Sexuality, Society and the Church: Events Highlight Ongoing Shifts, Debates

(UMNS Photo/Paul Jeffrey)Outside the plenary session of the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida, supporters of full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the church hold a silent vigil as delegates and visitors leave an April 26 session. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.

President Barack Obama's public, personal embrace of same-sex marriage has brought to the fore ongoing debates within the church about homosexuality, with leaders among denominations both affirming and rejecting its presence.

Obama said his view on the matter had been evolving and he called on the bible to explain his decision, citing the Golden rule, saying "it's also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated."

Bishop Mark Sisk of the Episcopal Church's Diocese of New York said in a statement on Tuesday he welcomed Obama's views in light of the country's principle of "equality before the law."

The Bishop said his support of marriage for gay and lesbian people "is entirely in keeping with the familiar call to respect the dignity of every human being. It is, moreover in accord with our Lord's promise that we are all, fully and equally, beloved children of God."

At the recent General Conference of the United Methodist Church, delegates essentially set aside proposals – that were unlikely to pass - that would have called for the denomination to vote ordain gay clergy and bless same-sex unions, despite the presence of vocal advocates at the Tampa Bay, Fla. gathering in early May.

Proposals were pushed to the back of the agenda, ensuring they wouldn't be debated.

"Leaders of the demonstration were told that the legislation was postponed to avoid more harm to LGBT people and their supporters," the Love Your Neighbor Coalition said in a released statement, according to UMNS. "The United Methodist Church had an opportunity to offer love, grace and hope.
The denomination currently asserts that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching," ministers are prohibited from marrying same-sex couples, and that churches cannot host same-sex weddings.

President Obama's statements did not carry the weight of law behind them and the current federal law of the land defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. However advocates of same-sex marriage have been gaining legal ground in other areas where public institutions and private organizations differ in views on sexuality.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a Christian student group at a small public law school could only be recognized only if it accepted non-Christians and gays as possible leaders.

The Court's split 5-4 decision has been attacked by advocates who note that not many schools have attempted to implement the ruling.

"Very few universities have tried to implement all-comers policies in the aftermath of CLS vs. Martinez," said David French a senior counsel with the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, according to Religious News Service. "They recognize the fundamental absurdity of an all-comers policy."

Vanderbilt University, which implements the policy related to the court case, says "Belief-based or status-based requirements are inconsistent with our nondiscriminatory policy, adding that the policy does not target specific students groups.

Bishop Andrew Dietsche, also of the Diocese of New York, anticipated an upcoming gathering of the Episcopal Churches Convention, where there is a proposal that would approve rites to bless same-sex unions.

"We pray for the Episcopal Church as it gathers in Convention that it will hear the courageous declaration of our president, the convictions of our own bishop, and the witness of those who have already found comfort, joy and solace in our marriage equality laws, as we work together toward true equality for all people in a church which follows our Lord Jesus. It was he who taught us that in every person we may find the face of our God, and that in every marriage we may hope to see "a sign of Christ's love to this sinful and broken world."

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