For Rev. Britt Cox, pastor at Church of the Three Crosses, 333 W. Wisconsin St., a Feb. 28 vote at a United Methodist Church ( UMC ) conference affirming an earlier condemnation of homosexuality as being incompatible with Christian teachings was "heartbreaking but not surprising."
The controversial vote, rendered at a special conference in St. Louis, both condemned homosexuality and empowered church officials to crack down on clergy who performed same-sex marriages and shore up rules that had been skirted in order to ordain LGBT clergy.
"This is something that's looked like it was going to happen, and I have been involved in some grassroots work to kind of change the denomination's previous but longhand stance," Cox said. "At the other end of it, the Christian tradition is one that holds hope at the center of our faith," she said. "Of course, I hoped for inclusion and love to become official church law, but I wasn't surprised when it didn't.
Cox, whose congregation is affiliated with both UMC and United Church of Christ, is openly LGBT and has had her post at the church since last year. Many of her congregants were hurt and disturbed when the votes came down.
She explained, "We have a large population of our church who, in some way, have been hurt by a church tradition in some capacitymaybe they're LGBTQ and told they were sinful; maybe they were women who were called to ministry and told they couldn't do; maybe they're folks living with the realities of a mental health diagnosis. For many of them, this news was really personal and really put them in a position where they were questioning how we, as a local church, could stay connected to a tradition that holds these views."
Chicagoan Rev. Gregory Gross said that he was flooded "by many different emotions" after the vote.
"I don't think I was surprised by this," Gross said, noting that rules and decrees against LGBT persons have been increasingly restrictive since the early '70s. "It was one of those things I've been saying could be coming. But it still hurts. I think it was very surprising to people who were moderates. There were people in the middle who were pushing a plan that gave space to both sides."
Cox attributed the vote results to the different regional dynamics at play within the church. While local congregations and parishioners might be welcoming to LGBT persons, that may not be the case in congregations in other nations or even other parts of the United States.
"I grew up in the south," she said. "The rhetoric from my clergy colleagues down there leading up to the vote was very different than it was from [clergy from] northern Illinois and Chicago. The majority of the folks advocating at the conference were for inclusion and welcoming LGBTQ folks. However, the conservative faction is very well-organized and well-funded."
Many have said that the February votes go against the constitution of the Church; a church court will rule on that matter in a gathering in Evanston in April.
Church of the Three Crosses quickly put together a letter of dissent proclaiming that their congregation would continue to be welcoming and affirming, despite the vote, Cox said. She added, "There's already [discussions about] if a lot of us want to leave, or do we want to stay and remain in faithful disobedience. We've still been coming up for air and trying to put together the pieces, but I would say that there's already dialogue about what new and wonderful thing could be birthed from this terrible and traumatic event. We don't know the answer quite yet."
Gross said that he feels both liberated by the negative vote, in that LGBT persons and their allies know where they stand and can be motivated to push ahead for change, but he also was troubled by church leaders and congregants loudly affirming the vote. He said that he knew of young people who'd engaged in self-harm, and clergy who'd turned in their credentials, upon learning of the vote.
"I hope that church leaders who voted for this traditional plan see that, and understand the consequences of the action they've taken, and that other leaders will speak up and say that this is not okay," he added.