United Methodists concluded their General Conference last Friday (May 4) without voting on gay clergy or same-sex marriage, a surprising end to a disappointing week for gay activists.
On Thursday, the nearly 1,000 delegates gathered in Tampa, Fla., soundly rejected two motions that would have amended the United Methodist Church's book of doctrine and rules, which calls the practice of homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching." After those votes, protesters flooded the convention floor, briefly shutting down the conference.
Conference planners, evangelical leaders and gay and lesbian advocates
met later on Thursday and determined that there was little use in
holding additional contentious debates on homosexuality, according to
several sources. Proposals to ordain gay clergy and bless same-sex
unions held little chance of passing, the parties agreed, and so were
pushed to the back of the agenda, essentially assuring that they would
not be debated.
"Leaders of the demonstration were told that the legislation was
postponed to avoid more harm to LGBT people and their supporters," the Love Your Neighbor Coalition
said in a statement. "The United Methodist Church had an opportunity to
offer love, grace, and hope," the coalition said. "Sadly, we did not
take that opportunity."
The UMC's policy remains that ministers cannot marry same-sex couples
and churches cannot host same-sex weddings. Clergy in same-sex
relationships are likewise banned.
Leading up to General Conference, which convenes every four years, gay advocates had argued that momentum favored their cause.
About 1,200 United Methodists clergy have agreed to break church rules
and marry same-sex couples, surveys show young Christians favor
expanding gay rights and other mainline Protestant denominations have
adopted gay-friendly policies in recent years. But the UMC, which is the largest mainline Protestant denomination in
the country, is shrinking in the U.S. while growing in Africa and Asia,
where conservative views on homosexuality predominate.
Apparently the Methodists decided that better to have no winner and no loser than to face the issue head on... it is thinking like this that means it will surely come up again... and again... and again... We have taught ourselves that truth can change -- only the timing of that change may be in dispute.