Delegates to the United Methodist Church General Conference held recently in Fort Worth, Texas, debated — among other things — the role of pastors in determining someone’s readiness for membership.
The issue, according to a Religion News Service report, was raised by an Ohio pastor who said her congregation was used.
A bride-to-be joined the church to avoid paying the non-member wedding fee, the pastor reported, and then was never seen after the ceremony. Her only interest in the church was the one-time use of its center aisle.
But quickly the UMC delegates turned the discussion to whether gays and lesbians can be excluded from membership. Of course, many discussions in church life today concern homosexuality. It is the hot-button issue that will not being going away soon.
One delegate in the Fort Worth meeting described the debate as being over discernment of membership versus Christian hospitality.
Many of us remember when an African American joining (or, in some sad cases,only seeking to join) a white congregation was big news. Therefore, restricting the invitation to membership in any way feels uncomfortable.
Yet, on the other hand, one can sympathize with the pastor who picked up on the ulterior motive of the bride-member, but felt she could do nothing about it.
Interestingly, the UMC debate took place in the same town where a Baptist church has recently struggled over whether gay members could be pictured with their partners in the church directory.
The word “hospitality” sounds so gracious. But often the debates over how churches relate to all persons can be less than hospitable.

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