PITTSBURGH – Conservatives in the United Methodist Church (search) proposed splitting the denomination Thursday, the latest sign of decades of disagreement over homosexuality that continued at a national meeting this week.
The Rev. William Hinson, president of the Confessing Movement for conservative Methodists, said evangelicals were just beginning to explore the idea and that no break was imminent in the 8.3 million-member church.
But he said he and others were convinced that no compromise could be found after yet another bitter General Conference debate over what the Bible says about gay sex.
"We can't bridge that divide," said Hinson, former pastor of First United Methodist Church of Houston.
The Rev. Troy Plummer, executive director of the hojReconciling Ministries Network, which advocates for gay and lesbian Methodists, rejected the idea. He accused evangelicals of plotting to harm the church.
"It disturbs me," he said. "We can still be a family together."
The announcement came after conservatives prevailed at the meeting in maintaining the church's firm stand against homosexuality.
Delegates affirmed that gay sex was "incompatible with Christian teaching" and made it a chargeable offense under church law for clergy to conduct same-sex marriages and for unmarried ministers to have sex.
However, evangelicals expect that those who want a broader role for gays and lesbians in the church will continue to ignore church law and appoint sexually active homosexual clergy.
"I think that a number of us in the evangelical coalition are wondering if it's time for us to consider some kind of loving division," said the Rev. James Heidinger, leader of the Methodist evangelical group Good News.
Hinson said conservatives want the church to form a task force that would divide up church property and funds. That idea would meet intense opposition from many in the denomination. Church law prevents any congregation from walking away with Methodist assets.
Conservatives hoped to seek approval from delegates to form such a task force before the meeting ends Friday. However, they said they would explore the idea on their own even if delegates say no.
Hinson said evangelicals were inspired partly by conservatives in the Episcopal Church, who formed a breakaway network of congregations after that denomination consecrated its first openly gay bishop last year.
The leader of the Episcopal network, Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, spoke about his movement in a meeting with Methodist evangelicals last week.
Hinson contended that if any break occurred, both sides would have to abandon calling themselves Methodist and would each have to choose a new name.