GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - A proposal last week that would split the United Methodist Church into more than one denomination over same-sex marriage is creating ripple effects on the Gulf Coast.
While nothing yet has been decided, leaders and laity are just beginning to understand what the future may hold for their church.
“The writing’s on the wall,” the Rev. Claire Dobbs told the First United Methodist Church of Gulfport congregation on Sunday. “There will be some changes, and we will have to deal with those changes.”
The discussion is just beginning, and chances are it will be a long one.
“We’ve been struggling over this issue as a United Methodist Church for over 40 years,” Dobbs said. “The issue of human sexuality has been a great debate my entire lifetime.”
At a special called General Conference last February, United Methodist delegates from all over the world narrowly approved the tightening of its rules prohibiting same-sex marriage and ordination of self-avowed homosexuals. They also added punitive consequences for violating those rules.
“So, you can imagine after 2019 since the vote was so close and we were divided, that there’s been a lot of resistance and backlash, and different groups have been coming together trying to figure out a different way forward," Dobbs said.
Among those meetings included a powerful and influential group of United Methodist bishops and other leaders that proposed to preserve The United Methodist Church, while allowing more conservative congregations to form a new denomination.
“If this proposal is passed at General Conference and becomes official, then the United Methodist Church would lift the language possibly that is so harmful to our LGBTQ friends and neighbors,” Dobbs said.
The General Conference, which meets every four years, will gather May 5-15 in Minneapolis. This most recent proposal will be one of many addressing human sexuality.
However, she is hesitant to declare sides.
“All these people are led by God. Their convictions are just different,” she said. “And if an amicable separation is what has to happen, it’s sad, but it may be the best option for our denomination. I’m not saying it is. The Holy Spirit is still working through us.”
She added the future is uncertain.
“What I told my church family that I serve here today is when I think about the future of this local church in light of new legislation from the General Conference, what will happen to this local church? My honest answer is I don’t know.”
Regardless of the decision, Dobbs said her church’s mission will remain the same.
“Even as the United Methodist Book of Discipline stands today, it doesn’t preclude this church from being welcoming, affirming, and equipping everyone for Christian discipleship,” she said. “Everyone is welcome at First United Methodist Church of Gulfport.”