Washington Post, 5 May 04

Methodists Condemn Homosexuality

By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer

Delegates at a United Methodist Church conference voted yesterday to condemn homosexuality and to reject a statement saying Christians disagree on the issue.

Gay rights supporters wearing rainbow-hued stoles, or clerical scarves, stood throughout the emotional debate at a Pittsburgh convention center. One symbolically smashed an empty chalice at the end of a communion service after delegates voted 579 to 376 to declare that, "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."

Later, however, the church's highest court handed gay rights supporters a partial victory by ruling that it does not have authority to overturn the acquittal of an openly lesbian minister, the Rev. Karen Dammann, by a jury of 13 Methodist clergy in Seattle in March.

The Judicial Council's 5-to-4 ruling said that in the future, Methodist ministers who are found in a church trial to be "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" cannot hold any appointment in the church. But it said the decision "shall be applied only prospectively."

The vote against homosexuality was a reaffirmation of the stand taken at recent General Conferences, held every four years. Liberals in the 8.3 million-member U.S. denomination had pushed for a statement that "Christians disagree on the compatibility of homosexuality with Christian teaching and affirm that God's grace is available to all." It was defeated, 527 to 423.

Conservatives and evangelicals said the vote would help prevent the kind of schism threatening the Episcopal Church. But the Rev. Kathryn Johnson, executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, said the church is "not telling the truth. We're stating in our social principles that the church stands for something when in fact we're deeply, deeply divided."