Representatives of the 8.6 million- member United Methodist Church, America's second-largest Protestant denomination, meeting in April for their quadrennial ten-day general conference, approved new ways of doing church, supported a broader ecumenicism, agreed to evaluate the church's structure and government, and reaffirmed traditional positions on homosexuality.

Gathering in Denver under a large banner reading "In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity," 998 official voting delegates did not agree on everything, but they did remain united and surprisingly calm as committees slogged through an unprecedented 3,070 petitions.

The conferees also gave a warm welcome to First Lady Hillary Clinton, a lifelong Methodist. During a 31-minute speech, Clinton talked about the importance of personal salvation, the urgency of faith-based social action, and the uniqueness of American Methodism. "One of the reasons I'm a Methodist is because I believe disagreements are a part of life," the first lady said.

HOMOSEXUALITY DEBATE: The one issue where arguments nearly boiled over was homosexuality, a subject that United Methodists have debated at every general conference since 1972. Some Methodists had argued that they should not meet in Colorado, the state where voters passed the homosexual rights limitation measure Amendment 2 in 1992 (see related story in this issue).

In her opening episcopal address, the first such address delivered by a woman, Bishop Judith Craig called United Methodists to open the doors of the church. Days later, Craig and 14 other bishops released a statement calling for the church to ordain homosexuals.

The denomination's Council of Bishops responded by issuing a statement reaffirming the church's ...

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