Analysis: United Methodist Regional Bodies Offer Mixed Results on Homosexuality Debate

Arch Street United Methodist Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Arch Street United Methodist Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. | (Photo: Courtesy Arch Street UMC)

General Conference Possibilities

The examination of the 54 Annual Conferences regarding the possible direction of the UMC come next General Conference admittedly did not include an important factor.

In the 2012 General Conference vote that upheld the "incompatible" language supporters included delegates representing overseas Annual Conferences, especially in Africa.

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The fastest growing wing of the global body, the African delegates at General Conference, have been credited by some as being the key reason why the language survived its most recent challenge.

Earlier this month, a group of African bishops signed onto a statement demanding that the UMC both make a greater effort to tackle the issue of international terrorism and to maintain its official position on sexual ethics.

"African bishops called on The United Methodist Church to confront global terrorism and hold the line on church teachings regarding human sexuality," reported Heather Hahn of United Methodist News Service.

"They noted that church teachings only affirm sexual relations in monogamous, heterosexual marriage, and not in same-sex unions or polygamy."

Another factor is that delegates sent to General Conference are not obligated to vote the way that their Annual Conference leadership prefers.

Joseph Harris, spokesman for the Oklahoma Conference, told CP that his regional body did not pass any resolutions but that it "is more conservative than others."

"There will also be delegates who will make their decision after they hear the debate. Many of our delegates have personal views of this issue but want to represent the best interest of the church and the Kingdom before they make final decisions," said Harris.

David Burt, assistant to the bishop for the Yellowstone Conference, told CP that while his conference did not pass any petitions "it is expected that our delegates will support petitions that do indeed change the language and remove that phrase from the Book of Discipline."

Come May, 988 delegates representing the nearly 13 million-strong global United Methodist Church will gather in Portland for the 2016 General Conference.

Every General Conference since 1972 has debated over the denomination's position on homosexuality. In 2016, history is expected to repeat itself.

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