By Jessica Brodie
The South Carolina Conference has voted not to petition General Conference on two issues: deleting language in the denomination’s Book of Discipline on homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching and withdrawing two United Methodist entities from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
The Committee on Petitions to General Conference considered the two petitions this week, voting concurrence on the homosexuality language change petition (desiring to send the petition to General Conference) and non-concurrence on the RCRC withdrawal petition (desiring not to send the petition), presenting their opinions to Annual Conference on Thursday morning, June 11, for vote.
In close votes on each, the body voted against the committee on the first petition and with the committee on the second, ultimately resulting in no petitions being sent to General Conference.
General Conference, which meets in Portland, Oregon, in May 2016, is the global UMC’s quadrennial legislative gathering where representatives from all over the world examine, discuss, pray, debate and eventually determine a host of key legislative issues that will become church law.
Not sent: Homosexuality language change petition
Submitted by 131 United Methodists and endorsed by the Advocacy Area of Connectional Ministries, the language change petition would have asked General Conference to delete the sentence in Para. 161F of the Discipline that states, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Speaking on behalf of the Committee on Petitions, Carolyn Briscoe said Thursday that the committee concurred with the petition asking for deletion of the homosexuality sentence because it is not compatible with the sentence found in Para. 162 of the Discipline, which affirms all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God.
However, the majority of the body disagreed with the committee and voted it down Thursday morning 706 to 591.
The close vote reflected passionate speeches from the floor both for and against the issue.
The Rev. Keith Ray, pastor of Clemson UMC, Clemson, spoke in favor of sending the petition, stating that changing the disciplinary language may save lives.
“I know this because I’ve had in my office young women and men who’ve been cast out of their homes in the name of Christ. I’ve walked with them. I’ve cried with them. They are not incompatible with Christian teaching and Christian life,” Ray said. “It’s not about the issue. It’s about people, and these are our people, our children.”
The Rev. Jim Nates, retired pastor, agreed, telling how his heart was changed after he found out his own daughter is a lesbian. After intensely studying Scripture, he came to the conclusion that the Bible neither condemns nor condones homosexuality, and being homosexual is not a choice.
“I hope we will consider people,” Bates said. “I want us to get to that place where the United Methodist denomination will say we have open hearts, open minds and open doors.”
The Rev. Debra Armstrong, pastor of Shiloh UMC, Chesterfield, also spoke in favor—not because of personal issues with children, she said, and not because of a debate about morality versus what the scriptures say.
Rather, Armstrong said, “I rise to speak in favor because it singles out and discriminates what some people consider one sin. Honestly, I have more people in my council and who I work with who commit adultery or lie or who gossip, and those are not singled out, and those sins are listed in the same scriptures as homosexuality.”
Speaking just as passionately about the issue were those against the petition.
The Rev. Smoke Kanipe, pastor of Mauldin UMC, Mauldin, spoke against the petition, reminding the body that it is the practice of homosexuality that is the issue before the body, not the orientation.
“This is not about civil rights or Congress or the Supreme Court,” Kanipe said. “It’s about whether the practice of homosexuality is compatible with Christian teaching.”
The Rev. Jeff Dunn, pastor of Christ UMC, Myrtle Beach, said he does not believe homosexuality is compatible with Christian teaching.
“That said, I have a son who is openly homosexual and I love that boy to pieces,” Dunn said.
Dunn said that when his son told him about his sexuality, there was an easy response: they loved him like they always loved him—and just like they loved their other children. “I have a son prone toward anger, a daughter prone toward addiction,” Dunn said, and he turned to Scripture, prayed for God to work through them, to forgive them and change them, as it is not God’s will for them to be in addiction or rage. “And so when it came to my son struggling with homosexuality, (I turned to) the very same scriptures.”
The Rev. Bruce Adams, pastor of St. Paul UMC, Chesterfield, agreed, saying the Discipline language on homosexuality should remain as it is.
“Our faith is rooted and grounded in the Bible, in God’s word and power and ability to instruct us in right way to live,” Adams said. “Sin is serious.”
He said we live in sinful and wicked times, and he believes the church should focus on the Gospel message above all.
“It’s not about saving lives; it’s about saving souls,” Adams said.
Many said the vote was closer than they expected.
Not sent: RCRC withdrawal petition
South Carolina also will send not send a petition to General Conference asking them to withdraw the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women from the RCRC.
The petition’s submitters—Memorial UMC in Greer, Covenant UMC in Greer, Gramling UMC in Campobello and Slater UMC in Slater—said the coalition’s work surrounding abortion rights is in direct conflict with what the Discipline says about abortion.
The Committee on Petitions had voted non-concurrence on the petition, desiring not to send the petition because it is important that the UMC’s voice be a part of this interfaith group.
“Their focus is on reproductive health in its totality,” Briscoe told the body. “They deal with planning initiatives and what’s important in families. While we do not agree with everything that happens in this coalition, it is important that The United Methodist Church continue to have a voice at the table, and we are confident those persons who represent us there represent the United Methodist Discipline and the UMC.”
Briscoe said no dues are required, and the UMC contributes no funding to the group.
A close majority of the body Thursday morning agreed with the committee, voting 674 to 541 not to send the petition.
Several spoke for and against the petition prior to vote.
Sandy Warren, a member of Mount Vernon UMC, Hickory Grove, stood with the committee, urging the conference to “trust in our Methodists who work with this group.”
Joy Strange, of Faith UMC, Lexington, agreed, noting that the RCRC began in 1973, and the UMC was the charter member for the organization.
“Withdrawal would lead to our loss of a chance to influence the coalition and the people who the coalition might reach,” Strange said.
However, Marian Biege of Memorial UMC, Greer, disagreed, telling the body the RCRC holds too extreme a position regarding unintended pregnancies for the UMC to remain part of the group.
Holding up her conference bracelet that lifts up one million hours of service with and for children, she said, “As my wristband indicates, I am for children and RCRC apparently is not, and we do not need to be associated with them.”
Likewise, the Rev. Drew Martin, pastor of Lebanon UMC, Eastover, said the denomination is weakened by being part of groups whose views differ so vastly from ours.
“There are other ways we can be engaged in this issue (of reproductive health),” Martin said, speaking against the committee’s recommendation and in favor of sending the withdrawal petition to General Conference. “Even if money is not on the table, it doesn’t matter because we’re still implicitly giving approval.”
The full text of the petitions can be read at ac15.umcsc.org.