The Book of Discipline contains the rules that guide The United Methodist Church. Only General Conference can change the book, which is revised after each meeting of the conference. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

By Rev. Mary K. (Sellon) Huycke

This is a hard day in a hard week in a hard year. I have so many emotions running through me as I reflect on the just released Judicial Council decision. But I guess it’s to be expected. It’s a struggle anytime the Church is faced with new revelation that contradicts what they’d understood to be faithful practice.

In Acts, deeply committed Christ followers wrestled with the expansion of dietary laws, elimination of mandatory circumcision, and the full inclusion of Gentiles. How heated those discussions must have been, as passionate, spirit-filled emergence collided with protective instincts no less than that of a lioness protecting her vulnerable cub.

Rev. Mary Huycke
Rev. Mary Huycke

In our era, Methodists have wrestled as new understandings emerged in the dominant culture about slavery, segregation, and women.  The first woman was ordained in 1866, but it wasn’t until 1956 that women received full clergy rights. Methodists splintered over slavery and while they reunited in 1939, segregation was part of our formal polity until 1968.  These “issues” couldn’t have been imagined by those first followers. Fortunately, they left us a pattern of discernment and adaptation.

Today the new understandings are about LGBTQI persons and the nature of marriage. I wish that the author of Acts had included more about the heated nature of their conversations. They’re written as if the discussions and decisions happened in the course of a day-long meeting and that everyone went home happy. We know that can’t have been the case. This history is written from the winner’s side. The fear and anger of those trying to protect this new and holy enterprise is not recorded. Nor does Acts record those on both sides who left the community, some because it was changing in ways they believed dangerous – others because it wasn’t changing fast enough.

The Judicial Council decision is not a statement about the worth of LGBTQI persons. It is not a statement about whether or not they should have full rights in The United Methodist Church. It was the Book of Discipline, our church law, that was on trial here. Does it allow for the contextual adaptations needed during a time of transition?

The answer we learned with the Judicial Council decision, is “no.” There is now even greater urgency for the denomination to engage with the process that the Bishops’ Way Forward Commission will be bringing us.

In the meantime, however, we must prioritize caring for persons made even more vulnerable by this decision. As a Facebook friend posted and reposted today, “Queer beloveds: be gentle with you today. Self care, self care, self care.”  No matter what the world says or thinks about you, you are a child of God.

Mary Huycke is the first elected clergy of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference and serves as chair of the Western Jurisdiction Episcopacy Committee


  1. Thank you, Mary, for your reflections. My prayers are with all those who suffer today. May we find a way forward in a manner that includes and celebrates our diversity.

  2. Bless you, Mary, for this much needed word and perspective that you shared so promptly. The raw edges of pain and feelings of hurt of many brothers and sisters are immediately here within our community. A “way forward”? Only the Sacred One, our Creator and lover of life and all persons knows what may lie ahead. Our human community is called to commit itself to do our best to discern truth and to address the culture bound limitations reflected in our human rule book which we call the Book of Discipline. Quite often we have heard that The Bible is the inspired Word of God. Never in my lifetime of nearly 3/4 of a century have I heard he Book of Discipline given that status, nor should it be.
    May God’s spirit of Love fill our hearts and minds with determination to faithfully move forward in loving affirmation of all of God’s creatures. Amen. May it be so.

  3. Thank you, Mary! As one who is guiding our middle school youth through the New Testament right now (Acts a couple weeks ago, Paul’s letters now), I appreciate your looking at the early days after Jesus’ death and how they struggled then too. I’ll be sharing your statements here with my youth! We do need to move forward in loving affirmation of all of God’s creatures, as Jim says too. Thank you both for your thoughtful words in sharing your reflections.

  4. Church law, including the Book of Discipline, has instrumental value to order and advance the unity of the church. But it doesn’t have ultimate value. That belongs to the command to love one another. When church rules violate that command they must, and by God’s grace, will be changed.

    • I completely agree with you, Pharis and Jane! The BoD has been changed in the past and it must change again, to allow full inclusion to ALL who love God and their neighbors as themselves. Yes, this includes our LBGTQAI sisters and brothers!
      A person’s sexual orientation or gender identity has nothing, whatsoever, to do with their compassion, caring, or competence.
      If the UMC decides to split, so be it, this has happened in the past, over the slavery issue, and even when the church reunited, in the 1930s, it still segregated our African American sisters and brothers into the Central Jurisdiction. This ridiculous ruling continued until the latter part of the 1960s!
      As I have heard quoted, many years ago, “Like a mighty tortoise moves the church of God, brothers we are treading where we have always trod.”

    • May the change in the BoD be made and be made quickly.
      We are violating Jesus command to “Love one another, accept one another, even if they do not think as you do or are like you.” We are all of God, and yes, that includes our LBGTQI sisters and brothers who deserve, to finally attain, FULL inclusion in all aspects of UMC life. Marriage, and ordination are certainly part of this full inclusion.

  5. Thank you for your compassion and understanding. Many still hope and pray that the United Methodist Church will eventually unite around all the now marginalized children of God. Organizational structure, with its guidelines, rules and regulations, is “man”-made. Compassion and inclusion comes from God.

  6. Your letter is a very thoughtful and generous response. The judicial council erred in its discernment; it could have found a way to affirm the role of the Bishops’ “A Way Forward ” process, and chose instead to re- wound and reoffend. Unfortunately waiting for “A Way Forward” process provides no assurance that the outcome will be different, when the Book of Discipline sanctions discrimination found nowhere in Jesus teachings.
    Surely the United Methodist Church can learn from the history of the American civil rights movement. It took over sixty years for our nation to move from the liberation work of Martin Luther King and others to the election of a black President. Our Supreme Court has struck down civil impediments against gay marriage. Why should our Church take decades more to recognize that LGBTQI people who have been created by God are are likewise called to ordained ministry by that same God? How many younger people are turned off by a church that claims ‘Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors’ and rejects LGBTQI clergy? How long can we wait for the African church or the Southeastern Jurisdiction to accept that a genuine call to ministry is of God? How is this time different than the time when the Church split because slavery was once sanctioned?

  7. Good reflection Mary. One minor disagreement. The church first split over its racism in 1794 when Richard Allen concluded that white Methodists were too racist for black Methodists to be in the same church. We still have not rejoined with the African Methodist Episcopal Church founded by Allen.

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