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Is the United Methodist Church Headed for an Epic Split Over Gay Marriage?

"out of step" and "behind the times..."

In June, the Blaze reported that a growing roster of pastors in the United Methodist Church (UMC) are no longer willing to stand for the denomination's ban on gay marriage.

In fact, these rogue Methodist clergy have been pledging to defy the church and officiate same-sex marriages (some already have been active in doing so), despite the potential for church discipline.

With the passage of gay marriage in New York and with numerous other states -- Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C. (commonwealth) -- allowing homosexuals to wed, the angst over this ban seems to be increasing among various clergy members.

The United Methodist church, while not supportive of gay marriage, does believe in equal rights for all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation.

"The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church," which includes all of the church's doctrines, reads:

Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.

We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting the rightful claims where people have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law.

Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.

However, the Church maintains that marriage should be reserved for men and women and not gay couples, as the "Book of Discipline" also reads, "We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman."

In terms of comparing the UMC to other Christian denominations, these views aren't out of the norm. But it seems that clergy, who no longer wish to be governed by what they see as unfair and unjust religious regulations, are standing up to the church and voicing their willingness to go against its marital doctrine. NewsTimes.com captures their sentiment:

The Rev. Vicky Fleming of Bethel United Methodist Church believes Jesus loves everybody and the church's stand against same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy is "out of step" and "behind the times in its thinking."

The Rev. Paul Fleck of New Milford United Methodist Church believes his God-inspired call to the ministry requires him to "provide pastoral care to all of God's children" and that means marrying gay and lesbian couples.

So, pastors like Fleming and Fleck are risking it all, as they've joined in with a pool of 900 United Methodists in New York and Connecticut who have signed the "A Covenant of Conscience" pledge (part of the "We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality" movement), claiming that they will support same-sex marriage.

Those signatories include clergy, lay people and congregations. For those clergy who have signed on, they hold the potential of losing their ordination. The full covenant can be read here. See a portion of it, below:

Rev. Jeff Wells of the Community United Methodist Church in Massapequa, Long Island, believes that it's far-past time that clergy stand up to this discriminatory policy. "I see myself as taking an action for the church because I believe that changing this discriminatory tradition is actually going to revitalize it," he says.

“There are obviously people in my congregation who are at various places in the spectrum as far as their views on gay marriage, but the conversation has been very respectful,” Wells continues. “Many people support what I’m doing and would like to see our particular local congregation become a reconciling congregation, which is fully welcome to gays and lesbians."

Below, see Methodist Pastor Michael Gray discuss his take on gay marriage:

Not everyone in the UMC agrees, though. Numerous Methodist pastors have come together to rail against their fellow reverends rogue response to the Church's same-sex marriage policies. Those in opposition came together to pen a letter to all active church bishops. Here's their reasoning for sending the note:

The letter was written to communicate a deep concern regarding more than 900 ministerial colleagues who have pledged to perform same-sex weddings, despite the church's prohibition against such ceremonies. This widespread ecclesiastical disobedience threatens to tear apart the covenant which holds The United Methodist Church together. It is also a direct challenge to the clear teaching of Scripture.

And here's a portion of the letter:

Considering geographic differences in political and social ideologies and the intensity with this debate appears to be raging, it seems prudent to question what the future holds for the UMC.

Clearly, with so many clergy seeing the Church as wrong-headed on the issue of same-sex marriage and pledging to act out in their disagreement, it may not be possible for leadership to simply ignore their demands.

Is a split on the horizon? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

One last thing…
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