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Not-so-united Methodists

The United Methodist Church (UMC) this week defied cultural pressure on LGBT issues and voted to bolster its commitment to Biblical human sexuality. The vote was a landmark decision for the 12.6-million-member global denomination that many—including its own leaders—assumed would soon go the way of other mainline Protestant denominations in affirming same-sex marriage and openly homosexual clergy.

Instead, the UMC legislative assembly voted Tuesday to strengthen its doctrine and policy surrounding Biblical sexuality and gender during a special three-day General Conference in St. Louis, Mo., the first called gathering outside its regular conferences since 1970.

A 32-member commission spent the 17 months leading up to the conference deliberating possible plans. Longstanding church doctrine in the UMC Book of Discipline calls homosexual practice “incompatible with Christian teaching” and states that ceremonies celebrating same-sex unions shall not be conducted by UMC ministers or in UMC churches. But church practice has been inconsistent, with clergy performing same-sex weddings, coming out as gay and lesbian from the pulpit, and legally entering same-sex unions.

This deep divide was apparent Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, as the UMC debated a path forward. In the end, delegates voted 55 percent to 45 percent on Tuesday to strike down a proposal, dubbed the “One Church Plan,” that would have removed the Book of Discipline language condemning the practice of homosexuality and left decisions about same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy up to regional bodies.

Instead, delegates voted 53 percent to 47 percent to affirm another plan, the “Traditional Plan,” which opposes the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” strengthens enforcement of existing doctrine, and sets up procedures for churches and regional bodies who disagree with the reinforced policies to leave the UMC with their property.

One Church Plan supporters, a bold and vocal majority in the denomination’s U.S. churches, seemed surprised to find themselves in the minority in St. Louis amid a unified force of evangelical Americans and clergy and lay people from Africa, the Philippines, and Europe who time and time again voted for Biblical sexual ethics. More than 42 percent of the 864 delegates to the conference were from international UMC churches, a number that has grown in the last 25 years. While U.S. churches in the denomination have lost 4 million members since the 1960s, UMC churches in Africa, the Philippines, and Europe—most of which support conservative doctrine on sexuality and gender—have seen steady growth.

Read more at World Magazine. 

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