Hundreds of United Methodist clergy are expressing deep concerns over a pledge made by a large group of fellow ministers to marry same-sex couples. They argue that if the pledge is carried through, the future of the denomination is in jeopardy.
"We do not know how many, if any, marriages or 'holy unions' of same-sex couples will be performed by UM clergy in the near future," reads a letter, currently signed by more than 400 pastors, to the Council of Bishops. "But we do know the destructive effects that will result in our local churches and throughout the denomination if such services are performed by UM pastors."
The concerned clergy are referring to a pledge that some 900 ministers have endorsed in support of same-sex civil unions. By signing the pledge, they agreed to defy the denomination's ban on blessing same-sex unions.
The United Methodist Church holds the position that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and that homosexual unions "shall not be conducted by our ministers" or in UMC churches.
While the denomination has debated the issue of homosexuality for decades, the growing number of clergy willing to disobey church laws and marry gay and lesbian couples has many in the church concerned.
"For forty years we United Methodists have listened to each other, respected each other and have engaged in holy conferencing on the important issues of same-sex marriage and the practice of homosexuality," concerned clergy say in the letter.
"Though the discussions and resultant protests have not always been pleasant, there has been the assurance that we would respect the decisions of General Conference and live by the covenant that holds us together."
The United Methodist Church's General Conference meets every four years. In its most recent meeting in 2008, delegates voted to maintain the church's policy prohibiting the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of partnered homosexuals.
But with hundreds now signing on to a pledge to defy the decisions of the denomination's highest governing body, many clergy say this could prove destructive to the unity of the church.
"Honestly, we fear that many of our people will decide that if The United Methodist Church will not live by the covenant that holds us together, it will be time for them to find another church," they state in the letter to bishops.
"The positive ministries of transformational discipleship that we are attempting to build are threatened by this group of defiant clergy."
A website, faithfulumc.com, was launched to collect more signatures from both clergy and laity. According to the website, a total of 1,266 individuals have so far endorsed the letter of concern.
They are urging the Council of Bishops not to allow the "defiant minority" to undermine the witness and unity of their denomination.
"We must see our leaders act with integrity to uphold and support the Discipline as they promised in their ordination and consecration to ministry. We ourselves must act with courage and faithfulness to uphold our commitment to Scripture, The United Methodist Church, and the Wesleyan way."