How U. S. and African Methodists May Square Off Over Homosexuality

Bishops move to their places for opening worship.
Bishops move to their places for opening worship.
Procedural vote previews how UMC General Conference may vote on gay marriage and clergy.

More than 850 Methodist delegates gathered in Portland, Oregon, were stuck.

With 100-plus proposals on what the United Methodist Church (UMC) should do about human sexuality—from deleting its Book of Discipline’s stance that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” to allowing local churches to choose whether or not to approve same-sex unions and non-celibate gay clergy—organizers of the denomination’s quadrennial conference tried to develop a special process to address the issue.

Last week, delegates then spent three days debating Rule 44, which proposed that instead of having a committee of delegates compile and shape the proposals into a final petition, as per usual, the issue of sexuality should instead be considered by all 864 delegates—split into teams of no more than 15 people.

The small groups, meant to facilitate unity, would each report their petition recommendation to a six-person committee. In turn, that group would draft a final petition for all the delegates to vote on.

On Friday, delegates voted 355 to 477 against the proposal, in what is likely a preview of any vote taken on biblical sexuality. In general, Rule 44 was embraced by proponents of gay marriage and opposed by proponents of traditional marriage.

That’s probably because the usual method has been working pretty well for conservative Methodists who favor traditional marriage. Though other mainline denominations have opened the doors to the full participation of gay members, the UMC’s General Conference spent the last 44 years consistently voting to maintain the denomination’s ban on same-sex unions and on ordaining non-celibate clergy.

The UMC’s firm stance doesn’t stem primarily from its American members; less than half of them (46%) agree with the current ban, while 38 percent oppose it. Almost all of the 100-plus proposals on changes to the UMC’s stance on human sexuality came from American conferences.

Some even spent the preceding weeks practicing denominational civil disobedience: the day before the conference began, 111 Methodist religious leaders revealed their homosexual orientation in an open letter. A week earlier, 15 clergy and candidates for clergy in the New York Annual Conference did the same thing. And elder David Meredith married his partner at a Methodist church in Columbus, Ohio, on the weekend between the two.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra