The United Methodist Church's highest court recently reversed a resolution, passed by a regional group, that declares the denomination is divided on the issue of homosexuality.
The Judicial Council said the legislation negates the body's "clearly stated position" that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching.
Delegates of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, a regional UMC body, adopted the resolution earlier this year. It states, in part, that "all are God's children of sacred worth, yet we have been, and remain divided regarding homosexual expressions of human sexuality."
It further says, "We will follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit and affirm language that communicates a more authentic and truthful representation of The United Methodist Church, acknowledging that we disagree yet all seek a faithful witness and remain in love with God and in minister together."
Bishop John R. Schol of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference determined that the resolution does not contradict the United Methodist Book of Discipline and asserted that it is a statement of belief.
However, the high court rejected Schol's decision in a ruling released last week.
While an annual conference may adopt a resolution on human sexuality that is "aspirational in nature," the regional body may not "negate, ignore or violate the Discipline, even when the disagreements are based upon conscientious objections to those provisions," the Judicial Council stated.
The council further noted, "For the Annual Conference to state that its resolution is a 'more authentic and truthful representation of The United Methodist Church' implies that it believes the present language of the Discipline is a less authentic and truthful representation of The United Methodist Church. In that respect, the resolution goes beyond a permissible statement of mere disagreement."
The court declared the resolution void.
A similar resolution had been rejected by the wider church last year when delegates from throughout the denomination voted to uphold its ban on the ordination of practicing homosexuals and its position that it does not condone the practice of homosexuality. Earlier this year, the Judicial Council overturned resolutions from two California conferences supporting clergy who perform same-sex marriages.
While United Methodists continue to affirm a position that is "faithful to Christian teaching," as the Rev. Eddie Fox, head of world evangelism for the World Methodist Council, told the United Methodist News Service, a researcher pointed out that attitudes are shifting.
Robert P. Jones, president of Public Religion Research, told the denomination's news service that 41 percent of United Methodist clergy say their views have become more liberal on lesbian and gay issues over the last 10 years compared to only 15 percent who say their views have become more conservative.