The United Methodist Church approved a plan Tuesday that tightens restrictions on ordaining openly gay clergy and marrying same-sex couples inside churches.
In a special session held in St. Louis, the church's top lawmaking body approved the Traditional Plan, which maintains the church’s prohibitions against self-avowed practicing gay clergy and same-gender weddings, while voting down the One Church Plan, which would have lifted those restrictions and allowed decisions on the issues to be made by local churches and conferences.
Following the vote, Charleston area pastors who favored the One Church Plan called the church's decision disheartening. LGBTQ advocates sang "Blessed Assurance," the denomination tweeted.
The Rev. Susan Leonard, pastor of Bethel UMC downtown, said the One Church Plan was a way to unify the church, while also giving congregations the flexibility to operate based on their local context.
After the conference's initial vote that paved the way for the Traditional Plan, Leonard said the vote moved the church backward.
"We are clearly a divided church on matters of human sexuality and whether we will be an open and affirming church, welcoming fully our brothers and sisters who would identify themselves as LGBTQ," Leonard said. "In my opinion, if we cannot gather around the One Church Plan, it would be far better to retain the discipline as it presently exists, without this more punitive language and consequences."
The Traditional Plan, which reinforces the church's Book of Discipline that states the church "does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching," passed 438-384.
Some Lowcountry Methodists support the Traditional Plan. Jackie Jenkins, a lay delegate from a Methodist Church in Reevesville, said that the denomination's support of the conservative proposal shows that the church is affirming the Gospel.
“My heart is sad because there are some people who will leave here hurt, but I celebrate that we stand firm on the Gospel," Jenkins said.
Though the One Church plan, which would have left it up to local churches and conferences to make decisions about same-sex weddings and ordaining openly gay clergy, had support from the denomination's Council of Bishops, the plan didn't move beyond the legislative committee Monday after delegates denied it 436-386.
Members from Two Rivers Church, A United Methodist Community, reaffirmed their commitment Tuesday to embrace people of different backgrounds after the church initially approved the Traditional Plan.
"Am I shocked that (the Traditional Plan) has so much support? No I'm not," said Stanton Adams, the church's director of communications. "There certainly seems to be an affirmation of just how divided we are on the issue.”
In the past several years, Methodist churches have left the denomination due the church's ongoing conversation around human sexuality. Several faith groups, such as Presbyterians and the Episcopal Church, have had to make decisions about the church's stance on homosexuality in recent years.
Leaders of Two Rivers said Tuesday before the final vote that they hadn't had any formal discussions about what they would do if the church officially adopted the Traditional Plan. But they committed to maintaining their values.
“Openness, full inclusion, valuing the sacred worth of every person is a Gospel message that changes lives, that saves lives, that creates a beautiful community," said the Rev. Wendy Hudson-Jacoby, pastor of Two Rivers. "Because of our commitment, because of our core values. We have hope going forward.”
Editor's note: A previous version of this story misquoted the 2016 Book of Discipline. The passage should have read, "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."