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Hundreds of United Methodist clergy are expressing deep concerns over a pledge made by a renegade group of fellow ministers to marry same-sex couples. Their concern is that if the pledge is carried through, the future of the denomination is in jeopardy.

“We do not know how many, if any, marriages or ‘holy unions’ of same-sex couples will be performed by UM clergy in the near future,” reads a letter, currently signed by more than 400 pastors, to the Council of Bishops. “But we do know the destructive effects that will result in our local churches and throughout the denomination if such services are performed by UM pastors.”

The Presbyterian and Episcopal denominations have seen several larger, growing, conservative congregations seeking to distance themselves from national hierarchies that have forced recognition of homosexual clergy and marriage onto their denominations. Large churches in Virginia, Texas and California have taken measures to pull out of the U.S. Episcopal denomination. The Presbyterians are seeing a new, conservative denomination split away after national leadership voted to drop longstanding prohibitions on homosexuality.

Watching what has happened to those denominations, the concerned Methodist clergy are referring to a pledge that some 900 ministers have endorsed in support of same-sex civil unions. By signing the pledge, they agreed to defy the denomination’s ban on blessing same-sex unions.

“The United Methodist Church holds the position that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and that homosexual unions ‘shall not be conducted by our ministers’ or in UMC churches,” reports Lillian Kwon in the Christian Post. “While the denomination has debated the issue of homosexuality for decades, the growing number of clergy willing to disobey church laws and marry gay and lesbian couples has many in the church concerned.

“For forty years we United Methodists have listened to each other, respected each other and have engaged in holy conferencing on the important issues of same-sex marriage and the practice of homosexuality,” concerned clergy say in the letter. “Though the discussions and resultant protests have not always been pleasant, there has been the assurance that we would respect the decisions of General Conference and live by the covenant that holds us together.”

“The United Methodist Church’s General Conference meets every four years. In its most recent meeting in 2008, delegates voted to maintain the church’s policy prohibiting the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of partnered homosexuals,” notes Kwon. “But with hundreds now signing on to a pledge to defy the decisions of the denomination’s highest governing body, many clergy say this could prove destructive to the unity of the church.”

“Honestly, we fear that many of our people will decide that if the United Methodist Church will not live by the covenant that holds us together, it will be time for them to find another church,” the concerned clergy state in the letter to bishops. “The positive ministries of transformational discipleship that we are attempting to build are threatened by this group of defiant clergy.”

A group of nearly 2,000 conservative members of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) met in Minneapolis August 24-25 to discuss how to move ahead in light of the denomination’s policy, begun in July, that allows open homosexuals to serve as clergy.

The conference, organized under the umbrella of Presbyterians for Renewal, was called for those members “who are deeply troubled and whose integrity is deeply threatened by the move the denomination has made,” said the Rev. Paul Detterman, the group’s executive director.

As reported by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the meeting was convened by the “newly formed Fellowship of Presbyterians … to help churches opposed to the move find ways to work within or leave the Presbyterian Church USA.”

Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, told the Christian Post that the denomination’s decision “to abandon Christian sexual ethics predictably is fueling accelerated membership decline and schism. Some traditionalists are struggling to stay within the PC(USA) while creating new forms of accountability to compensate for the denomination’s failure.”

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