Hot button political issues ranging from Immigration to gay and transgender youth brought out division among participants of the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church as it wrapped up its annual meeting in Greenville on Wednesday.
Most of the controversies were dealt with through non-binding resolutions by the roughly 2,000 members of the conference at the TD Center, but not without passionate dissent.
Some ministers spoke in favor of deferring to the tougher stance on immigration of the new administration in Washington, citing biblical dictates that Christians should follow government rules.
But other ministers and lay people said Jesus never asked to see papers before accepting strangers.
The conference approved the resolution which expresses support for immigrants and calls on policy leaders to develop comprehensive immigration reform.
They also approved a resolution condemning what members said was a federal ban on Muslims.
The Rev. Keith Sweat, who retired from a Ware Shoals church this week, attempted Wednesday to bring back his proposal to sever the state conference from the greater United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church is moving toward a decision in 2019 on how to keep the global church together amid deep differences on homosexuality. Bishops will meet that year to deal with issues of sexuality and church unity.
Bishop Jonathan Holston, who presided over the conference, reiterated his earlier ruling that a state conference could not weigh in on such a major issue and it would violate his oaths to the church to consider it.
In other issues:
Worshipers also voted to approve a resolution that explicitly says LGBTQ youth are included in the church as part of "all at-risk youth." Several people opposed to the amendment said it shouldn’t be necessary to say both phrases. But others said the specific acknowledgement would open the church’s doors to people who may not otherwise believe they are welcome, even with the language of "all."
Trinity United Methodist Church in Charleston apologized to Centenary United Methodist to start making amends for racial discrimination that led black members to form their own church. The state conference initially opposed the motion, saying it should have been a local issue rather than a state issue, but after a language change, the state conference supported the motion.
As part of a yearlong effort to do missionary work as part of the conference, the conference raised enough money to build six homes for needy through Homes for Hope. The conference’s churches also collected more than 1,500 bicycles to be shipped across the world for the needy, as well as 100 each for missions in Greenville and Anderson.
The conference raised a total of more than $40,000 separately in offerings throughout the week for Imagine No Malaria, flood assistance through Disaster Response and Disaster Recovery ministries as well as for the Seminary Students Scholarship Fund.
The conference will be back in Greenville at the TD Convention Center in 2018 and 2019. It has been more than a half century since Methodists in the state have gathered in Greenville. The conference went off smooth, said the Rev. Scott Smoak, an organizer. He said members have been visiting restaurants, hotels and even ball games this week in Greenville.
Conference members voted against a resolution that would have supported opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline in South Dakota.