An online petition about the United Methodist Church has called for the denomination to allow local congregations to determine their stance on homosexuality.
Titled "A Way Forward," as of last Saturday the petition calling for individual churches to decide whether or not to consider homosexuality wrong has garnered over 1,600 signatories. "By moving the decision-making regarding homosexuality to the local church, we hope to end the rancor, animosity and endless debate that divide our denomination every four years at General Conference," stated the petition.
"What we propose would allow conservative, centrist and progressive churches to come to their own conclusions regarding this important issue and to focus on how best to minister in their own communities."
The petition also suggests that annual conferences be allowed to determine "whether they will or will not ordain self-avowed, practicing homosexuals while allowing local churches to determine if they would or would not be willing to receive gay and lesbian clergy."
"In conferences where the ordination of gay and lesbian people was allowed, they would be held to the same standard heterosexual clergy are held to: fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness," stated the petition.
According to the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline, the "practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." The Discipline also bars "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from ordination and prohibits clergy from blessing same-sex unions, even in regions where gay marriage is legal. Furthermore, the Discipline does not allow for the General Council on Finance and Administration from funding "any gay caucus or group" that may promote "the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of The United Methodist Church 'not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.'"
Every four years the UMC holds a General Conference and periodically efforts have been launched to change the Discipline's language on homosexuality sans success. Nevertheless, the UMC's position on homosexuality continues to garner headlines as some American UMC clergy openly violate the positions of the Discipline and others continue to propose different language of the denomination's governing document.
The top two signees of the "Way Forward" petition, Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of The Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., and Mike Slaughter, lead pastor of Ginghamsburg UMC of Tipp City, Ohio, cosponsored the most recent attempt to change the language of the Discipline. Known as the "agree to disagree" amendment, Hamilton and Slaughter's resolution was voted down at the 2012 General Conference, in large part because of the opposition leveled by the African wing of the global denomination.
The petition calling for local churches to determine their position on homosexuality comes at a time when some UMC conservatives have called for a schism due to theological differences. Posted on the website of Good News Magazine and supported by about 80 UMC clergy from across the United States, the letter spoke of the Church being in a "crisis."
"It is time to recognize that traditionalists and progressives are pursuing divergent paths as we try to follow Christ and be faithful to what we understand to be the Gospel," stated the letter. "We need to recognize the reality that we – laity, clergy and even the Council of Bishops – are divided and will remain divided."