Steamboat’s Methodist pastor vows to uphold inclusiveness despite ban on same-sex marriage, LGBTQ clergy
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For the past nine years that Tim Selby has been the pastor at the Heart of Steamboat United Methodist Church, he has welcomed a diverse congregation to celebrate and honor the word of God.
“I’ve just always been inspired by the life and generosity of Jesus,” Selby said. “But his love and grace are often broader than people want it to be.”
Selby is referring to a vote Tuesday by leaders of the United Methodist Church to reject the One Church Plan, which would have eased restrictions on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriages.
During a special session of the church’s General Conference in St. Louis, delegates from around the world voted 438 to 384 to pass what was called the Traditional Plan. The vote upholds the church’s ban on LGBTQ clergy and adds punitive measures to churches that hold same-sex weddings.
Selby was disappointed by the decision. His congregation includes members of the LGBTQ community, along with allies who voiced similar dismay over the vote.
“I think that the biggest feeling is a feeling of heartbreak,” he said.
Selby explained the international debate over inclusiveness gained momentum in 2016 after the church’s Western Jurisdiction, which includes Steamboat’s congregation, unanimously elected Karen Oliveto to be the denomination’s first openly gay bishop, despite its restriction on gay clergy.
Following attempts by church leaders in 2017 to oust Oliveto from her position, members from the Council of Bishops issued a report aimed at revising the church’s Book of Discipline.
The report cited criticisms of the book, which constitutes the law and doctrine of the United Methodist Church. Council members believe the book “contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts,” according to the report.
The One Church Plan the council advocated would have allowed, but not required, United Methodist clergy to perform same-sex marriages where legal. It also would have allowed the ordination of LGBTQ clergy members.
Bishop Oliveto renounced the vote against the One Church Plan as antithetical to the values of the United Methodist Church, which represent the second-largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.
“The church that has nurtured us, taught us about God’s grace and unconditional love, all of a sudden is narrowing who gets to experience that love,” she told The Denver Post on Thursday. “That’s not been our tradition.”
Supporters of the Traditional Plan argued at the conference in St. Louis that the vote simply upholds the teachings of the Bible.
Nancy Denardo, a lay delegate of western Pennsylvania, cited the Book of Matthew, which mentions marriage as being between a man and a woman.
“The One Church Plan does not agree with the words of our savior,” Denardo said.
She added that a change to the language of the Book of Discipline “deceives young persons into believing that same-gender marriage is OK with God — when clearly it is not.”
Cara Nicklas, a delegate from Oklahoma, told conference attendees the debate over same-sex marriages has put her in an unfair position. While she does not reject gay people, she also seeks to uphold the Bible’s restriction on same-sex marriage.
“By those advocating for the One Church Plan, I was either told explicitly that I am mean-spirited and unloving for holding to the church’s doctrine on same-sex relationships, or the general tenor of the communications implied that I am unloving if I don’t agree to change the church’s Discipline,” she said.
She added her stance on the issue has made it difficult to connect with the members of her congregation.
“When gay persons become convinced I don’t love them because I don’t condone their behavior, it hurts my relationships with them,” Nicklas said.
But Taylor Anderson, director of the youth ministry at the Methodist Church in Steamboat, worries the decision will deter young people from attending churches that do not allow same-sex marriages.
“The younger generations are so welcoming and accepting,” he said. “They probably won’t want to have anything to do with those kind of churches.”
The high number of delegates, 384, who supported the One Church Plan, points to a larger division in the United Methodist Church over this inclusiveness.
Selby expects the vote will cause some churches to take a “gracious exit” from the denomination. For now, he does not plan to take that course of action.
It is possible that the Methodist Judicial Council, which Selby compared to the Supreme Court, could find Tuesday’s ruling unconstitutional. The council will meet on April 22 and 23, at which time they could invalidate the decision.
Until then, Selby, Oliveto and other church leaders have vowed to continue their inclusive practices.
The Heart of Steamboat United Methodist Church published a Public Welcoming Statement in January, which explicitly welcomed people regardless of their sexual orientation, among other identities.
The statement reads, “Believing that we can love alike even though we may not think alike, we welcome the full inclusion of all persons in the life and ministry of Heart of Steamboat United Methodist Church.”
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