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The United Methodist Church is facing a split in its clergy and membership concerning the church’s handling of gay issues. A letter, signed by hundreds of United Methodist preachers, is an attempt to keep the church from facing a schism over gay issues. The letter says that the church should allow for individuality among congregations when it comes to the acceptance of homosexuality. This is in contradiction to the official church doctrine on the matter.
The United Methodist Church’s official stance on gay issues is that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teachings. The letter wants such issues to be handled by each congregation on its own. The United Methodist Church is the third largest denomination in America, with its members reaching more than seven and a half million. As gay issues have come to the forefront of American politics, the church has remained mostly silent. More and more pastors have been calling for an answer, however, leading to the proposal, called “A Way Forward.”
The conflict is being viewed as a battle between traditional preachers and more liberal ones. Some Methodist pastors have already been conducting gay marriages, even though it stands against official policy. One of the reasons for the church to stabilize its position with this position statement is the increasing presence the United Methodist Church has around the world. As the Church attempts to gain members in Africa and Asia, it is faced with more traditional views on the subject of homosexuality. In fact, 4.8 million of the church’s 12.3 million members live outside of the United States.
This is not the first time an organization like the Methodist Church has faced a split on gay issues. In 2012, the Episcopal Church split when it could not come to an agreement about gay rights. The Boy Scouts of America has been in a constant battle for years over the issues of gay scout leaders and scouts. The purpose of this letter and proposal is to keep the United Methodist Church from dealing with the same kind of split as these organizations, which often come with costly legal battles.
Many pastors are concerned that so much focus on the gay rights issue takes away from the true mission of the church, which is Jesus’ message of salvation. 90 percent of the church’s membership does not believe the church should split over gay rights issues. However, although most members believe that the church should not split, that does not mean that they agree on how gay rights should be handled. Some pastors and churches are already performing gay marriages, while other churches believe that that is not appropriate.
Though the United Methodist church is facing a split over gay issues, its future is not written in stone. A pastor who signed the letter and proposal says he is reminded of another controversial issue: Civil Rights. He says that the Church did not split then, and it will not now. Mainline Protestantism has always been one of the strongest supporters of gay rights in the United States.
By Bryan Levy