Homosexuality will not go away by voting it off the island.
This week, the United Methodist Church took a vote on whether or not it would permit a church in Pittsburgh or Poughkeepsie, Portland, Ore., or Paris to celebrate a same-sex wedding or hire a minister who is openly gay.
There were 823 delegates to the general conference in St. Louis, Mo., who cast votes on the issue, representing the lives and souls of more than 12 million Methodists around the globe, the vast majority of which are Americans.
The answer was no. A difference of 75 votes decided that a gay man or a lesbian could not lead a congregation or that the love of two people needed more qualification than just “two people.”
And that is the right of a church. A church is more than a building and bigger than a club. Its walls are the linked arms of the people and the roof is the belief that they share. Its ability to worship according to that framework is not just something that we respect. It’s something that we spelled out in the Bill of Rights as among the most important things we agreed upon when the country was founded.
The Methodists can decide that supporting their LGBTQ members and clergy is not something they can do, and that doesn’t have to be seen as a message of hate or intolerance. It can simply be a reflection of their profoundly held religious beliefs.
Or at least the beliefs of 56 percent of the delegates.
But what it could mean is a splintering of another kind of belief — the faith the people representing the other 46 percent have in those linked arms and that shared roof.
The church’s Council of Bishops supported a plan that would leave the marriage and ordination questions to be addressed more locally. The reason, they said, was to avert a schism, the kind of soul-deep crack that has broken other churches apart.
What is tragic is that at a time when belief is in short supply and people are disconnected by technology and tribalism that even churches can’t find a way to reach out to their own people and find a way to draw them close instead of slamming a door.
Because homosexuality won’t go away because of disagreement or dissension. It never has in human history. But people? People can go away, and a church without its people is a roof without walls.