The nation’s second largest Protestant church rejected a proposal that would have eliminated language critical of homosexuality in the church’s official teachings.
The governing body of the United Methodist Church voted 577 to 378 on Wednesday to uphold church policy declaring homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching.
The current language condemning the practice of homosexuality was approved in the church’s Social Principles in 1972. The delegates to the quadrennial Methodist General Conference have upheld the language ever since.
This year, supporters of gay rights were more hopeful for change after 15 bishops, including Bishop Calvin D. McConnell of Seattle, last week announced their personal opposition to church policy. Afterward, some walked somberly away from the convention center in Denver, where the vote was taken.
On Thursday McConnell said he was not surprised by the vote, and that he will continue to uphold church policy. McConnell’s jurisdiction includes Washington and North Idaho.
McConnell finds the current statement “a little difficult” because it tends to exclude homosexuals from total active life in the church.
“I believe that Jesus Christ invites everyone to the sacrament of baptism and to the Lord’s Table regardless of who they are,” he said.
The Rev. Monica Boyd-Corsaro, associate pastor for Audubon Park United Methodist Church in Spokane, said she thought most local Methodist pastors agreed with the bishop’s stance.
The dissenting bishops included those representing most of the western states.
“A lot of the people who have moved into the west have more tolerance and a “live-and-let-live” philosophy,” Boyd-Corsaro said.
“I would just say it’s disappointing, and we’ll be back,” said Jeanne Knepper, a spokeswoman for Affirmation, the unofficial gay and lesbian caucus of the United Methodist Church.
The issue of homosexuality has dominated the church-wide meeting of the 8.6 million-member denomination.
On Tuesday, after the statement from the 15 dissenting bishops, the full Council of Bishops said they were committed to upholding church law by banning the ordination of gays and declaring that gay practices violate church teaching.
“There is an ethical Continental Divide,” said the Rev. David A. Seamands of Nokomis, Fla., who supported the anti-gay church policy as “our basic, bottom-line biblical and theological standard on sexual practices.”
Others argued for a change.
“The church must be careful not to condemn when it doesn’t have a really clear basis,” said the Rev. Philip Wogaman, the first family’s pastor at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington. “My friends, we need one another. We need healing on this issue.”
The Board of Church and Society had recommended dropping the condemnation of homosexuality and replacing it with the statement that the church “has been unable to arrive at a common mind on the compatibility of homosexual practice with Christian faith.”
The Rev. John Shaffer, pastor of Manito Methodist Church in Spokane, attended the conference as an observer. He believes Methodists on both sides of the issue are “deeply faithful to the Bible as they understand its message.”
“I was also grateful there were voices within the United Methodist Church seeking to open the doors in gracious hospitality to all our brothers and sisters in the faith,” he said Thursday.
Shaffer pointed out that it took the Methodist church 100 years to deal with racism. “It appears that it’s going to take a long time for the church to deal with issues of human sexuality,” he said.
Smaller, rural churches in the Inland Northwest tend to be conservative on this issue, said the Rev. Don Shipley of the Rockford United Methodist.
“The conservative side is saying we’re just going too far,” Shipley said. Some conservatives have threatened to leave the church over the issue.