The testimony of a same-sex couple at an annual gathering of United Methodists in Jackson has kindled a controversy over the church’s acceptance of homosexuals.
“If we’d known what kind of firestorm this would cause, we wouldn’t have done it,” said Connie Campbell, 43, of Jackson, who, along with her partner, Renee Sappington, 38, spoke at the June 12 worship service at the Mississippi Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“At the same time, I’m kind of thankful that we didn’t know, because it’s a conversation that might not have happened.”
The conversation followed a three-day conference that began June 12 and attracted 2,000 attendees, said Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, state leader of the denomination that claims more than 1,100 churches and 180,000 members in Mississippi.
“The response has been all over the spectrum,” Ward said. The force of the reaction, in the form of e-mails, blogs or phone calls to church leaders, has prompted her to invite clergy and lay members to a “dialogue” on the issue sometime in early July.
“The witness was not a challenge to the law of the church in any way,” Ward said in an interview this week. “But it was an invitation for us to live faithfully and lovingly with all people with whom our lives are intertwined, … people who may be different from ourselves.”
Although the church does not condone homosexuality, Ward said, “All people are of sacred worth and need the church in our struggle for human fulfillment.”
One critic of the women’s testimony is Donald Wildmon, a retired United Methodist minister and chairman of the Tupelo-based American Family Association, which claims more than 2 million online supporters and operates about 200 radio stations across the country.
In response to the women’s testimony, Wildmon wrote an open letter to Methodists, declaring that “the leadership in our church is promoting homosexual marriage.”
Originally, he wrote that he would no longer give money to the church. In a follow-up letter, he modified that stance, saying he would “designate where my giving to the local church goes.”
He also wrote that Campbell and Sappington’s “clear intent was to promote homosexual marriage in the United Methodist Church.”
In its Book of Discipline, the church states that it considers the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” It also states, “We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.”
In testifying at the conference, Campbell and Sappington were part of a roster of witnesses invited to speak about their struggles to be accepted by various congregations before finally finding a church home. The speakers included a teen in foster care and an interracial couple.
Videos of the conference’s services are available online at