United Methodist bishops have promised to uphold church law banning same-sex unions while also acknowledging the “deep disagreements” within the denomination over the issue.
The Council of Bishops released the statement on Friday, marking the first time it's addressed pledges to bless same-sex unions signed this year by more than 1,000 Methodist clergy across the U.S, according to United Methodist News Service.
In the New York Annual (regional) Conference, 732 lay people also have signed “a covenant of conscience” in support of such unions.
The pledges sparked a countermovement by other Methodist clergy and lay people urging bishops to enforce the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book. So far, more than 2,500 clergy and 11,500 laity in the U.S. have signed petitions to the bishops at www.faithfulumc.com.
“As bishops chosen, consecrated and assigned by the Church, we declare once again our commitment to be faithful to this covenant we have made,” the statement reads. “As the Council of Bishops we will uphold the Book of Discipline.”
The denomination has about 44,400 clergy and 7.8 million members in the U.S., with more than 12 million members worldwide.
“I hope that the statement from the (Council of Bishops) will underscore for the church that we recognize the deep division within the church and the U.S. culture regarding homosexuality,” said Minnesota Area Bishop Sally Dyck. “People are hurting on all sides of this issue and not just in the church.”
The Book of Discipline describes homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching" and prohibits Methodist churches from hosting and clergy from officiating at “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.”
The pledges to bless same-sex unions started at the Minnesota Annual Conference session, where 70 clergy signed a statement saying they would “offer the grace of the Church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage,” including same-sex couples.
Similar statements were signed by clergy in at least five other annual conferences, including New England, New York, Northern Illinois, Oregon-Idaho and Tennessee.
The cabinet of the Minnesota Annual Conference in June filed a formal complaint against the Rev. Greg Renstrom, pastor of New Harmony United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. The group is investigating whether he violated the denomination’s ban against performing same-sex unions.