United Methodists stood firmly against gay congregants at a national meeting Wednesday, even as their top court rejected a request from conservatives to intervene in the case of a lesbian pastor. Delegates to the Methodist General Conference, held once every four years, voted down resolution after resolution that would have signaled broader acceptance of gays and lesbians in the church.
Even the ruling in the lesbian minister's case was not clearly a victory. The Judicial Council said Tuesday it had no authority to review the acquittal of the Reverend Karen Dammann, whose acknowledgment that she lives with a female partner resulted in her being tried for violating church law.
However, the court also ruled that in the future, bishops cannot legally appoint someone who is found at church trial to be a "self-avowed, practicing homosexual." Evangelicals came to the General Conference, which ends Friday, intent on finding ways to uphold the church's condemnation of homosexuality. The issue has divided the 8.3 million-member denomination since 1972.
Earlier on Tuesday, conference delegates rejected a measure that would have officially acknowledged that Christians can disagree on homosexuality. Conservatives argued that adding any language about the Methodists' internal rift would give the impression that the church might diverge from Christianity's traditional prohibition on gay relationships.
Gay rights advocates quietly protested, standing silently during the debate, praying, and holding up rainbow stoles that are the symbol of their movement. They began singing "Amazing Grace" as the votes were tallied. Some wept when the results were announced, and one person exclaimed, "Injustice!"