By Crystal Proxmire
For the past year George Jonte has been running the United Methodist LGBT Ministry, whose mission is to unite congregations in the region in support of full inclusion. Though progress has been made, Jonte says funding for the mission is at risk.
“This work was originally funded by a very nice grant from the Arcus Foundation, which ended in 2011,” Jonte said. “In the meantime I managed to get $10,000 stop-gap money to start 2012, but that money ran out some time ago. A $3,600 emergency fund, mainly through a Buck Dinner grant, is also nearly gone.
“For about three months I have been paid by the church, but there is no line item for it. It’s not in their budget, but they believe in the work I’m doing.”
The LGBT Ministry has been operating out of Central United Methodist in Detroit, and without grant money to support the $100,000 a year program, which included Jonte’s salary and travel expenses, the church is picking up the costs.
Jonte’s only hope right now, apart from some new support, is a potential Arcus Foundation grant that he will find out about in the spring.
“I’m not sure what happens if we don’t get the money from Arcus,” he said.
Since January 2011, the LGBT Ministry has had several accomplishments. First, Jonte compiled a resource library, then he met with leaders from 44 churches, 14 percent of which were predominantly African American. There was a panel discussion of 20 PFLAG parents and also a 14-member advisory committee that met quarterly. Of the 44 churches, 28 agreed to be more welcoming and affirming, 10 started actively using inclusive language in their liturgy and worship, and six wrote formal welcoming statements.
The ministry also identified LGBT people to attend the Detroit Conference of Methodists in July 2011 and the General Conference in April 2012. During the Detroit Conference they had an information booth and a social justice workshop. Of the eight Detroit delegates sent to the General Conference, six agreed to advocate for inclusion.
The movement also inspired another volunteer to provide 100 rainbow stoles at the Detroit conference. “Supporters wore them not only in worship services, which was the most likely venue, but also at meals, at special banquets, during plenary sessions, and simply while walking the halls. There was a representative number of clergy who wore them, as did many youth. We could have handed out another 100 stoles or more. They generated many questions. Conversations ensued, conferencing took place, and a whole new atmosphere was created around LGBT issues that had not been present at the Detroit Conference in many years,” Jonte said.
The work expanded beyond the Detroit Conference, with churches in the West Michigan Conference seeking information and resources. Jonte was invited to speak to the Wesley Foundation at Albion College.
However, a great obstacle stands in the way of inclusion.
In 1972 the UMC General Conference added a very damning phrase to its doctrine stating, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Jonte explained that momentum is building for inclusion in the church. In 2008 and 2012 proposals to change the language were heard, but rejected.
“The problem is that ours is a global conference,” Jonte said. “Churches from the African continent and some from Europe are growing while we (American Churchers) are declining in membership. Thus they have more representation and they tend to be more homophobic.”
In addition to UMC’s efforts, religions across the board are opening up to inclusion, though some more than enthusiastically than others.
“We are losing numbers in the 18-35 age range. They have stopped going to church all together or they have moved on to denominations that are more open and affirming,” noted Jonte.