United Methodist Church's polarizing same-sex marriage decision hits home in Minneapolis

It was a meeting years in the making that lead to a decision that’s creating a deep divide in the United Methodist Church.

The church voted to emphasize its opposition to same-sex marriage and gay clergy.

The outcome is not sitting well with many people in the church.

In fact, the decision highlights the disunity in the church that began in the 1970s.

That divide may be at a tipping point now with this new decision.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Re. Judy Zabel, of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church.

With the rainbow flag proudly waving outside the Hennepin Avenue Church, Zabel says her congregation is grieving.

“It was heartbreaking to see we had been working so hard, for so long, for full inclusion and it’s heartbreaking to see the full church is not there yet,” Zabel said.

Arriving back from St. Louis Wednesday morning, Zabel was one of four Minnesota delegates to attend the special general conference. More than 800 delegates attended from around the world.

After an intense and emotional three-day debate, 56 percent of delegates voted in favor of the “Traditional Plan” which upholds the church’s belief that the, “practice of homosexuality is compatible with Christian teachings and practicing homosexuals may not be ordained as ministers.”

“At Hennepin County United Methodist, we do not do same sex in our sanctuary,” said Zabel. “I would love to and I am waiting for the day United Methodist gives me the permission to do that.”

Currently there are more than 60,000 UMC members in Minnesota and approximately 12 million worldwide. Many say the conference results reflect the growing membership in areas such as Africa and Asia where the LGBTQ community is not as widely accepted.

“We worked very hard to try and create a culture of peace, and by peace I don’t mean suppression of our differences. I mean not seeing the other person as the enemy,” said Bishop Ken Carter, President of the Council of Bishops. 

Zabel says, while there are both conservative and progressive congregations considering breaking away from what is the second largest protestant denomination, others within UMC believe any change should come from within.

“We’ll see what the future holds, but we know we love god and we will continue to do our ministry,” Zabel added.

There are several members of clergy who quietly perform same sex marriage ceremonies across the state and, even though it puts their credentials at risk, that is expected to continue.

Overall, the issue is not going away. The General Conference, which brings church leaders together every four years, happens to be coming to Minneapolis next year.