It isn’t much of a shocker that most of Minnesota’s liberal Lutheran synods oppose a marriage amendment banning same-sex marriage. That’s not far afield from the progressive stance on gay and lesbian issues of the larger denomination — the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
But last week’s 400-169 vote to oppose the marriage amendment by the policymaking body of Minnesota’s United Methodists stands in marked contrast to the more conservative stance of their denomination. The United Methodist Book of Discipline says “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Last month, the denomination’s General Conference — its governing body — reaffirmed that teaching and declined to vote on same-sex marriage or whether to ordain gay and lesbian clergy. The ELCA, on the other hand, made headlines in 2009 when it decided to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy.
The 4.5-million-member ELCA is the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination, and the United Methodist Church (7.8 million) is the biggest Methodist body, with more than 70,000 Minnesota members. A new poll from Public Policy Polling shows that 49 percent of Minnesotans oppose the marriage amendment, while 43 percent favor it and others remain unsure. (The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.)
United Methodists do not officially sanction ceremonies to bless same-sex unions, while the ELCA says that congregations may offer ways to “recognize, support and hold accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”
Many United Methodist clergy members across the country say they will break or challenge denominational rules in hopes of expediting a change in policy, which also happened in the ELCA. United Methodists face an uphill battle, however.
Like other Christian groups, they’re declining in the United States, but surging in Africa and Asia, where vigorous antigay attitudes among religious groups prevail. At the same time, the Book of Discipline states that churches should not condemn lesbian and gay members but should be in ministry with everyone.
Given that context, however, Minnesota’s United Methodists’ stance against changing the state Constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman is particularly courageous.