On a sign outside the Church of the Three Crosses, the “United” in United Methodist is covered in duct tape.
“We didn’t feel like we could claim ‘United’ Methodist when it was very clear that there was a part of our denomination that was comfortable with deeming LGBTQ people incompatible,” said Britt Cox, pastor at the Old Town church.
Three Crosses is protesting a ruling by the United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council, which voted April 26 to uphold the denomination’s bans on same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy. The council’s ruling could lead to a split in the worldwide church.
“One of the themes in my church in particular is we have quite a bit of folks who have been harmed by other denominations,” Cox said. “They found our local church somewhat as a refuge because we have an explicit statement of welcome for LGBTQ people.”
The Judicial Council’s ruling was the latest United Methodist decision focused on gay rights that has many progressive churches debating whether they should leave the denomination.
In February, worldwide leaders in the United Methodist Church met in St. Louis and voted for what is called the Traditional Plan. It includes provisions that, among others things, strengthened punishment of bishops who allow same-sex marriages and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy.
While the February vote and the Judicial Council’s affirmation have stunned progressive Methodists, the decisions have been welcomed by conservatives in the church. Scott Field, a pastor at First Church in Crystal Lake, said the Judicial Council’s ruling was a win for those who favor the Traditional Plan.
“The progressive team has been pegging a lot of their hopes that the Judicial Council would overturn the whole thing, but that’s not the case,” Field said. “[The Traditional Plan] is not going to be overturned.”
John Lomperis, the Methodist director at the Institute on Religion & Democracy, said there’s been hypocrisy among church leaders who state they abide by church law yet ordain same-sex marriages.
“We welcome all people to our churches. We love all people, including our LGBTQ members, sons, daughters, siblings,” Lomperis said. “But we do follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, who defines marriage between one man and one woman.”
Three Crosses congregant Kendra Purscell-Jackson said she’s ready to fight for equality within the Methodist church because she believes the recent ruling could harm members.
“My initial reaction was overwhelming grief for the church and any young person who would hear about this and have it make them question their identity even more within the church,” Purscell-Jackson said. “From there, I got angry, and I was ready for the fight.”
That fight could go two ways, Cox thinks. Three Crosses could split from the denomination, or it could stay and be disobedient to church laws.
She isn’t alone in searching for a pathway to a more progressive Methodism. This month, a group called Our Movement Forward is meeting in Minneapolis to discuss what a new form of Methodism could look like.
“I think that many of our denominations actually haven’t had that opportunity to dream and to really listen about how we can be a relevant faith community in this world today,” Cox said.
Blair Paddock is a news intern at WBEZ. Follow them @blairpaddock.