Updated: July 06, 2021 05:42 AM GMT
Wesley Methodist Church in Penang is thought to have been built in 1891. (Photo: Church.com.my)
The Methodist Church in Malaysia has broken ranks with its British counterpart by refusing to endorse same-sex marriages.
In a decision that was deemed “momentous,” the Methodist Conference in the United Kingdom decided last week to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions as well with a vote of 254-46 in favor among the 300 delegates.
The decision means that ministers of the Methodist Church, which is Britain’s fourth-largest Christian denomination with more than 4,000 churches, can officially perform weddings for same-sex marriages, although they won’t be forced to do so if they oppose such unions out of religious conviction.
However, the Malaysian Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops has issued a statement in which it stresses that it is an autonomous entity and is not bound by the UK decision.
“Our Lord Jesus affirmed the institution of marriage as it should be between a man and a woman. Heterosexual marriage is God’s created order for humankind, and it is not something based on any culture of the past,” the statement said.
“It is a divine institution meant for all cultures of all times. Same-sex marriage does not find support in the Bible. The Bible is not only unsupportive of same-sex intercourse but it is against any sexual relationship that deviates from the one man-one woman sexual act within the context of marriage.”
The doors of our hearts and the doors of our churches are open to anyone who will come to be ministered to
The statement also emphasizes, however, that the Methodist Church in Malaysia will remain a welcoming place for people of all sexual orientations.
“We affirm our love for our neighbors. The doors of our hearts and the doors of our churches are open to anyone who will come to be ministered to and be on the way to being a true disciple of Jesus Christ our Lord,” it said.
At the same time, the Methodist Church in Malaysia cautioned that Christian members of the country’s LGBTQ community would not be allowed to perform any official functions within its ranks.
“We consider the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teachings,” it said. “However, we do recognize that homosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. The Church is committed to provide counseling, healing and guidance as well as the spiritual and emotional support of a caring fellowship.”
Malaysian society remains highly conservative over sexual mores, and homosexuality is widely viewed as a sin and moral failing in the predominantly Muslim country.
Gay rights activists have made some progress in recent years, however.
Both federal and state laws criminalize same-sex relations, but in February the country’s Federal Court ruled that a state law banning consensual same-sex conduct was unconstitutional.
The decision has effectively restricted the rights of agencies that enforce Islamic laws in individual states to persecute gays and lesbians over their sexual conduct in private.
The idea of same-sex marriages remains a contentious issue among Christian denominations
“In the face of pervasive anti-LGBT discourse, law, and policy, Malaysian activists are taking steps to whittle away at institutionalized discrimination. The Federal Court ruling is one small but significant step forward,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
The idea of same-sex marriages remains a contentious issue among Christian denominations even in liberal nations such as the UK.
Both the Church of England and the Catholic Church prohibit such unions, but the Scottish Episcopal Church, United Reformed Church and the Quakers in Britain perform such marriages.