Is the “practice of homosexuality” compatible with Christian teaching? That question is at the center of a debate between progressive and conservative members of the United Methodist Church, the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States. This debate is taking place as states and the U.S. Supreme Court are considering whether same-sex marriages are constitutional. “A Church Divided” introduces viewers to the clergy, the couples and the congregations battling to influence Methodists’ official policy toward gays and lesbians. This documentary is produced in collaboration with KQED.
Here are the five largest U.S. Christian churches’ views on homosexuality:
Catholicism in the U.S., with 68 million faithful, opposes same-sex marriage. In 2003, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced same-sex unions on the grounds that “they do not express full human complementarity and because they are inherently nonprocreative.” In 2009, the bishops reaffirmed that marriage is a “bond between one man and one woman.”
The Southern Baptist Convention, with more than 16 million members, condemns homosexuality. Its official statement says: “Homosexuality is not a ‘valid alternative lifestyle.’ The Bible condemns it as sin.”
During the 2012 global convention of the United Methodist Church, with nearly 7.7 million members, delegates voted down a resolution that would have removed a phrase from the Book of Discipline saying homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Church leaders in the U.S. region west of the Rockies subsequently voted to support pastors who defy church law and perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, and bishops and other clergy should minister to parishioners as if the statement did “not exist.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with about 6.2 million members, considers marriage to exist only between a man and a woman, and sex outside such an arrangement is a “serious sin.”
The Church of God in Christ “consistently, utterly rejects and uncompromisingly denounces the practice of homosexuality,” according to a statement on its website. The predominantly African American church has nearly 5.5 million members.
Here is a sampling of other churches’ views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage:
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with about 4.3 million members, voted to ordain gay and lesbian pastors in 2009. Previous policy had allowed gay and lesbian pastors as long as they remained celibate. Although the church’s position concerning same-sex couples does not use the term “marriage,” it does state the denomination will support congregations that choose to “recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships.” The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has condemned the ELCA stance, saying same-sex marriage is “contrary to the will of the Creator.”
In July, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church “voted to neither re-affirm nor change the denomination’s definition of marriage as ‘a civil contract between a woman and a man,’ ” according to a statement on the church’s website. Instead, church leaders approved a two-year study of Christian marriage.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, with more than 1 million members, opposes homosexuality. Its official statement on the matter, last revised in October, states: “The Bible makes no accommodation for homosexual activity or relationships.”
The teachings of American Baptist Churches USA, with 1.3 million members, holds that “homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teaching.”
In 2009, bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, with nearly 2 million members, agreed to allow bishops the option of blessing same-sex marriages. In 2003, the U.S. branch of the church had appointed an openly gay bishop, the first in a major American faith.
The United Church of Christ, with more than 1 million members, does not generally impose doctrine upon congregations. However, the church has issued a resolution condemning discrimination based on sexual orientation and another calling for equal marriage rights for all.
Adithya Sambamurthy is a video producer for Reveal, with a background in photojournalism and documentary film. He joined Reveal after working as a staff photographer for The Bay Citizen, a nonprofit journalism organization that merged with The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2012. Sambamurthy previously worked on documentaries for National Geographic, PBS FRONTLINE/World and numerous independent productions. He also worked as a photojournalist at the San Jose Mercury News in California; The News-Press of Fort Myers, Florida; and the St. Petersburg (now Tampa Bay) Times. Since joining Reveal, he has produced, shot and edited stories for the website, as well as for a number of Reveal's broadcast and online partners, including the PBS NewsHour, KQED public television and ABC News. Sambamurthy has been nominated for a national Emmy Award, shared in a George Foster Peabody Award and received commendations from the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.
Matt Smith is a reporter for Reveal, covering religion. Smith's two-decade career in journalism began at The Sacramento Union in California. He went on to positions at newspapers in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Twin Falls, Idaho; Fairfield, California; and Newport News, Virginia. Between 1994 and 1997, Smith covered Latin America as a reporter in Dow Jones & Co.'s Mexico City bureau. For 14 years, he was a lead columnist at Village Voice Media in San Francisco. He came to Reveal from The Bay Citizen. Smith holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Before his career in journalism, Smith was a professional bicycle racer. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.