GAINESVILLE TIMES — An upcoming vote addressing sexual orientation is threatening to splinter the United Methodist Church, which has a huge North Georgia presence and is the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination.
“I and my staff are committed to leading this entire church through this,” said the Rev. Scott Hearn of Gainesville First United Methodist Church earlier this week. “And we want to position ourselves in such a way that we can minister to the entire congregation.”
The church at 2780 Thompson Bridge Road is opening its chapel to prayer during the times of the denomination’s Special Called General Conference, taking place Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis.
Mainly, the denomination is considering whether to allow clergy to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies on church property and ordain “self-avowed, practicing” gays.
Of the three most prominent proposals, the denomination’s Council of Bishops recommends the One Church Plan, which would allow churches and pastors to make decisions based on their specific congregations and conferences.
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That means that United Methodist pastors would be allowed, but not required, to perform same-sex marriages. But marriages would not be performed in the church unless the congregation votes to approve them before the first ceremony.
The One Church Plan would allow annual conferences — regional United Methodist leadership bodies — to ordain LGBTQ pastors, but an extra bishop would be made available to perform the ordination if the assigned bishop of the conference were to be uncomfortable with the ceremony.
The Traditional Plan would strengthen language in the Book of Discipline, which is regarded as the law and doctrine of the United Methodist Church, to enforce current prohibitions on same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy. It would also allow conferences and individual churches to leave the denomination.
The Connectional Conference Plan would create three new conferences and each one would serve traditional, moderate or progressive beliefs instead of specific regions.
Or the issue can be put off again.
“We’ve been doing (that) for 40 years,” Hearn said.
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