RACINE — North Pointe United Methodist Church wants the public to know that it welcomes members of the LGBT community into all aspects of its ministry, even if the United Methodist Church as a whole does not.

In February the General Conference, an international body made up of 1,000 delegates that sets policy and speaks for the United Methodist Church, voted to maintain restrictions for its LGBT members. This means “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” cannot be ordained as ministers in the UMC.

The leaders and the congregation at North Pointe, 3825 Erie St., are not OK with that.

“It’s not right,” said church member Paula Thorson. “It’s not the United Methodist Church that I want to be a part of. The United Methodist Church I want to be a part of is inclusive of everybody.”

Although UMC’s Book of Discipline, its international rules of conduct, says LGBT people are welcome at its churches, can receive sacraments and be baptized, it also says “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Several of North Pointe’s leaders said they wept when they learned of the General Conference’s decision to maintain restrictions on LGBT members. The decision also means that UMC ministers are not allowed to officiate same-sex marriages and gay members of the clergy may be stripped of their credentials and lose their jobs.

The decisions made by the General Conference were upheld by the church’s Judicial Council — basically UMC’s Supreme Court — in late April, and the rules are now set to be put into place Jan. 1, 2020.

“I think we forget that Christ tells us that we should love everyone,” said Ron Morishita, co-chair of North Pointe’s leadership board.

North Pointe has yet to vote to become a “reconciling congregation” or one that seeks full inclusion for LGBT people in the United Methodist Church, but its members are overwhelmingly in favor, with 91 percent voting to make a public statement of welcome to the LGBT community.

Historical split

The Methodist church has a history of division over issues of equality, splitting in the 19th century over disagreements regarding slavery. Women in the United Methodist Church fought for years to be allowed full clergy rights before they were granted in 1956.

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“We can see that mistakes were made in the past, and we need to unshackle ourselves from them and move forward through Jesus Christ, our Lord,” said Pauline Mitchell, co-chair of North Pointe’s leadership board.

For some of North Pointe’s leaders, this issue hits close to home.

Charlie Bauer-King, North Pointe pastor emeritus, and his wife Nancy Bauer-King have a lesbian daughter and a transgender grandchild.

“This stuff, for me, just feels really personal,” Nancy Bauer-King said.

Martha Jackson Oppeneer, UMC minister and counselor, said she has a sister who left the ministry after coming out.

“We all have our stories of family members and friends who have suffered greatly and the church has suffered because we’ve lost their talent, we’ve lost their voices,” Jackson Oppeneer said.

Mitchell believes that every member of the congregation needs to stand up for what’s right. North Pointe is far from the only United Methodist Church to speak out against the General Conference decision, and Mitchell said it’s largely been a grassroots effort.

“The people on top don’t necessarily change anything until the people on the bottom force them to, and that’s what we’re doing,” she said.

The group of eight representatives from North Pointe that sat down with The Journal Times on Sunday agreed that there could be another split coming in the United Methodist Church over LGBT issues, with the more liberal Reconciling Congregations in favor of full equality and the more conservative Wesleyan Covenant Association backing the General Conference decision.

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Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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