After three years of work, a United Methodist study committee has concluded that the 8.9-million-member denomination “has been unable to arrive at a common mind” on whether the practice of homosexuality is compatible with Christian faith.
The failure to reach agreement leaves the debate essentially where it was when the study began. There is wide agreement that the church should welcome homosexuals as members and participants, but deep division over the issue of sanctioning homosexual practice. Those seemingly irreconcilable differences have come to characterize the debate as denomination after denomination is pushed to consider the matter.
Disagreement over acceptance of homosexual practice and lifestyle halted the discussion in two other mainline denominations earlier this summer. The Episcopal Church adopted a compromise measure that essentially retains the church’s current teaching on homosexuality. While the church avoided an immediate split over such questions as ordination of homosexuals and blessing of same-sex unions, it also guaranteed a continuation of the debate until at least the next General Convention in 1994. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) likewise avoided an immediate division in its ranks by rejecting a highly controversial report on human sexuality. But observers on both sides of the issues--including a provision in the report that would have rejected limiting sex to married heterosexual couples--predicted that the wrenching questions raised in the sexuality report would surface again at church meetings.
The 24-member United Methodist committee differed on what effect their lack of consensus would have on church law. A majority of panel members wants the 1992 United Methodist General Conference to remove from the denomination’s Social Principles a statement that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching, while a minority wants that language retained.
Both sides cite the failure of the denomination to reach “a common mind” on the issue as the reason for their opposing recommendations.
Most opinions expressed so far by United Methodists around the nation seem to favor keeping the current language. Of more than 1,100 letters received on the issue by the General Council on Ministries, the denomination’s program coordinating agency, only about 60 have supported a change in the Social Principles. More than 20 of the annual regional conferences in the church that met this summer gave attention to this issue, and most of those wanted the current language retained.
The committee’s 14,000-word report constitutes one of the most extensive studies of the issue of homosexuality ever made by a church group. It is based on numerous biblical, scientific, theological, medical and ethical studies of the subject from various perspectives, plus testimony received from dozens of individuals.