Many Palisadians have taken notice of a sign outside the Community United Methodist Church of Pacific Palisades, which bears a simple Christian message: ““We Welcome All Persons. We disagree with the Global United Methodist Church’s position regarding the gay community.”
In February, the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops voted 56 to 44 percent at its session of the General Conference to uphold and strengthen its ban on gay clergy and same-sex marriage, fracturing the congregation of the country’s second largest Protestant church with more than 12 million members. Several factions had split within the broader United Methodist Church, one of which wanted the “One Church Plan,” which would allow individual churches and regional annual conferences to decide whether to ordain and marry LGBTQ+ members and another of which wanted the “Traditional Plan,” which bolsters language in the denomination’s “Book of Discipline,” stating that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Since 1972, language in the Book of Discipline has excluded gay members from being ordained as ministers or being married in the church.
“Since 1972 that’s been fought,” Dr. Wayne Walters, Pastor at Community United Methodist Church of Pacific Palisades told the Palisadian-Post. “In Northern California, there’s a lesbian bishop and there’s a lot of gay clergy down here… There’s been talk now that it’s time to separate from the United Methodist Church, so a lot of the churches in our area have decided to be proactive because of the news going out that this is the official stance of the United Methodist Church and so we want to say ‘not us.’”
15 years ago, Dr. Walters was part of the local policy making body that recommended ordination dealing with LGBTQ issues, and is now a chair on the California-Pacific Annual Conference.
“We took a position, basically like the military, where it was ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Dr. Walters explained. “I’ve been at some other churches, and they would say, ‘let’s not talk about it, it’s divisive.’ But this church is different.”
The Director of Worship and Community at the Palisadian Methodist church, Ross Chitwood, is openly gay, and its parishioners have made it clear that all are welcome in the church.
“There was no resistance to that,” Dr. Walters said. “None.”
Walters organized a Planning Retreat after the February Council of Bishops vote upholding the Traditional Plan. A decision was made unanimously to create and display the banner.
“I assumed I would get complaints either by email or by somebody in the congregation,” Dr. Walters said. “It’s been up now for six weeks and I’ve seen the opposite. I see people taking pictures.”
According to Dr. Walters, the belief among the local California Methodist Churches is that, at the next California-Pacific Conference, the decision might be made to pull out of the global United Methodist Church.
“That timeline is pretty quick—the next year or two,” Dr. Walters explained. “Some of the issues have always been around—it has to do as well with clergy pensions. The church pays into a system and the property doesn’t technically belong to the local church, it belongs to the denomination. So you couldn’t say ‘We’re no longer going to be United Methodist.”
“There’s thought that, you know, it’s been 50 years and we’re not going to resolve this,” Dr. Walters said. “It’s time to separate.”
A smaller sign, stuck in the flowers outside the church, bears an even simpler Christian message: “Hate Has No Home Here.”