On the shore of Lake Erie, in the city of Huron, Ohio, several hundred United Methodists from around the country have gathered this weekend for the “Sing a New Song!” conference in support of seeing the church become more open to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
"I'd say the overarching purpose of our gathering is to come together to worship God and to praise God for all the blessings that he has bestowed upon all of us...to focus our attention back on Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. John Oda, chair of Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), in an interview with The Christian Post (CP) Friday.
RMN collaborated with the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) and Affirmation: United Methodist to put the event together, which will also serve as a chance to prepare for the 2012 General Conference in which a precedent-setting vote regarding homosexuality in the church is set to take place.
The Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto, also a board member of RMN, told CP that gearing up for the general conference will play a big role in this weekend's discussions.
"Well, as United Methodists, it's a part of who we are...we wouldn't be United Methodists if we weren't talking about it. It's [a] very democratic denomination and so our voices need to be heard,” she said.
Approximately 700 people are in attendance at Sing a New Song, which began on Aug. 25 and will conclude on Sunday. They say that 100 of those people are considered either youth or young adults.
"The church works hard to fulfill Christ's commandment to love your neighbor," said Jill A. Warren, executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action in a statement. "United Methodists support human rights for all people, including LGBT people. I pray for a day when we can all work together to bring peace to war-torn countries and to be good stewards of God's creation, as fully-inclusive United Methodist neighbors."
Joy J. Moore, associate dean for Black Church Studies and Church Relations at Duke Divinity School, told CP that she is “troubled by the fact that this conversation has so captivated not only the United Methodist denomination but the church at large, so that we spend a great deal of time speaking of this as if it were central.”
Moore holds to the United Methodist Church's current official position on the issue, and says that homosexuality is “not compatible with Christian scripture.”
God called his chosen ones be a "peculiar people," she said, but this is a "popular conversation" in which Christians are seeking to be liked for what they have to say.
Though Moore maintains the orthodox position on the issue, she doesn't take it to an extreme and believes there should at least be a discussion about it.
"I do not believe we have been engaged in a genuine conversation,” she said. She later added, "preaching and programming is not a dialogue."
At the 2012 General Conference in April, she expects there to be “verbal, gladiator kind of sparring” but seems confident that the UMC's official stance on homosexuality will not change, for now.
"General Conference is not a place to have this kind of conversation because we have yielded our process to a political, legislative process,” she said. “What I have not yet heard in the sound bites...is a theological discussion of what this means in terms of the transforming work of God."
"It's not about issues,” she said. “It's about whether or not the people of God bear witness to the presence of God in the world."