Methodist delegates reject splitting the church

Conservative proposed break over views on gays

talk of schism continues

May 08, 2004|By Larry B. Stammer | Larry B. Stammer,LOS ANGELES TIMES

PITTSBURGH - The United Methodist Church ended its national conference yesterday as delegates overwhelmingly pledged themselves to church unity after a tumultuous 10-day meeting torn by divisions over homosexuality and talk of schism.

On an 869 to 41 vote, the church's quadrennial General Conference - its highest law-making body - approved an impromptu unity resolution that pledged them "to remain in covenant with one another, even in the midst of disagreement."

The vote came a day after a prominent conservative pastor and national president of an unofficial Methodist "renewal" group called for "a just and amicable" separation of the church because of "irreconcilable differences" over homosexuality. The Rev. William H. Hinson had said the only option after 30 years of debate was for liberals and conservatives to divide church property and go their separate ways even though the church earlier this week strengthened his stand against homosexuality.

Stunned by the suggestion, delegates responded yesterday with a resolution that said they wanted to "reaffirm our commitment to work together for our common mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the world."

Asked later if he thought his separation proposal had been repudiated, Hinson said he stood by his plan. "I don't think that gap can be bridged," he said of ideological differences within the 10.3 million-member worldwide church. But he said he had been surprised by the reaction. "That was the most combustible thing I've ever said, the shot heard around the world," Hinson said.

The Rev. John Schol of Westchester, Pa., introduced the unity resolution. "There is a movement to continue to drive a wedge in our denomination," he said.

Just before the vote, a delegate from Tupelo, Miss., rose to support the unity measure. After 10 days of wrangling between conservatives and liberals, the Rev. Bill McAlilly said it was time to hear from "the Methodist middle."

"This group includes women, men, children, youth, lay and clergy," McAlilly said.

Too often, he said, moderates were silent. "Perhaps that is our sin," he said. "Perhaps we're gripped by fear - fear that if we speak we will be labeled as the opposition, fear that we are incapable of preventing our church from being pulled apart at the seams," he said. "If those of us in the middle can contain those on both sides of the equation we might be able to find the unity for which we seek."

His remarks were greeted with loud applause.

In a strategy reminiscent of efforts by conservative Episcopalians, who are also calling for realignment within their own church, some Methodist conservatives said they would launch a grass-roots campaign to win support for what would amount to a split in the historic church.

Teams of "renewal" ministers - clergy and lay - would be dispatched throughout the country to meet with disaffected Methodists, according to the Rev. Scott N. Field, senior pastor of Wheatland Salem Church in Naperville, Ill. They hope to strengthen an existing network of conservative Methodists.

As early as next spring, a national conference could be held to bring together a coalition of conservatives, Hinson said. He said liberals would be invited to discuss the church's future.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.