The United Methodist Church's General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, voted Thursday by a 61 percent majority against adopting an amendment that would have altered language declaring homosexuality as sinful in official church doctrine.
Two amendments were in consideration during this morning's UMC conference, which draws Methodists from around the world to discuss church issues. One petition sought to alter UMC's statement on homosexuality in its Book of Discipline, and the other to acknowledge as a body to "agree to disagree" on the issue of homosexuality.
The Social Principles section of United Methodist teachings on sexuality in the Book of Discipline states: "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching;" and "Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage."
An amendment to these statements would have added the sentence: "As a denomination, we are conflicted regarding homosexual expressions of human sexuality."
Before the vote, a number of delegates from various churches and organizations made their voices heard before the assembly both in favor of and against the proposed changes.
"We have to say what the Gospel says even though we love our brothers and sisters," said one commentator from an African UMC branch against the amendment.
"There is no such thing as homosexuals. There are people who love and are in same-sex marriages," began one pastor who was against the amendment because she believed it did not go far enough to defend the positions of gays and lesbians in the church.
She added, "We are limiting our research field in United States. We are causing suffering. If we financially collapse due to lack of support, we can offer little support for central conferences. This petition does not go far enough. We need to step out in the world of faith."
Another pastor for the amendment said: "I want to be clear with this body. This is not an abstract issue. This is about people being harmed by the church by the use of such language as 'incompatible' with the church. I am a lesbian and child of God. I strongly urge the body to support this compromise on language so that gay and young people recognize that the church and God loves them, so that the violence and the pain and the suicides will stop."
"We all sin. We all fall short of the grace of God. There are places for multiple perspectives. We deplore war but honor people who serve in military conflict. We are not pro-abortion. But we honor women making decisions. Our words are being used to harm people. We acknowledge our own sin and honor to do no harm to our brothers and sisters," pleaded another pro-amendment pastor.
Some conservative preachers warned against allowing society to influence the church and its biblical stance on sexuality.
"We allow homosexuals to change the church rather than the church to change homosexuals. It is not true that God created gays and lesbians the way they are. I refuse to accept that. Because God is a loving God and He cannot have created something that will make that person suffer. If we say no (to the amendment) it doesn't me we don't love that person. I stand to say that the grace of God is for all people but the grace of God does not allow us to sin," said one African preacher.
The United Methodist Church's General Conference meets once every four years. This year's meeting is taking place in Tampa Bay, Fla., April 24-May 4. United Methodists also chose at its previous meeting in 2008 to reject changes to its constitution that would have liberalized the church's stance on homosexuality.