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May 5, 2000 GC-021

Church will draw closer on homosexuality issue, Bishop Oden says

CLEVELAND (UMNS) - While some pundits forecast schism, the new president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops predicts that the church "will be drawn closer together" as General Conference addresses the issue of homosexuality.

"I am not a voting delegate, and I can't predict what will happen to every piece of legislation," said William Oden, bishop of the church's Dallas Area. "But I believe we will be closer together after this conference as a result of our discussions (on homosexuality)."

Oden's remarks came during a press conference held shortly after he took the helm as president of the denomination's Council of Bishops. The president serves a one-year term. President-elect Elias Galvan, bishop of the Seattle Area, will succeed Oden next year.

Besides the issue of homosexuality, Oden commented on several other key issues facing delegates to United Methodism's top legislative body, including: the church's global nature; the act of repentance for racism service held May 4; global poverty; theological education around the world; and a proposed television campaign to heighten public awareness of the church and its worldwide mission.

The 992 delegates to the General Conference are meeting May 2-12 at the Cleveland Convention Center. The assembly meets every four years.

A centerpiece of the delegates' work is the review of a report to change the denomination's organizational structure. Oden did not endorse or criticize specific legislation, but challenged delegates to help the denomination embrace its global nature, particularly in light of rapid church growth outside the United States.

No longer is the denomination "an American church with mission outposts in other countries," Oden said. "We're waking up to the fact that if we are truly to call ourselves a global church, we must invite our churches in Europe, Africa and Asia to take their rightful place as partners and leaders in ministry."

The church has 8.4 million members in the United States, but its fastest growth is occurring in other parts of the world, where it has another 1.2 million members.

Oden applauded the May 4 worship service in which delegates, donning symbols of sackcloth and ashes, apologized for the racism that has plagued the extended Methodist family. However, he said, the church must find ways to move from ritual to response.

For their part, Oden said United Methodist bishops will continue their pan-Methodist work and dialogue with bishops from the three historically black denominations that were started because of racial segregation in the parent Methodist Church. Those denominations are the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches.

Oden challenged local churches and members to initiate dialogue and acts of repentance in their own congregations and communities.

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-- M. Garlinda Burton

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