Why the United Methodist Church canceled votes on same-sex marriage and gay clergy

RNS photo by Mike DuBose/courtesy United Methodist News Service

(RNS) United Methodists concluded their General Conference last Friday (May 4) without voting on gay clergy or same-sex marriage, a surprising end to a disappointing week for gay activists. 

On Thursday, the nearly 1,000 delegates gathered in Tampa, Fla., soundly rejected two motions that would have amended the United Methodist Church's book of doctrine and rules, which calls the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” After those votes, protesters flooded the convention floor, briefly shutting down the conference.

Delegates consider legislation at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

Delegates consider legislation at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

Conference planners, evangelical leaders and gay and lesbian advocates met later on Thursday and determined that there was little use in holding additional contentious debates on homosexuality, according to several sources. Proposals to ordain gay clergy and bless same-sex unions held little chance of passing, the parties agreed, and so were pushed to the back of the agenda, essentially assuring that they would not be debated. 

“Leaders of the demonstration were told that the legislation was postponed to avoid more harm to LGBT people and their supporters,” the Love Your Neighbor Coalition said in a statement. “The United Methodist Church had an opportunity to offer love, grace, and hope,” the coalition said. “Sadly, we did not take that opportunity.”

The UMC's policy remains that ministers cannot marry same-sex couples and churches cannot host same-sex weddings. Clergy in same-sex relationships are likewise banned.

Leading up to General Conference, which convenes every four years, gay advocates had argued that momentum favored their cause. About 1,200 United Methodists clergy have agreed to break church rules and marry same-sex couples, surveys show young Christians favor expanding gay rights and other mainline Protestant denominations have adopted gay-friendly policies in recent years. 

But the UMC, which is the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the country, is shrinking in the U.S. while growing in Africa and Asia, where conservative views on homosexuality predominate.

The conservative Institute on Religion & Democracy credited African delegates for upholding UMC's “incompatible” stance on homosexuality.  “Delegates from Africa, comprising about 30 percent of the total, were decisive in votes … on wording that sought to soften the church's position,” IRD said in a statement.

Still, Mark Tooley, a United Methodist and IRD's president, called the cancellation of votes on gay clergy and same-sex marriage “very surprising.”

“This, to my knowledge, has never happened before in the 40 years that we've been debating this issue,” Tooley said. “It is surprising that one side recognizes that they have no interest in perpetuating the debate.” 

The leaders of several United Methodist gay rights groups did not respond to requests for comment. 


About the author

Daniel Burke

Daniel Burke worked for Religion News Service from 2006-2013. He now co-edits CNN's Belief Blog.


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  • The UMC is in a difficult position. By denying the findings of the mental health community and human sexuality researchers, they will lose a good percentage of their older teenagers and young adults, which are the future of the denomination.

    By accepting the traditional interpretation of the Bible’s clobber passages (www.religioustolerance.ollgbtrg/hom_bibl.htm) they will retain many of the elderly

    But the pain they are costing the LGBT community is immense. The trail of coffins will continue to lengthen for at least another four years.

  • The Methodist continue to remain far behind in literacy regarding sexual orientation. That is precisely the reason most of them choose that church instead of others. So you’re going to have to wait a long, long time to overcome that literacy (ignorance) and prejudice (bigotry) before the majority allow a healthy and literate match between science and Scripture. Scripture can not remain 2,000 years old and be expected to make sense at this time.

  • “Scripture cannot remain 2,000 years old and be expected to make sense at this time” unless one maintains a high view of Scripture as the inspired Word of God. There are unchanging moral absolutes in the Bible.