The death penalty, legalized gambling, the war in Iraq, and legalization of homosexual marriage were some of the topics discussed at annual United Methodist meetings across the nation this year.
Once every four years, about 10,000 delegates from the 8-million-member United Methodist Church, the largest mainline-protestant denomination in America, gathers for a weeklong General Conference. In the years in between, Methodists gather in 63 annual conferences, separated by geographic regions in the United States.
The last General Conference was in 2004, and this year, thousands came out to the 63 geographic gatherings throughout the spring and summer.
According to a report by the United Methodist News Service, members in several conferences approved resolutions opposing the death penalty, in keeping with the denominations official stance. Those conferences included Eastern Pennsylvania, Wyoming (New York), Troy (New York and Vermont), and the Dakotas.
In several other conferences, legalized gambling was a top social issue.
Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, urged his North Indiana Conference to fight against legalized gambling. Members in West Virginia approved resolutions urging the states of Maryland and West Virginia to stop the spread of all forms of gambling, and the West Michigan Conference urged congregations to offer more programs to older adults as an alternative to gambling, according to UMNS.
Meanwhile, on the issues of sexuality, the Baltimore-Washington Conference called for a resolution that affirmed a series of dialogues on issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
The New England Conference adopted a nonbinding sense of the body resolution that said ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions should not be conducted by conference ministers or in conference churches, echoing the current stance of the entire denomination.
In the California-Nevada conference, delegates decided not to define the words practicing or practicing homosexual as contained in the denominations constitution the Book of Discipline. The Book prohibits the ordination of a person who is a self-avowed practicing homosexual.
That Conference also called on the U.S. government to end the war in Iraq, and to withdrawal U.S. forces from the nation.
Besides taking a stance on social issues, several United Methodist conferences welcomed new bishops.
Last summer, 20 new bishops were elected and many more were reassigned. United Methodist bishops are considered bishops for life.
There is a total of 63 U.S. annual conferences, which held their meetings in May and June. Outside the U.S., there are 52 conferences representing regions in Europe, Africa and Asia. Some of the international conferences have yet to meet.