Methodists Urged to Debate Marriage Equality, Gay Clergy
Several LGBT activists recently attended the United Methodist Church's General Conference in Tampa, Fla., in order to argue that the United Methodist Church (UMC) should lift the ban on homosexuality in the church, which prohibits gay clergy and same-sex marriage, the Washington Post reported.
Nearly 1,000 delegates from around the world attended the conference while gay activists handed out pamphlets in five languages to promote their cause.
General Conference legislates attend the event, which is held every four years, to make decisions on a number of important issues, including pensions and prayer books. One hot issue that has been discussed since 1972 is the homosexuality debate. That same year, a phrase calling gay activity "incompatible with Christian teaching" was added to the Book of Discipline -- a law and doctrine of the UMC.
LGBT activists say that the UMC "must become more inclusive to attract young Americans who view the sexuality prohibitions as hypocritical," the Post points out. Conservatives, however, claim that churches that are sticking to traditional doctrines are thriving.
The newspaper says that United Methodists who back gay rights have proposed about 100 resolutions this year that would lift the phrase and say that more people are coming around to gays in the church.
Last year a UMC court barely punished a Wisconsin minister who authorized a gay marriage. More than 1,200 retired and active UMC clergy have vowed to perform same-sex marriages as well and surveys show that young Christians support gay rights. In addition, Episcopalian, Lutherans, Presbyterians have started using gay-friendly policies -- but conservatives say those churches have split from traditionalist congregations.
"Our structure is different, so that has impacted how we move on these concerns," said Ann Craig, a United Methodist and gay activist. "We're going to move together when we move," Craig said of her own UMC.
Some Methodists believe that policies should be created by regional conferences. Pastors who live in states or countries where marriage equality is recognized should be allowed to sanction same-sex marriages, according to Rev. Dean Snyder, senior pastor of Washington's Foundry United Methodist Church.
Snyder's church proposed a resolution that would allow Methodist churches in gay friendly states (and D.C.) to recognize gay marriage. The church sent 50 volunteers to the conference to lobby for it.
Snyder said his church has welcomed 10 gay marriages since D.C. legalized same-sex marriage in 2010.
"We are really praying that General Conference makes some movement," Snyder said. "It's going to be very disappointing if there is no movement at all."
Methodism began as a protest movement within the "established" (now Anglican) Church of England by John Wesley. The "dissenters," as they were known, wanted a more direct communion with God, more aggressive missionary work to Britain's colonies, and a radically direct approach to prayer. The organization was thus originally considered radical, but in the United States, it is considered one of the most mainstream of Protestant denominations.