ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — On the final day of a conference in St. Louis, that brought in delegates of the United Methodist Church from across the globe, leaders cast a vote banning same-sex marriage.
The church is America’s second-largest Protestant denomination. Pastors and community members believe they now face a likely surge in defections and acts of defiance after Tuesday’s vote.
“The traditional plan would require me to sign an oath saying that I would no longer officiate same-sex weddings,” Rev. Andy Oliver said. “The traditional plan requires self-avowed practicing gay and lesbian persons to leave the church from ministry; it bans them from being ordained.”
Oliver said his church, Allendale United Methodist in St. Petersburg serves a large population of the LGBTQ community. A community he said he would never turn his back on.
“We believe that we are faithfully practicing the United Methodist theology and living out what Jesus taught us to do so we are not going anywhere,” Oliver said. “If worse comes to worst and this traditional plan were to pass, Allendale will continue to officiate same-sex weddings, will continue to have gay and lesbian people in the pulpit right behind me. If the conservative faction of our church wants to come after me, or my people, they’ll have to rip us out of these pews.”
The decision also bans gays from serving in leadership roles at the church.
“Devastation,” was how former Methodist pastor Rebecca Wilson of Detroit described her feelings. “As someone who left because I’m gay, I’m waiting for the church I love to stop bringing more hate.”
After several hours of debate, the conservative's proposal, called the Traditional Plan, was approved by a vote of 438-384. Opponents unsuccessfully sought to weaken the plan with hostile amendments or to prolong the debate past a mandatory adjournment time set to accommodate a monster truck rally in the arena. One delegate even requested an investigation into the possibility that “vote buying” was taking place at the conference.
The Traditional Plan’s success was due to an alliance of conservatives from the U.S. and overseas. About 43 percent of the delegates were from abroad, mostly from Africa, and overwhelmingly supported the LGBT bans.
If the bans were eased, “the church in Africa would cease to exist,” said the Rev. Jerry Kulah of Liberia. “We can’t do anything but to support the Traditional Plan — it is the biblical plan.”
“We are a worldwide body, and the church that is present in Africa, the Philippines and Russia have a different cultural context than we do,” Oliver said.
The Traditional Plan was approved by a vote of 438-384. Some parts were ruled unconstitutional. It now goes to the Judicial Council for review at their next meeting.