United Methodist Church delegates at a crucial conference Tuesday rejected a move to ease the faith’s ban on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy.
Liberals in America’s second-largest Protestant denomination were upset about the delegates’ decision, on a 449-374 vote, to choose traditional biblical principles over greater LGBT inclusion.
Many were in tears, while others vented their anger after a proposal that would have let regional and local church bodies decide for themselves on gay-friendly policies was voted down.
Delegates then took up a competing measure, known as the Traditional Plan, that would tighten enforcement of the LGBT bans and encourage Methodists who oppose those policies to leave the church.
It won majority support in a preliminary vote on Monday.
The Traditional Plan’s success was due to an alliance of conservatives from the U.S. and overseas. About 43 percent of the delegates are from abroad, mostly from Africa, and overwhelmingly support the LGBT bans.
If the bans were eased, “the church in Africa would cease to exist,” said the Rev. Jerry Kulah of Liberia. “We can’t do anything but to support the Traditional Plan — it is the biblical plan.”
Those who want the UMC to embrace same-sex weddings and LGBT clergy gave fiery speeches opposing the Traditional Plan.
“If we bring this virus into our church, it will bring illness to us all,” said the Rev. Thomas Berlin of Herndon, Virginia.
Incredible to see the UMC Traditional Plan referred to as a “virus” on the church and argued against, based on the “feelings” of LGBT people if it passes. The Bible has nothing to do with it for this crowd. @GodsVoiceConf https://t.co/dJGF8mKLjP
— Janet Mefferd (@JanetMefferd) February 26, 2019
Berlin predicted many Methodist churchgoers and some regional bodies would leave the church, while others would “stay and fight,” performing same-sex weddings even if it meant punishment.
Many supporters of the liberal plan stood in support as Berlin spoke. Some wore rainbow-motif garments or sat behind rainbow banners.
The Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, a pastor from Portland, Maine, pledged defiance of the Traditional Plan, tweeting: “I will not participate in your bigotry, sin & violence.”
To the authors, champions & supporters of the Traditionalist Plan, let me say this clearly: I will never sign a pledge of conformity. You can’t make me. I will not participate in your bigotry, sin & violence. I will continue a ministry of Biblical faithfulness. #UMC #GC2019
— Allen Ewing-Merrill (@RevAllenEM) February 26, 2019
An association of Methodist theological schools warned that if the Traditional Plan passes, the church “will lose an entire generation of leaders in America.”
Formed in a merger in 1968, the United Methodist Church claims about 12.6 million members worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the United States.
While other mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Episcopal and Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches, have abandoned traditional biblical views on sexuality to embrace gay-friendly practices, the Methodist church still bans them.
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