Talk of schism filled debates regarding rules on gay rights as the United Methodist Church voted late Wednesday to have a commission re-examine rules regarding LGBT clergy and marriage. A 428-405 vote by church delegates delayed a decision on LGBT equality issues, the Washington Post reported.
United Methodist Church doctrine describes homosexuality as “incompatible” with its faith. The measure passed Wednesday called for “profound unity” as talk of a schism in the church has surrounded debates in the days before the vote.
“I count this decision as a victory for the LGBTQ cause though our division is not yet reconciled,” the Rev. Frank Schaefer wrote on his blog. “There is much work to be done on our way toward full inclusion of our LGBTQ members in the United Methodist Church. It’s a small step in the right direction that gives me hope and strength.”
The debate in the United Methodist Church comes as many other religious groups around the world are faced with changing laws and domestic political realties over LGBT rights. While the church is the third largest in the United States, it is experiencing increased growth overseas, especially in Africa and Asia, where more conservative religious leaders oppose progressive proposals on sexuality.
“We are at a precipice,” Lonnie Chafin, a delegate from the Northern Illinois Annual Conference told the Associated Press. “There is urgency before us. The church might divide.”
It remains unclear when the United Methodist Church will reach a decision over LGBT issues. A statement issued late Wednesday called for a coordinated effort, but a decision may not come for another two to three years. The church has been debating matters of sexuality for more than four decades with recent calls to lift bans on same-sex marriages and ordination for members with a same-sex partner.
“We understand that part of our role as bishops is to lead the church toward new behaviors, a new way of being and new forms and structures, which allow a unity of our mission of ‘making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world’ while allowing for differing expressions as a global church,” the statement said. “Developing such new forms will require a concerted effort by all of us, and we your bishops commit ourselves to lead this effort.”
More than 100 clergy members and seminary students came out before Wednesday’s general conference began. The United Methodist Church has more than 12 million members around the world.