The United Methodist Church (UMC), which has at least 12 million followers around the world, is set to debate questions of equal marriage and the ordination of gay bishops as part of its General Conference.
Nearly 1,000 delegates from around the world have gathered in Tampa, Florida for the conference, which will continue until the 4th of May.
In anticipation of this, gay rights activists have printed and distributed leaflets urging their cause in at least five different languages, according to Houston Chronicle, including Portuguese and Swahili. Nearly 400 of the delegates will come from outside the United States, it is reported.
With memberships number on the decline, the UMC has been urged to become more inclusive to attract more members. Though in 1972, a phrase to the effect that homosexuality was “incompatible” with Christianity was added to the official compendium of the denomination’s doctrines, called the Book of Discipline, LGBT activists think that things are set to change.
For example, around 1,250 retired and active Methodist clergy have pledged support for equal marriages, with younger members of the Church feeling the same way.
However, traditionalists also feel that the tide is on their side, based simply on demographics, as, while memberships fall in the US, they continue to grow in Africa and Southeast Asia, where public opinion is overwhelmingly homophobic.
At the moment, only celibate gay clergy could be ordained within the church, and this issue is also expected to be raised in the General Conference.