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Interdenominational Theology Center (ITC)

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The issue that this study addresses is twofold: the first part of the issue is the current prohibitive language of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church in regards to the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Queer identified community within the context of the North Alabama Conference, and the second part is how this language has impacted the narrative of this particular community's experience of the United Methodist Church. The methodology will evaluate the effect that the current language of doctrinal standards has on the LGBTQ community, examine the plight of this community as well as those who are against change in doctrine, and illustrate the need for a new way forward that offers truly inclusive ministries and welcomes full participation in the United Methodist Church. The data gathered for this ministerial project was the result of a questionnaire randomly distributed at the 2015 Annual Conference of North Alabama that measured levels of offensiveness in response to current language and amendments proposed by the Community Table to the Book of Discipline. These proposals will be presented at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in 2016. The questionnaire was designed in light of Charles E. Osgood's semantic differential that makes the assumption that the meaning of all things, including abstract thought, can be measured using adjectival polar opposites. The findings of this aspect of measurement showed that the North Alabama Conference would be receptive to the idea of amending language within our doctrine to provide a more hospitable experience of church for the LGBTQ community. Another aspect of the ministerial project was to provide an opportunity for the LGBTQ community to tell their own story in their own words through the use of narrative research. Six LGBTQ identified members of the North Alabama Conference were interviewed and shared their negative and positive experiences of the United Methodist Church. From evaluation of the data received, there were several commonalities across the narratives and the following themes emerged: 1) the need for inclusive and empowering language that encourages both members of the LGBTQ community and other church members to work toward common goals and 2) the need for more avenues that offer opportunity for spiritual growth that embraces the LGBTQ community and focuses on developing disciples for Christ. Although it is not within the scope of the project, the information gathered through questionnaires and interviews were compiled and will be submitted to the North Alabama Conference delegation to the General Conference of 2016 in Portland, Oregon. Hopefully this will serve as a useful tool to make the delegation aware of the voices of a silenced community within the Church that needs to be heard.

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