FAYETTEVILLE — Some church-goers are tackling a controversial subject in Fayetteville this weekend -- gays in the church. For years it has been one of the most contentious and divisive issues faced by Methodist congregations.
Convention members here in Fayetteville are considering a resolution that would re-affirm the church's opposition to same-sex marriages. The issue is so controversial that the bishop has suggested it be discussed privately, away from the public forum of the convention floor. He believes that may be the only way to keep both sides at the table, and keep them talking.
Although members of the Methodist church lifted a unified voice in song today, beneath the surface the issue of same-sex marriages threatens to divide them.
The church is walking a fine line. They welcome homosexuals into their congregations, yet they believe a gay lifestyle is incompatible with Christianity.
But ministers say they're also preaching a message of tolerance.
"We ought to care for those persons," says Harnett County pastor Kenneth Hall. "They are people for whom Christ died, but according to what I believe, according to the word of God, it is incompatible with Christian teaching."
"But yet the scripture also says that we should love everyone and in that sense I would say to our conservative members, let us love everyone," said Wilmington pastor Jim Reed.
A lesbian marriage performed in Nebraska by former Raleigh minister Jimmy Creech sparked the current controversy.
Creech defied a bishop's order by marrying the couple, but he was not formally disciplined by the church.
That incident created widespread confusion that now threatens the future of the Methodist Church.
"Some people are quite ill about it in some congregations," said convention attendee Bill Williams. "Some have threatened to withhold their giving, stuff like that, or even go to other churches."
Only the church's general conference could make a dramatic change like allowing same-sex marriages.
It banned gay marriages in 1996 and doesn't meet again until 2000.
Any resolution passed here in Fayetteville would be symbolic.