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Split Methodists affirm stand on homosexuality

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Showing support for acceptance of homosexuals, Mary King of Durham, N.C., displays a photo of her daughter while wearing a multicolored prayer stole at the United Methodist assembly.

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The defeat of the proposed changes brought some of the delegates at the assembly to tears

PITTSBURGH - Efforts to revise the United Methodist Church's constitution to allow ordination of openly gay clergy and to acknowledge that biblical references to homosexuality are open to different interpretations were defeated yesterday during the Protestant denomination's General Assembly.

As each of a series of proposals was introduced and debated on the floor of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the division among delegates from the 10-million-member denomination became increasingly evident.

On one side of the aisle, delegates at the conference held firm to the church's Book of Discipline, or constitution, in its long-held statement that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

Those pushing for reform said it was hypocritical to assert that the denomination is united in its views; that the church should be more welcoming to gays and lesbians, and that Christians can disagree on their interpretations of Scripture on the issue of homosexuality.

Several proposals to amend the Book of Discipline's prohibition on ordaining "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" were narrowly defeated, one by a vote of 466-436, or 52-48 percent.

An amendment to acknowledge that there are different scriptural interpretations on homosexuality was rejected.

In its stead, delegates approved by a 61-39 percent vote the addition of a phrase that states: "We will seek to live together in Christian community."

The proposal to acknowledge disagreement over the church's opposition to homosexuality was presented by the Rev. Margaret Mallory, superintendent of the Toledo district.

It was considered a pivotal vote on the church's stance on homosexuality, an issue that is causing sharp division in virtually all mainline Protestant churches.

Its defeat brought some to tears, marking the rejection of years of effort to get the denomination to acknowledge that its views on scriptural references to homosexuality are open to debate.

"The truth sets us free, and for me, today the church spoke a clear statement that we will not speak the truth about who we are," said the Rev. James Preston of Illinois.

"The church is hypocritical," Mr. Preston added. "We say that you gays and lesbians and your families are welcome, but you're really not. It deeply saddens me."

The Rev. Chester Chambers of Toledo, a retired minister and former superintendent of the Findlay district, also expressed sadness over the outcome.

"It would have sent a message to the gays and lesbian people and their families that they were welcome," said Mr. Chambers, 75, who was wearing a multicolored stole provided by a group representing parents of gay and lesbian Methodists.

"We have a division that is largely based on how you understand the Bible," he said. "It's a deep and personal division ..."

Mrs. Mallory made an impassioned plea for her proposal to recognize that Methodists can disagree on the issue.

"We are the church. But we are of two opinions. That's the truth of the matter," Mrs. Mallory said.

"The discomfort that we're experiencing is discomfort because we are trying to live something that we aren't. We are trying to live as people who are unanimous in our belief about homosexuality. And that is not true."

The Rev. H. Eddie Fox of Tennessee, who presented the successful alternative to the proposal introduced by Mrs. Mallory, said it was important that the denomination take an unambiguous stand against homosexuality.

"We have a clear statement and it is a statement of compassion," Mr. Fox said.

The General Assembly, which meets once every four years, opened the session on April 27 and is scheduled to conclude tomorrow.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.

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