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The Methodist rift over gay marriage

by Brad A. Greenberg

February 19, 2012 | 8:28 pm

World Methodist Council and museum of Methodism, Lake Junaluska, NC. Photo by Wikipedia/Pollinator

The United Methodist Church is a hold out among mainline Protestant churches, the big denomination that has not changed the church’s stance on same-sex marriages or ordaining gay clergy. Homosexuality has been an increasingly divisive issue for churches, and has led to a lot of splintering. (Here’s a primer with links to other relevant posts.) And the United Methodist Church is certainly feeling the pressure.

This story from the New York Times Bay Citizen project reports on the recent protest by one Methodist minister, the Rev. Karen Oliveto, of San Francisco’s inability to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples because of the ongoing Prop. 8 litigation. Matt Smith reports:

Methodist clergy members like Ms. Oliveto have led a growing pastoral revolt against those teachings — she has performed more than 50 “holy union” ceremonies for same-sex couples. And in her church’s liberal California-Nevada conference, 114 pastors from Northern California have signed a petition declaring they are willing to perform holy union ceremonies for same-sex couples, and thus risk being defrocked for violating church rules. More than 1,100 United Methodist pastors nationwide have signed the pledge. In response, 2,700 conservative pastors have signed a letter criticizing those pastors’ stance.

The United Methodist Church defends the church’s current position that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” “It’s holistic, it’s human, it’s fair, it’s respectful, and from my perspective, it’s biblical,” Maxxie Dunnam told Smith.

This is not the first time that Methodist ministers have openly defied the church’s position on homosexuality, and the church does not appear to be changing course. Some have been sanctioned for performing same-sex ceremonies, but that has been the exception.

All this begs the question: What turn will the same-sex debate take in the UMC? Will the denomination eventually change its stance, leading to breakaway churches, or will it hold the line and either sanction ministers who defy the church or keep turning a blind eye?

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