United Methodist pastors urge the church to remain unified in face of same-sex marriage debate

Hundreds of pastors signed a petition asking the church not to split.

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Several hundred Methodist pastors signed a petition Friday asking the United Methodist Church not to split over the same-sex marriage debate.

The denomination is facing a possible schism as pastors disagree on whether gay marriage and gay clergy are holy or unholy.

Pastor John Hill of Suntree United Methodist in Melbourne, Florida said he is grieved by the dissention in the church.

"It's distressing to me that we're still focusing on minor issues, same-sex, homosexuality," he told Florida Today.

"Others may feel different, but the real issues that Jesus called us to confront are feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and not necessarily this issue. It's maybe important but not essential."

Hill was one of the pastors who signed Friday's statement.

Three weeks ago, over 80 Methodist clergy—representing all five jurisdictions and more than 30 Annual Conferences—released a statement saying that the church is in the midst of major crises, and proposing that the denomination be split into Traditional and Progressive sects.

"It is time to recognize that traditionalists and progressives are pursuing divergent paths as we try to follow Christ and be faithful to what we understand to be the Gospel," they wrote.

"Though there are deeper issues that divide us, our differences, unfortunately, have now come to the fore around the subjects of marriage and human sexuality."

The 80 Methodist leaders said that there is no middle ground or compromise that can be made between those who believe in biblical marriage, and those who include gay clergy and same-sex couples in the Body of Christ. For these leaders, the only acceptable answer is for the Methodist church to split.

Pastor Hill and hundreds of other pastors hope there is another solution.

"There have always been people who have been fringe groups, you have people who are pro-gay and anti-gay," Pastor Fred Ball of First United Methodist Church in Titusville told Florida Today.

"I don't see room for [division]. We are pro-people. We've been loving the community where they are for 100 years."

Methodist church member Mac McInnis said he hasn't heard talk of the denomination splitting, but isn't surprised.

"It seems like the whole nation is divided right now," he said.

According to a poll by Corporate Research and Research Now, more than 90 percent of United Methodist Church members believe the church should not split.

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