HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Testimony given at a state-wide church conference has the Methodist Church battling with an internal controversial issue - homosexuality and its place in religion.
"We spent many hours talking about our faith and our faiths journeys," said Connie Campbell, in her June 12 testimony in Jackson, now on YouTube, along with her partner Renee Sappington, "we were really in the same place, both of us having to come to the point where we realized that being true to God meant being true to ourselves."
Those are some of the words setting off a firestorm within Methodist Churches across the state of Mississippi, because the two women giving the testimony are lesbians, as well as members of the church. The testimony was given to show how the church has opened its doors and welcomed in people from all walks of life. A child testified as well as an interracial couple.
"We joined to the church and felt very welcomed," said Sappington.
Connie Campbell and her partner of 11 years, Renee Sappington, were part of the United Methodist Church's Annual Conference, held in Jackson in June, where they gave their testimony of how they found a church home at Parkway Hills United Methodist Church in Madison and were welcomed by the congregation. The two even exchanged vows in their church's parking lot. Their testimony is now on YouTube.
"We have found a community that values our presence, insights and our gifts," Sappington said.
Now the welcoming has some church leaders concerned about the direction the Methodist Church is going.
Thursday morning, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, the state leader of the denomination was in Hattiesburg at Parkway Heights United Methodist meeting with church members as well as church leaders from across the state. Some accused the church of embracing a sin while others said the church should be open to diversity.
"It's always important for people to speak with one another about matters that are important in our shared life," said Ward.
During the fellowship hall gathering, stances on the issue were across the spectrum, ranging from how a church should be centered on love to an attack of the churche's values.
"We realize in some churches in this very denomination we would be denied membership," Sappington said.
"We gathered in hope that our shared life could be strengthened as we speak to one another in love," Ward said.
Anna Davis, a member of the Hattiesburg LGBT community said, "I do believe it's a good thing the church is starting to talk about this issue. It's a real issue, and the fact they're finally talking about it is tremendous."
She added, "We have no doubt that God embraces who we are and blesses our relationship, that God's doors are open even when the church's doors sometimes aren't."
During the gathering, one church member asked the Bishop to resign immediately for betraying the church and allowing the testimony to be given. Bishop Ward never answered the direct question of whether she believed homosexuality was a sin; she would only say it is incompatible with the Methodist Church which is stated in the church's Book of Discipline.
Also stated in the book is not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends, which is where the church is now struggling to find a balance.