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Conservative United Methodists say divide over sexuality is ‘irreconcilable’

By Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Religion News Service

Published: Wednesday, May 28 2014 6:52 p.m. MDT

Traditionalists believe the Scriptures are clear in prohibiting same-sex relations, while progressives see full inclusion as a matter of God’s love and justice, they note in the release.

Most recently, the UMC decided to expand benefits of its agencies’ employees to include same-sex spouses who live in states that allow same-sex marriage, even though same-sex partners can’t get married within the UMC.

“Talk of a ‘middle-way’ or of ‘agreeing to disagree’ is comforting and sounds Christ-like,” the statement states. “However, such language only denies the reality we need to admit. Neither side will find ‘agreeing to disagree’ acceptable.”

Other mainline denominations have already gone through many variations on same-sex ordination and marriage, moving more quickly on the issue than the UMC, which has a global, more conservative membership; about one-third of the church’s members are found in Africa, Asia or Europe.

“Can we not learn from the pain that other mainline denominations have experienced and find a way forward that honors (Methodism founder John) Wesley’s rule that we do no harm?” the statement says. “A way where there are no winners and losers, but simply brothers and sisters who part ways amicably, able to wish each other well?”

The UMC declined to provide an official response.

One of the biggest challenges will be whether the UMC can find a way to remain the same home to people who hold radically different views. Delegates to the Methodists’ quadrennial General Conferences have resisted one option embraced by the Presbyterian Church (USA) that essentially allows regional bodies to set their own ordination standards.

For at least two decades, the UMC has strived to find ways to maintain the status quo without alienating either traditionalists or liberals. Despite its insistence on unified rules and standards, the church is nonetheless a diverse theological tent that counts everyone from former President George W. Bush to Hillary Clinton as members.

“The UMC is a pluralistic church with radically different points of views,” said William Abraham, a professor of Wesley studies at Southern Methodist University. “It shows how you can live with differences until it begins to bite into the practices of the local church.”

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