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Methodist Bishops Propose Special Commission on LGBT Rights to Keep Church from Splitting

United Methodist General Conference

The passionate debates during the church’s General Conference led to leaders shelving the issue for a later time.

United Methodists only get one chance every four years to change church law, and LGBT advocates in the church hoped this year's General Conference would be their chance to change the church's discriminatory stance on sexual and gender identity.

Those advocates missed that chance.

Rather than address the dozens of proposals regarding LGBT rights, the church's Council of Bishops decided that a special commission would be formed to work through the debate--separate of the General Conference.

Most advocates are cautiously optimistic about the commission, while many others believe the church was making a desperate attempt to keep from splitting over the issue.

The church's Book of Discipline describes homosexuality as "incompatible" with Christian teachings.

Rev. Frank Schaefer, a Methodist minister who was defrocked for marrying his gay son to another man, told Out that the special commission at least keeps discriminatory proposals at bay.

"Some say we are just kicking the can down the road," he said. "However, the adoption of the special commission stopped additional bad LGBTQ legislation from being adopted by a largely conservative body of delegates. Sometimes the victory lies in avoiding a battle you may not be able to win. Sadly, the special commission is perhaps the best outcome we as LGBTQ advocates could have hoped for."

Methodist church membership has grown in Africa and Asia among countries where attitudes toward LGBT rights are more conservative. At the same time, U.S. membership has been on the decline.

Scott Sheppard, who directed a documentary about Schaefer, An Act of Love, said, "There is much work to do, but this is a significant sign of hope."

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