“All are welcome here”

In the U.S., there is a dispute about how to deal with homosexuality in the clerical office © Manuel Lopez

Churches in the U.S. face another schism. After the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterians, the Methodists are now facing a split. There is a dispute over how to deal with homosexuality in the clerical office.

Prayers at North Bethesda Methodist Church went unheard. Or at least they didn't get the answer they were hoping for. When a little more than a week ago the news of the decision of the General Conference in St. Louis leaked about the ministry's treatment of homosexuality, the liberal community reacted in shock.

Because it wasn't that long ago that Methodists in the affluent Washington suburb declared themselves an LGBT-friendly congregation after much discussion. And now this:

Proponents of a traditional interpretation of how to deal with the ie of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, as set forth in the Book of Discipline of the second largest Protestant church in the U.S., prevailed 53 to 47 percent at the conference in the state of Missouri.

Liberal church members feel overrun

The resolution adopted states that "the practice of homosexuality is not in accordance with Christian teaching". At the same time, church leaders confirmed no to gay marriage in the church, which has 12 million members worldwide, as well as strict requirements for clerics.

"I feel like someone died," says Jordan Harris, who as a gay pastor presides over a Methodist congregation in Sommerville in the Us state of Massachusetts. He had hoped and prayed that the General Conference would have decided differently.

He himself had supported the idea of simply removing the provisions on homosexuality in Methodist church law. The third option called for leaving the decision to local churches. "The outcome is difficult to accept," Harris told the CNN television network. Like many other liberal church members, he feels overrun.

Keith Mcilwain, a traditionalist pastor from Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, welcomes the decision but understands the disappointment. "That's why I can't really celebrate," he says of the vote's outcome, which now threatens Methodist unity itself. There is talk of schism.

It would be a major blow to the mainline Protestant church, whose members span a wide ideological spectrum. This ranges from Hillary Clinton to Vice President Mike Pence.

Church schism looms

Much now hinges on the meeting of the top canonical body, the "UMC Judicial Council". That panel must address the question of the legality of the decision when it meets next month in Illinois. If the Methodist "trial court" upholds the decision, the church faces a schism.

Harris wants to stay despite his disappointment. 'I'm betting on resistance in faith'."Others like Pastor Mike Slaughter, who is one of the spokesmen for reform-minded forces within the church, are already speculating about what will happen next. "It's time for a different movement."

A split would not be the first schism within Christian churches in the U.S. over how to handle sexuality. The Episcopal Church has split as well as the Presbyterians. Breakaway movements also exist among evangelical churches whose young members do not agree with previous teachings.

A majority of Methodists see themselves as conservative politically, but have much more liberal views than other Protestant churches on abortion and the environment. On the subject of dealing with "LGBT" clergy, opinions diverge almost in half.

In North Bethesda, the congregation, shocked at the outcome of the vote, reacted by spontaneously deciding to change the lettering on the billboard on Main Street. It now says in bold letters "All are welcome here."

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Christina Cherry
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