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GC2012: UMC retains stand against homosexuality Sam Hodges, May 11, 2012
UMR PHOTO BY MARY JACOBS
Protesters “crossed the bar” to sing on the floor of General Conference on May 3, after delegates voted against two compromise proposals relating to the denomination’s stance on homosexuality.
By Sam Hodges Managing Editor
TAMPA, Fla.—Efforts to change the United Methodist Church’s 40-year-old official position that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching failed at General Conference 2012, and “agree to disagree” statements were voted down as well.
The defeats sparked a May 3 demonstration by gay rights activists in the center of the plenary floor, which is reserved for delegates. The protest caused Bishop Mike Coyner, who was presiding, to declare an early lunch break and promise to clear the hall of all but delegates for the afternoon business session.
But other bishops soon announced the session would be open, and negotiated an end to the demonstration. The Rev. Amy DeLong, a leader of the protest group, insisted that no withdrawal occur until an openly gay pastor had been allowed to pray from the podium. The Rev. Frank Wulf, a delegate from the California-Pacific Conference, was invited to do that.
“Oh God rest upon this General Conference, give us wisdom to understand, to interpret, to know each other,” he said. “But most of all God, give us hope for the future, hope that the good news of your gospel may break forth upon us.” Demonstrators filed out of the hall after his prayer.
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the Council of Bishops, spoke just before Mr. Wulf.
“Dear sisters and brothers who are gay and lesbian, transgender and bisexual people, you have been hurt by actions of the General Conference, and by the polity of the United Methodist Church,” she said. “I feel your pain. We see your pain.”
Earlier during General Conference, petitions to change the church’s positions on homosexuality—including the “incompatible” language, and a prohibition against gay clergy—failed in committee.
On the morning of May 3, two compromise statements, seeking to acknowledge the UMC’s division on homosexuality and call for tolerance of opposing views, also were voted down.
The late morning protest came soon after those votes.
The Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter, pastors of influential megachurches within the UMC, co-sponsored one of the compromise statements.
“I’m disappointed, clearly, that we’re not able even to articulate the fact that there are people in our midst, a significant minority, who see this issue differently and still are faithful Christians,” Mr. Hamilton said afterward.
He noted that other mainline Protestant denominations had moved toward full inclusivity, and said he’s worried that young people—including young evangelicals—will be put off by the UMC’s stance.
“They’re going to think our position sounds so harsh and so outside of the way that they think that they’re going to decide, ‘Why would I want to be a part of that church,’” he said.
The Rev. Bruce Robbins of Hennepin Avenue UMC in Minneapolis, said the greater number of socially conservative African delegates at this General Conference, combined with conservative U.S. delegates, created a stronger opposition to gay rights legislation than four years ago at the Fort Worth, Texas gathering.
“We were coming closer and closer, through Fort Worth, and now that’s beginning to separate again,” said Dr. Robbins, who led a campaign last year that eventually had about 1,000 UM clergy pledging to officiate at same-sex unions, despite Book of Discipline language forbidding that.
Much of the morning of May 3 went to impassioned discussion about homosexuality.
Jennifer Ihlo, a lay delegate from the Baltimore-Washington Conference, identified herself as a lesbian and spoke for one of the “agree to disagree” statements.
“I strongly urge the body to support this compromise so that gay youth and young people will recognize that the church loves them and God loves them and the violence and the pain and the suicide will stop,” she said.
The Rev. Steve Wende, from the Texas Conference, spoke against any compromise statement, arguing that the Bible prohibits sanction of homosexuality.
“It is one thing to agree to disagree,” he said. “It is another to stumble in our witness. If you look at our largest congregations, and crunch the numbers, they are all reaching young adults successfully. And, overwhelmingly, they teach and proclaim God’s truth without compromise.”
But Mr. Slaughter leads the Ginghamsburg Church in Ohio, among the denomination’s largest, and he said his membership includes “Christ-centered, Bible-believing Christians” on either side of the issue of full acceptance of homosexuality.
“Somehow it’s working when we agree to disagree,” he said.
The Rev. James Howell, of Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, N.C., crafted the other compromise statement, which drew 368 votes in favor and 572 votes against.
Dr. Howell’s statement said, in part:
“We know that all God’s children are of sacred worth; yet we have been, and remain, divided regarding homosexual expressions of human sexuality. Faithful, thoughtful people who have grappled with this issue deeply disagree with one another; yet all seek a faithful witness.”