned by the Judicial Council:
Section V. Church Membership
Â¶ 214. Eligibility- [â€¦] All people
may[may or may not] â€¦become members in any local church in the connection (Â¶ 4). In the case of persons whose disabilities prevent them from reciting the vows, their legal guardian[s], themselves members in full covenant relationship with God and the Church, the community of faith, may[may or may not] recite the appropriate vows on their behalf.
Â¶ 225. Transfer from Other Denominations-A member in good standing in any Christian denomination [â€¦]
may[may or may not] be received as either a baptized or a professing member by a proper certificate of transfer from that personâ€™s former church, or by a declaration of Christian faith, and upon affirming willingness to be loyal to The United Methodist Church (see Â¶Â¶ 214-217). [â€¦]
Amendment One was an attempt to recast Â¶ 4 in more declarative terms, making Decision 1032 moot. Unfortunately, it is now mathematically impossible for Amendment One to pass, meaning that until at least the next General Conference, we’re stuck with the Judicial Council’s error of judgment. Though the original purpose for Decision 1032 was to keep LGBT people out, the implications of reinterpreting the word may touch far more than just us. Here’s a partial list of the kinds of people for whom membership may now be refused:
- LGBTs. Let’s just get that one out of the way. Heterosexuality and non-transgenderedism can now be used as a requirement for membership.
- Those who break other Biblical rules. Let’s dispose of this one too. If you eat pork, shellfish, rabbit, or cheeseburgers your membership is in danger. If you have any tattoos or wear polyester you could be shown the door. Women, wearing jewelry or curling your hair might mean that you aren’t good enough for the UMC. If you don’t obey the Sabbath (not Sunday) you could be kept out of full union with the Church.
- Racial and ethnic minorities. Though Â¶ 4 of the BoD makes clear the intent of the Church (All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible â€¦upon baptism be admitted as baptized member.), Decision 1032 removes specific inclusion from Â¶ 4 by giving pastors the sole authority in Â¶ 214 to decide if they want one of Those People in their congregation or not.
- The poor. Likewise, those in poverty are at risk. Most churches encourage but don’t require a member to give 10% of her wages to the Church. This “bending” of Biblical law is done understanding that there are times in modern society when one simply cannot afford to do so. Decision 1032 opened the door to making a tithe a requirement for membership. Don’t laugh; I’ve heard of it happening at one church locally.
- The severely disabled. One section of Â¶ 214 (above) was originally intended to give the severely disabled full access to the Church. With Decision 1032, that same section now specifically permits a pastor to deny that person’s membership. Why would a pastor do such a thing? Theoretically, someone who is severely disabled is potentially less capable of holding down a job, making him even less likely to tithe while still costing the congregation in apportionments to the Conference.
I could continue, but I think my point is made. The reach of Decision 1032 is far greater than people suspect. That’s the problem with keeping people out; allow it with one group and inevitably you’ll find another group to keep out, then another, and another.
As Terrence Heath said last November, you may not be gay, but you may be next.