The United Methodist Church, America’s second-largest Protestant denomination, voted recently at the General Conference in St. Louis, 449-374 to strengthen the denomination’s bans on same-sex marriage and openly gay clergy.
Some of the local clergy commented on the situation and their feelings on the matter.
Rev. Dr. Timothy Atkins, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Huntingdon, said the called General Conference was intended to “find a way forward” regarding differing interpretations of scriptures on sexual ethics. Those differences are largely present within the church in the United States. The UMC however, is a global church. Elsewhere, especially in Africa and Asia the interpretation of scripture having to do with sexual ethics is much more conservative.
“Essentially what happened at the General Conference is that the church retained its long standing statements in our law book ‘The Discipline of the United Methodist Church,” which states in part that all persons are of sacred worth,” he said. “However, we regard the practice of homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching. Moreover, practicing homosexual persons cannot be ordained to the ministry and ordained elders are prohibited from performing same sex wedding ceremonies.”
Continuing, he added that the church in the United States is divided over the issue. Many churches and pastors have defied the Discipline in the past few years, and that is what more or less brought the matter to a crisis point.
“In many ways it seems like an abstract issue, because in my twenty years as an ordained elder the matter has never cone up except as a matter of discussion,” he said. “Although, I have had members in every church I have served who have reflected the larger debate in our culture. We don’t all interpret the same scriptures the same way. And yet, the local church is still the church where people of different beliefs live out their life together in service of Christ.”
The United Methodist Church is a very broad spectrum of belief and are generally more focused on the mission rather than doctrine.
“While, I favor the decision the called General Conference made, I recognize that I have faithful brother and sister colleagues who believe differently than I do,” he said.
He added that he did not know if the United Methodist Church as a denomination will split or not.
“I pray we find a way to live together,” he said. “The regular, every four-year General Conference meeting next year may go a long way toward answering that question.”
Rev. Steve Whitworth, pastor of Bruceton First United Methodist Church and New Hope United Methodist Church said no matter how 800 people voted, we can’t let it change our faith in God. He has been a minister for 20 years.
“I’m good with the way the vote went, but I’m not against people,” he said. “My faith hasn’t changed and my God hasn’t changed.”
Rev. Don Williams, pastor of McLemoresville United Methodist Church for ten years, said he told his congregation that regardless of the vote, you will continue sharing the love and grace of Jesus Christ with all that you come in contact with.
“I am a traditionalist, but gay people can come to our church,” he said.
He added that he didn’t need to know his congregation’s stand on sexual orientation.
“I didn’t share my opinion,” he said.