Methodist churches anxious as LGBT issue threatens to split denomination

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The future of the second-largest Protestant denomination is uncertain, a day after the United Methodist Church strengthened its stance against gay marriage and openly LGBT clergy.

Wednesday night, the congregation at Christ United Methodist Church in East Memphis was set to hold a special assembly to address what happened at the general conference.

Rev. Shane Stanford, the church’s senior pastor, says he’s spent two years preparing the congregation for this decision — one they firmly stand with. He spoke about the mixed emotions during the conference in St. Louis.

“Of course they were very emotional, filled with a lot of anxiety, simply because anytime the body is debating another part of the body or having difficult discussions, it is painful because so much of what we do as United Methodists, we agree on,” Stanford said.

Delegates were voting on three plans regarding the church’s bans on same-sex marriage and ordaining LGBTQ clergy.

“Our discipline states clearly that all people are of sacred worth and that everyone, including those who have a different sexual orientation and those who are heterosexuals, are welcome in our churches. That’s not being debated here,” Stanford said.

That’s a key distinction local pastors want to make.

They don’t want the current debate to diminish the work that’s been done and that will continue in this community.

“General conference meets as the representative body of the church. It is not the church,” said Brad Gabriel with Germantown United Methodist Church. “The church is the community of Christ that gathers for worship, for witness, for mission, for fellowship, in that sense the church gathers here Sunday morning and we will continue.”

At this point all they can do is wait and see what the long-term impact will be, knowing a split may be the inevitable fate.

“I do think there are times the church has separated because they found that different parts of the church body could not work well together, and I think this may be one of those issues. We’re not clear yet,” Stanford said.

The general conference did approve a plan of disaffiliation, but that must head to the judicial council for further review.


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