By Ivey DeJesus
During the mid-19th century, the American Methodist church was so split over the issue of slavery that it splintered into two groups.
Almost 100 years would pass before the two sides reconciled under one church.
Now, another acrimonious debate threatens to do the same. The issue this time: gay marriage.
Over the past 40 years, the United Methodist Church leadership has come under pressure from within its ranks to lift its ban on same-sex marriage. Without fail, at each of its General Conferences, which brings church leaders together every four years, church leaders have struck down attempts to change church stance on gay marriage.
Gay rights advocates within the church, however, have not capitulated. Increasingly, a growing number of pastors and congregants continue to call for marriage equality in their church and even test the limits of church regulations.
Next month, that debate will play out in Pennsylvania, where a Lebanon County pastor is to stand trial on charges he violated church policy.
Under the stiffest penalties, the Rev. Frank Schaefer, pastor at Zion United Methodist Church of Iona, could lose his ordination credentials. Schaefer faces charges of marrying his son Tim and his gay partner in 2006 in Massachusetts.