(Photo: UMNS/Paul Jeffrey)
A gay rights group staged a protest at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church Thursday after it failed to pass an amendment that would have changed the denomination's language regarding homosexuality.
Dozens of members of the Common Witness Coalition, a Methodist organization comprised of multiple gay rights groups, gathered at the plenary floor yesterday morning and refused to leave until the Thursday afternoon session began.
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy and an attendee of the General Conference, told The Christian Post that the protesters' demonstration was an "expression of pain and frustration and a bid for attention by an activist minority."
"There was an evangelical majority, including Africans, that understood that diluting the church stance would prolong a divisive 40 year debate and that it's a poor Christian witness to be openly ambivalent on issue about which Scripture and the universal church are clear," said Tooley.
According the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline, UMC "does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."
For the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla., some delegates and activists sought to amend the language so as to remove the denunciation of homosexuality from the rule book of the mainline Protestant denomination.
One proposal, titled the "agree to disagree" amendment, was introduced by the Rev. Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., and the Rev. Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio. According to supporters, the amendment would have replaced the present language in the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality with a statement that would state that Methodist churches have their own opinions on the matter and that unity and coexistence would be proclaimed.
The Rev. Maxie Dunnam of the Kentucky Annual Conference, who also serves as chancellor of Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, told the conference that such a measure was without reason.
"I see no reason to state that we disagree. If we're going to state what we disagree about, we might as well put that as a headline on our Book of Discipline," said Dunnam.
The "agree to disagree" amendment would be voted down, prompting the protesters to take to the plenary floor and demonstrate against the decision.
This is not the first time gay rights groups have staged demonstrations at a UMC General Conference. In 2004, Soulforce, a religious gay activist group, disrupted the proceedings of the UMC General Conference by marching around the convention center demanding that open homosexuals be allowed to be ordained clergy in the UMC.
Common Witness Coalition, which includes groups like the Methodist Federation for Social Action and Reconciling Ministries Network, did not return comment by press time.