FORT WORTH (RNS)—The United Methodist Church at its General Conference in Fort Worth held to its traditional rules on homosexuality, refusing to support or celebrate same-sex unions and maintaining language that calls homosexual activity “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Nearly 1,000 delegates at the quadrennial General Conference spent almost a full day debating Methodist policies on homosexuality. While many Methodists at the assembly acknowledged sharp disagreement within their church on sexuality and biblical interpretation, delegates voted down efforts that would reflect that division in church rules or social policies.
A measure to remove the “incompatible” phrase and replace it with a mandate to “refrain from judgment regarding homosexual persons and practices as the Spirit leads us to new insight” was defeated 517 to 416.
Several delegates warned that actions taken by the General Conference directly affect Methodists in Africa and Asia, many of whom are conservative and whose churches are experiencing explosive growth. About 30 percent of the 11.5 million-member church now lives outside the United States.
Earlier in the day, a solid majority—more than 65 percent—rejected an attempt to change the church’s constitution, the Book of Discipline, to recognize same-sex civil unions.
The ban “reflects the sentiment of most (church) members and the majority of citizens in the U.S. and many other countries,” said the committee that handled the resolution. “Sanctioning homosexual unions would give the church’s approval to homosexual behavior and relationships, which would be inconsistent” with church teaching.
Delegates also refused to commit to support civil unions in wider society. They agreed to open educational opportunities to all persons regardless of sexual orientation.
And, after an emotional debate, a slim majority of Methodists agreed to strengthen the church’s advocacy against sexism by “opposing all forms of violence or discrimination based on gender, gender identity, sexual practice or sexual orientation.”