THE VIRGINIAN PILOT — The United Methodist Church, America’s second-largest Protestant denomination, faces a likely surge in defections and acts of defiance after delegates at a crucial conference voted Tuesday to strengthen the faith’s divisive bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy.
Emotions were high throughout the third and final day of the UMC’s meeting. Some supporters of greater LGBT inclusion were in tears, while others vented their anger when, midway through the session, delegates defeated a proposal that would have let regional and local church bodies decide for themselves on gay-friendly policies.
“Devastation,” was how former Methodist pastor Rebecca Wilson of Detroit described her feelings. “As someone who left because I’m gay, I’m waiting for the church I love to stop bringing more hate.”
After several more hours of debate, the conservatives’ proposal, called the Traditional Plan, was approved by a vote of 438-384. Opponents unsuccessfully sought to weaken the plan with hostile amendments or to prolong the debate past a mandatory adjournment time set to accommodate a monster truck rally in the arena. One delegate even requested an investigation into the possibility that “vote buying” was taking place at the conference.
The Traditional Plan’s success was due to an alliance of conservatives from the U.S. and overseas. About 43 percent of the delegates were from abroad, mostly from Africa, and overwhelmingly supported the LGBT bans.
If the bans were eased, “the church in Africa would cease to exist,” said the Rev. Jerry Kulah of Liberia. “We can’t do anything but to support the Traditional Plan — it is the biblical plan.”
Council of Bishops President Kenneth H. Carter, speaking at a news conference after the session, said the meeting was necessary “because if the impasse we found ourselves in” over questions of human sexuality.
“I would just simply say that we have work to do. We did not accomplish that in these three days,” Carter said.
Carter said he is concerned the plan will cause progressive churches to leave the denomination. He said church leaders “will be doing a lot of outreach” to those churches.
“Persons will feel harmed,” Carter said.
The deep split within the church was evident in several fiery speeches opposing the Traditional Plan.