The United Methodist Church cannot agree that it disagrees over the issue of homosexuality.
After more than an hour of passionate debate and clear disagreement, two items stating Christians have different opinions about homosexuality were not approved by the 2012 General Conference, leaving the original language in the Book of Discipline intact.
The Book of Discipline, Paragraph 161F states: "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."
The Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., and the Rev. Mike Slaughter, pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, Tipp City, Ohio, proposed a substitution to 161F that sought to clarify that United Methodists disagree on whether homosexual practice is contrary to the will of God and urged unity over division and respect for co-existence. Their substitution replaced the last paragraph of a petition submitted by the Global Convocation of Young People after its 2010 conference.
Hamilton reminded delegates to the 2012 United Methodist General Conference that John Wesley once said, "Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may."
As discussion on the petition began, many who support including lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people quietly stood outside the bar of the plenary floor praying, holding hands and signs. Throughout the days leading up to the legislation, members of coalitions seeking equality and inclusion for all had been protesting and praying for change. After the vote to keep the original wording in the Book of Discipline, they moved to the altar singing, "Let us Break Bread Together."
"Many feel we need to take a strong stand against homosexuality," said the Rev. James Howell, of the Western North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference "What matters is God's will. We have said for a long time we do not condone homosexuality, but they are here, they are in our delegations, they are serving our churches. They keep coming back &ellipsis; there is a kind of miracle in that."
The Rev. Maxie Dunham of the Kentucky Annual (regional) Conference spoke against the substitution saying, "It leaves out good teaching." There is no reason at all to state we disagree, because we disagree about almost everything, he said.
Slaughter said agreeing to disagree was necessary because there are people within his church and others that do disagree. "At Ginghamsburg, we have Christ-centered, Bible-believing Christians who are against this and for this and somehow it is working when we agree to disagree. &ellipsis; It's making one heaven of a difference in Dayton, Ohio, and in places as far as Darfur, Sudan."
Ralph Williams, a lay delegate from the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference said some of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender Christians attending this conference "have been told they should be stoned, that this is what the Bible prescribes for our sin." He said those conversations took place during holy conferencing sessions.
When asked the intention behind the substitution, Hamilton replied it would not change the church's stance on same-sex marriage or ordination of gay clergy.
The discussion around the petition also included debate about whether homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.
Kashal M. Kabung, South-West Katanga Annual Conference, said he did not believe homosexuality was created by God. "I stand to say the grace of God is for all people but the grace of God does not allow us to sin," he said.
Jen Ihlo, a Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference lay delegate, worked on the committee and subcommittee on human sexuality and said there was lengthy debate about where the church is on homosexuality. She said we heard our Central Conference brothers and sisters ask us, "Where was the compromise?
"This petition represents that compromise; it states our positions are vastly different. I am a lesbian and a child of God. I strongly urge the body to adopt this compromise so gay youth will recognize the church loves them and the pain will stop."
"We disagree, and we do need tolerance, but for some, tolerance means all beliefs are equal, and that is not true," said the Rev. Jim Cowart, delegate from South Georgia Annual (regional) Conference. "We love you just like you are, and we love you enough to tell you what scriptures say."
At the end of the discussion, supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people crowded around the altar, singing. The session ended early because of the demonstration, which is continuing.
*Gilbert is a member of the United Methodist News Service team and Parham is a freelance writer and editor based in Apopka, Fla. and a member of the UMNS team for GC2012.
News media contact: Kathy Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.