The eight-million member Methodist Church upheld its prohibition on same-sex relationships during its national legislative meeting this week, calling them “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Delegates voted 61 percent to 39 percent against “softening the language on homosexuality in their Book of Discipline, which contains church laws and doctrine,” as pro-equality advocates “protested against the vote by singing and interrupting the meeting“:
The debate on the floor of the convention showcased the church’s passionate divide and demographic shifts. Several Americans begged delegates to “hear the pain” of gay church members. Moments later, a delegate from Africa said in Swahili that saying that a homosexual person was created by God was like saying “that God created me to live with animals.” The translator apologized while rendering the remarks into English.
The Rev. Troy Plummer, executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, which advocates full inclusion of gay people, said in an interview: “I’m tired of being compared to beasts in our church. Even if our world understandings differ, it’s just horrendous. That our perspectives differ is the truth, and we just voted 61 to 39 percent that we can’t tell that truth.”
The votes set off a protest inside the convention. Gay rights supporters gathered around a communion table at the center of the hall, singing. The moderator canceled the remainder of the morning session, making it uncertain whether several other resolutions on homosexuality would come to the floor before the conference ends on Friday.
The vote may have also reflected the changing demographics within the church. While American membership has declined, the church expanded in Africa and the Philippines, where homosexuality is denounced. “This year about 40 percent of the nearly 1,000 delegates to the Methodist general conference are from outside the United States — an increase of more than 10 percent from the last conference, in 2008,” the New York Times notes.
Meanwhile, a growing number of American religious organizations have embraced same-sex couples, including: Evangelical Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians (U.S.A), adherents of the United Church of Christ, and Unitarian Universalists. Polls also show that a majority of Catholics and non-evangelical white Protestants back marriage rights for gay couples.
[Photo credit: Dave in Northridge]