Chicago — The United Methodist Church worldwide conference made a decision Tuesday that pleased traditionalists, but raised doubts about the church's modern motto: open hearts, open minds, open doors.
On Tuesday, after three days of debate, church officials and lay members voted to place a ban on gay and lesbian clerics and the officiating of same-sex marriages.
Traditionalists said loosening the faith's ban on same-sex marriage and ordination of gay and lesbian clergy defied the word of God. Reverend Keith Boyette, the Wesleyan Covenant Association first president, said LGBT members are welcome into the church — up to a point.
"I believe that those who engage in the practice of homosexuality are not living a life that pleases God," Boyette said.
Amid an emotional debate among the United States' third-largest faith community, new standards were adopted to stiffen punishment for heretics: Clergy who officiate at same-sex weddings could be suspended without pay for a year, and defrocked if they do it again.
The church leaders and members who support LGBT involvement wanted local congregations free to write their own rules on homosexuals. Reverend Thomas Berlin, who is the lead pastor of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia, said tradition for tradition's sake is self-destructive.
"You will be putting a virus into the American church that will make it very sick, and it will be sick quickly," Berlin said. "Many of us have members who will leave and have already notified us to tell us so."
But delegates were mindful of where the church is growing -- 30 percent of members are from Africa -- where many nations outlaw homosexuality itself.
Matthew Pearson, an openly gay methodist minister from California who rejects the traditional plan, said it's possible a new church is being born.
"We are prepared to live into our full calling as a church," Pearson said. "What that looks like at this point, I don't know."