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US Methodists “yes” to full communion with Lutherans; “no” on gay change


The United Methodist Church, meeting for its once-every-four-years church-wide gathering has approved an agreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for full communion between the two U.S.-based denominations.

At the same meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, the 12-million-member United Methodist General Conference, its main governing body meeting from 23 April to 2 May, turned down efforts to change denominational rules on homosexuality.

"It’s not merger. It means we are open to receiving and accepting and acknowledging each other’s ministries," Bishop Melvin Talbert who played a key role in the lead up to approval of the denomination’s full communion agreement with the Lutheran church was quoted as saying by the United Methodist News Service.

The decision on 29 April to approve full communion with the U.S. Lutheran church means that clergy from either denomination can officiate at parishes from either church. This is seen as a much-needed solution to the shrinking numbers of Methodist and Lutheran parishes in the rural United States, long a stronghold for both of the denominations.

"This is about revival of two church bodies that are deeply committed to re-presenting themselves in a pluralistic, dynamic, changing culture for the sake of mission," said ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson in a statement to his church’s news service.

The ELCA is expected to approve the full communion agreement at its 2009 church-wide assembly to be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Meanwhile, the 30 April decision to retain current rules on homosexuality – which include prohibitions against ordaining openly gay clergy – came after hours of heated debate about a resolution which would have changed the denomination’s social principles and acknowledged that church members disagree on the issue of homosexuality. Instead, the delegates adopted a resolution that retains the established language in the denomination’s Book of Discipline, which calls homosexual practices "incompatible with Christian teaching".

The delegates did approve a resolution declaring that the UMC opposes "all forms of violence or discrimination based on gender, gender identity, sexual practice or sexual orientation".

Even that resolution prompted concern, the Methodist news service reported, with one delegate from the Democratic Republic of Congo declaring that homosexuality was derived from the devil and that its practice "is incompatible with the love of God". Church gay rights groups protested and staged a silent vigil outside the meeting site.

The United Methodist Church is, after the Southern Baptist Convention, the second largest U.S. Protestant denomination, with about 12 million members, 8 million of them in the United States. Other members are based in Africa, Asia and Europe.

(c) Ecumenical News International