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May 11, 2000 GC-068

Daily wrap-up: Homosexuality votes bring emotional response

CLEVELAND (UMNS) --The United Methodist Church retained its stance on homosexuality May 11 in what one veteran General Conference observer called the most emotional day he had ever experienced at the quadrennial assemblies.

By margins of approximately 2 to 1, the 992 delegates said the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, and no self-avowed practicing homosexual can be ordained as clergy or given a pastoral appointment.

Debate on the two questions took approximately 90 often-agonizing minutes. At one point delegates and some visitors stood in the aisles of the Cleveland Convention Center in protest of the actions.

The question has troubled the church for 30 years. By mid-July, members of three other religious bodies will have dealt with the subject—Reform Jews, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians.

The count vote on the "incompatible" phrase was 628 to 337. The exclusion of gay

persons from the ordained clergy was 645 to 306.

Minority reports on both issues failed by somewhat larger margins.

"We are divided, we will still be divided when we leave this city," said the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, Washington, who presented the minority report on the "incompatible" motion.

The minority report sought to make the major point that the "church has been unable to arrive at a common mind on the compatibility of homosexual practice with Christian teaching" and therefore the church should seek further understanding.

Taking up the ordination issue, Elizabeth Quick, a student at Ohio Wesleyan University,

said that "we need our brothers and sisters to move into ministry without denying a part of themselves."

The Rev. Richard Parker, Babylon, N.Y., proposed a four-year moratorium on implementation of the provisions "to continue a process of healing in the church." The Rev. Roger Elliott, Raleigh, N.C., said "a moratorium does not solve anything for us—we need to make clear where we stand."

After the votes, Bishop Dan Solomon, Baton Rouge, La., who was presiding, met with some of the demonstrators and announced they had reached agreement to continue the protests in an orderly fashion, standing in the aisles or kneeling at the altar.

By mid-afternoon – after delegates voted to retain the church’s prohibition against pastors performing same-sex union ceremonies -- the "covenant" began to break down and demonstrators moved to the platform area. Solomon bowed his head and then implored the group to return to their earlier positions of kneeling or standing in the aisles.

One of the group said the church has broken the covenant with them and they felt their actions were justified. A 15-minute recess was called, later extended to 25 minutes.

Police were called and 30 persons were arrested, including two bishops—C. Joseph Sprague, Chicago, and Susan M. Morrison, Albany, N.Y. According to police, the 30 face charges of disrupting a lawful meeting with maximum fines of $250 and court costs, or 30 days in jail.

It is believed to be the first time people have been removed from the floor of General Conference by police.

Speaking at a news conference, Bishop Robert Morgan, Louisville, Ky., said, "We do not believe this will divide the church—our commitment is to stay together." Bishop Kenneth Carder, Nashville, Tenn., agreed that "we will continue to seek ways of remaining together."

In a related action, the conference on May 10 declined to instruct the church’s Board of Discipleship to prepare materials that would assist a person seeking to terminate their homosexuality.

In other business May 11, the church’s Judicial Council organized for the 2001-2004 quadrennium. The Rev. John G. Corry was elected president, succeeding Tom Matheny who is gravely ill. The Rev. C. Rex Bevins, Lincoln, Neb., was elected vice-president. Sally Curtis Askew, Bogart, Ga., was re-elected secretary.

The General Conference has thrown its support behind African-American farmers, voicing concern for their dwindling numbers and condemning U.S. Department of Agriculture policies as "discriminatory."

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-- Robert Lear

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