Hundreds of United Methodist pastors have signed a proposal aimed at avoiding a schism over homosexuality in a denomination that has, until recently, largely sat out the gay equality movement.
The proposal, “A Way Forward,” offers churches and regional bodies the option to make up their own minds on issues such as affirming gay clergy and same-sex marriage. United Methodist doctrine says “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Conservatives and some gay rights advocates immediately expressed skepticism about the model, which offers an unusual middle path at a time when full equality is considered a foregone conclusion to many Americans.
But others said the proposal reflects a hope that the country’s second-largest Protestant denomination won’t let itself fall into multimillion-dollar litigation over church properties the way other faith groups, including the Episcopal Church, have on this issue.
“I experience United Methodists by and large as people who live in the middle. I think they are intelligent and loving, and I think they have the ability to live in community even if they disagree over the issue of same-sex marriage and the ordination of people who are gay,” said the Rev. Tom Berlin of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia, a prominent signer of the proposal. “Like your family, you can disagree but not break up over it. The issue of homosexuality seems to have an unusual hold over America and in particular the church in America.”
United Methodists, like much of mainline Protestantism, have become increasingly accepting of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. But United Methodism, unlike most other denominations, is global and is seeing its more conservative branches in Africa and Asia quickly growing and becoming more influential.
The denomination has about 12.5 million members, about 7.3 million of whom are American. When United Methodists have their next major meeting – which happens every four years – in 2016, American delegates are likely to be in the minority.
At the last General Conference, delegates narrowly defeated a measure that merely acknowledged that United Methodists disagree over homosexuality.
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SOURCE: Portland Press Herald
Michelle Boorstein, The Washington Post