After a lengthy debate, United Methodists voted Wednesday to reject changes to its constitution that would have liberalized the church's stance on homosexuality.
Delegates to the 2008 General Conference, the denomination's highest governing body, voted against a proposed "majority report" which would have acknowledged that members of the United Methodist Church "deeply disagree with one another" on the issue of homosexuality.
Such an acknowledgment would have been a "mature way forward" and "an honest, yet humble approach to how we are to view one another," said Frederick Brewington, a layman in the New York Annual (regional) Conference, according to the United Methodist News Service.
"We can make the determination to move forward, and stop the hurt," he told delegates during a long and emotional debate, urging change to the church's policy to end more than 35 years of struggle over the issue.
The petition for changes would have also deleted the current statement in UMC's Book of Discipline that describes homosexual practice as "incompatible with Christian teaching" and bans noncelibate gay pastors.
However, the Rev. Eddie Fox argued that any United Methodist statement on human sexuality needs to be "clear, concise and faithful to biblical teaching."
And deleting the incompatibility statement would be confusing, Fox said as he presented a "minority report" that would retain the language.
"I have seen and experienced the pain and the brokenness in parts of our global movement whenever our church has failed to hold fast to this essential teaching of the Holy Scripture," he added.
Delegates voted 501-417 to adopt the minority report which also includes wording that "all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God," and that United Methodists are to be "welcoming, forgiving and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us."
They also approved a new resolution opposing homophobia and heterosexism. In a separate resolution, the General Conference asked the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the church's social advocacy agency, to develop educational resources and materials on the effects of homophobia and heterosexism, the discrimination or prejudice against lesbians or gay men by heterosexual people.
Many shared emotional stories about violence used against homosexual people during a heated debate before the vote.
But in the midst of the painful debate, the Rev. Steve Wende of the Texas Conference cautioned, "If we do this (change language in the Book of Discipline) as a way of making some people happy, it won't make anyone happy."
In other decisions on sexuality issues, delegates voted to maintain the church's policy that prohibits United Methodist ministers from conducting ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions and rejected language that would include "committed unions" in a section describing the sanctity of the marriage covenant.
The United Methodist General Conference, a 10-day legislative meeting that takes place every four years, concludes May 2.