The United Methodist Church of Minnesota voted this week to commit to "the full inclusion" of the LGBT community in church life.
The vote, taken at the Minnesota annual conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) in St. Cloud, rejects the decision by the global UMC earlier this year to continue its ban on same sex-marriages and LGBT ordinations.
The resolution states that the LGBT restriction "does great harm to the witness of the United Methodist Church" and vows that the Minnesota conference "will not perpetuate this harm in any form."
"Silence is often harmful and serves to perpetuate discrimination," said the resolution. "We will no longer remain silent."
The decision came as about 800 Methodist leaders from across the state gathered for the UMC conference. Many had spent the past several months organizing opposition to the LGBT restrictions and were particularly pleased that the news arrived just in time for Twin Cities Pride weekend.
"This was a great week for United Methodists in Minnesota," said the Rev. Mariah Furness Tollgaard of Hamline Church United Methodist in St. Paul. "It's an affirmation of who we are and who we strive to be."
Tollgaard added: "This is Pride weekend, and it is especially exciting that we can say to Minnesota, 'We are celebrating along with you.' "
The issue of LGBT inclusion once again burst into the spotlight for the nation's Methodists following a February decision of the global UMC General Conference to continue its restrictions on LGBT marriage and ordinations, and to tighten sanctions against clergy who violate them.
Minnesota's delegation and the majority of U.S. delegates had voted in favor of a "One Church" plan that would have allowed individual pastors and regional bodies to make their own decisions about LGBT marriages and ordinations. Since then, a national movement to oppose the restrictions has grown.
The St. Cloud conference passed the resolution opposing the global UMC's decision, as well as approved a "vision" statement for the state's 360 UMC churches and their 57,000 members. It says that the Minnesota UMC will be inclusive of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, race, age or economics.
"The calling of the church has always been to make visible and real the radical and unconditional love of God for all people," said Bishop Bruce Ough, bishop of the UMC of Minnesota and the Dakotas. "This statement makes public our commitment. As a bishop and leader in the church, I apologize for the ways we have fallen short of that ideal."
Minnesota is one of a growing number of state conferences that have voted to oppose the so-called "traditional plan" approved by the global UMC, said Tollgaard. But none has voted to break away from the UMC, she said. They are preparing to debate the issue at the next UMC conference in Minneapolis next year.
In recent months, Minnesota has witnessed active opposition to the plan. A new group called Minnesota Methodists has been holding town hall meetings, organizing protest petitions and doing outreach to the faithful.
"This helps us know what direction to take going forward," said Tollgaard. "It clarifies that we in Minnesota will continue to be a church of welcome."