More United Methodists are throwing their support behind clergy in California who want to perform same-sex "marriages" despite the denomination's stance that homosexual practice is "incompatible with Christian teaching."
On Thursday, delegates from the Northeastern Jurisdiction Conference of the United Methodist Church - from Maine south to West Virginia - approved a resolution expressing respect for clergy in the California regional bodies who participate in wedding same-sex couples "as a matter of Christian conscience, spiritual discernment and prophetic witnessing," as reported by the United Methodist News Service.
The vote comes months after the United Methodist General Conference, the denomination's highest governing body that meets every four years, rejected changes to its constitution that would have liberalized the church's stance on homosexuality. In April, measures that would have removed the ban on noncelibate gay pastors and the statement that homosexual practice is "incompatible with Christian teaching" were voted down after emotional debates.
In the following months, however, regional conferences have approved measures supporting homosexuals after the California Supreme Court legalized gay "marriage" on May 15.
Methodists from the California-Pacific Annual Conference passed in June a resolution supporting same-sex "marriage" and encouraged congregations and pastors to welcome and embrace such families.
More recently, more than 80 retired United Methodist clergy from northern California have offered to conduct same-sex "marriage" ceremonies on behalf of clergy who cannot perform them.
The latest move by the Northeastern Jurisdiction Conference, which met July 13-18 in Harrisburg, Pa., for its 18th session, was applauded by pro-gay Methodists. Acknowledging that the United Methodist Book of Discipline – Church law – forbids churches and clergy from performing same-sex unions, the approved resolution also asks for lenient disciplinary action against clergy who disobey church law on the issue.
Laws can only be changed by the General Conference and this year, many have opposed changes and called Methodists to be faithful to biblical teaching.
Conservatives, meanwhile, observe a continuing liberalization and decline in the United Methodist Church.
Membership has dropped annually since 1968.
The Northeastern Jurisdiction Conference is one of five U.S. jurisdictions serving United Methodists. Delegates met this week to elect and assign bishops for the next four years among other business. This year's meeting was themed "Extreme Church: Extreme Expectations."