Methodists are among the last mainline Protestant holdouts on the topic of homosexuality. Karen Oliveto, pastor of San Francisco’s Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, is bound and determined to change that at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla., just steps away from the site of the Republican National Convention. Similar to a political convention, the question of whether homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching will be the subject of intense lobbying, heated debate, close committee votes and, if Oliveto and the progressive faction are successful, a decision on the convention floor.
But the conservatives, bolstered by large and rapidly growing Methodist congregations in Africa, are just as determined – and they believe they have the Old Testament on their side. The two factions are destined for a showdown at the convention. This is the story of what happened.
Song: You will sow what you reap, reap what you sow, what you plant in the kingdom will surely grow.
Randall Miller (voice-over): As an openly gay man, it causes a significant amount of personal pain for me, when the church that I love says that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.
It’s just fundamentally unfair and untrue.
Song: And the fruit of the spirit will come back to you.
Richard Thompson (voice-over): We wonder why these people keep banging on the doors, keep pushing us and pushing us, trying to back us into a corner.
Song: What you plant in the kingdom will surely grow, and when you go with love.
Karen Oliveto (voice-over): I think every time we go, we hope that this will be the year. You wanna believe that people will do the right thing. You wanna believe that of course the church will step up.
Reporter Adithya Sambamurthy: San Francisco Rev. Karen Oliveto, divinity professor Randall Miller and Bakersfield Rev. Richard Thompson are heading toward a showdown.
They will join United Methodists from around the world for a convention in Tampa, Fla., where the church will decide whether it still holds that homosexuality is a sin.
[On-screen text: THE OTHER CONVENTION
A Church Votes on Gay Rights]
Song: Do not pass me by.
[On-screen text: Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, San Francisco]
Reporter: It’s Easter Sunday at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, and the Rev. Karen Oliveto takes the stage in front of a full house.
Song: Savior, savior.
Oliveto (voice-over): For almost 50 years, this church has been a place of unconditional love and unconditional acceptance.
Song: Give my love for Christ.
Reporter: Oliveto counts an unusual mix of churchgoers among her charges.
Oliveto (voice-over): Gay, lesbian, large trans population.
[On-screen text: The Rev. Karen Oliveto, Glide United Memorial Methodist Church]
Oliveto: People of different colors and ethnicities, people of different faith backgrounds. It is powerful to be here on a Sunday morning and see that diversity lived out so boldly.
Welcome to Glide. Happy Easter.
Reporter: At the convention in Tampa, she will join a national network of progressive Methodists to lobby for a change in church doctrine on homosexuality.
[On-screen text: First United Methodist Church, Bakersfield, Calif.]
But the progressives will face opposition from a coalition of conservative evangelical Methodists.
Song: Lift high the cross.
Reporter: At First United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, the Rev. Richard Thompson leads the Sunday morning service.
Song: Let all the world adore his sacred name.
Thompson (voice-over): Homosexual people are to be loved; they’re our brothers and sisters.
[On-screen text: The Rev. Richard Thompson, First United Methodist Church]
Thompson: But the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and has been for 2,000 years.
Reporter: Thompson is a member of the evangelical group Good News, which is leading the campaign to retain the church’s doctrine toward gays and lesbians.
Thompson (voice-over): If the church loses its doctrine, it can no longer bring salvation.
Because without the doctrine, you don’t have a foundation to stand on. And if you want to say that all things are OK, then it doesn’t matter.
Thompson: Christ has risen, he has risen indeed. Amen.