"I don’t think this can be God’s church without our LGBT siblings."
The United Methodist Church (UMC) dealt a powerful blow to its LGBT members last month when at their international General Conference in St. Louis a majority of voters chose to uphold the church's traditional values and ban gay and lesbian clerics and denounce same-sex weddings.
That choice sent ripples not only through the UMC, but spread out into many faith-based organizations that embrace inclusivity.
What's worse, the vote will condemn UMC clerics who participate in same-sex weddings and they could face serious reprimands including suspension for up to a year.
But for San Diego's Pacific Beach chapter, the concern is not about the diplomatic cogs which dictate how the church's hands will turn, but making sure its congregation runs as smoothly as it did before.
We spoke to Rev. Bob Rhodes, the Lead Pastor at Pacific Beach United Methodist Church who says that his congregation is roughly one-quarter openly LGBT. He says that claim often prompts questions about the group and its values.
"Sometimes people ask me if this is a 'gay church,'" he explains. "My answer is that this congregation is a diverse church," and that's the way he likes it.
But given the vote to strike down support, LGBT people are understandably anxious about the place they have been worshipping for so many years. Pastor Rhodes wants to put their concerns at ease.
"We don’t expect to do anything different - except maybe to speak a little louder about inclusion," he said. "We will continue to welcome all people into the life of this congregation in worship, in study, in leadership, in opportunities to serve the community and to celebrate weddings and funerals."
This affirmation is not only coming from a place of community says Rhodes, but it also reflects his personal beliefs. He says he is angry about the decision and its potentially destructive aftershocks.
"I think it’s spiritually violent. I’m heartbroken that so many of our LGBT members are affected so deeply by this - far more than I could ever be as a straight-CIS person," said Rev. Rhodes. "I look at inclusion from a scriptural and spiritual perspective. Like a biblical story in Acts 10, I see God’s Spirit working in and through the amazing people in this congregation. If God sees fit to work in and through these good people regardless of orientation or expression, then who am I to argue?
He stands firm that his church will continue to accept the LGBT community, a decision he says comes from something much bigger than he is, "I don’t think this can be God’s church without our LGBT siblings."
Even though he says it's an organization run by the Devine, he believes the conference vote had a little less to do with The Man Upstairs and more to do with a gathering of men on the ground.
"Honestly, I think it’s probably more political," he said of the conference vote, adding LGBT biblical acceptance is ambiguous at best. "Most academics don’t agree that the Bible is clear about excluding LGBT persons, and I don’t read it that way either. But the Bible is complex and requires effort and study. But I also think our culture as a whole is marred by confirmation bias. So if we already want to exclude LGBT people, we can find ways to do that."
However, that is not something he believes is accurate of the teachings of Christ.
"The Jesus I believe in is about including people, and especially people who are marginalized," he said. "There aren’t many groups in the world today marginalized more than the LGBT community."
Ultimately if there's anything that Rev. Rhodes wants people to know it's that, "not all Methodists share the same views as what was voted at the General Conference."