COLLEYVILLE, Texas -- On a Tuesday in January, pastor Katie Lewis was surprised to have even 26 members of the United Methodist Church of Colleyville attend her study group on human sexuality and same-sex marriage.
In a group of mostly middle-aged white congregants, opinions ranged widely. One man said he felt pressure to accept LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage from "more liberal" members from the East and West coasts. Others quickly disputed that idea, saying the issue is a concern in Colleyville as well.
"Whether you know it or not, someone in your life is struggling to be accepted for who they are," one woman told the group.
Lewis said she felt the conversation was necessary ahead of the United Methodist General Conference this month in St. Louis. The conference meets every four years, but a special session was called to vote on a plan regarding same-sex marriage and the acceptance of LGBTQ clergy in the church.
The United Methodist Church faces the possibility of a schism because of the vote. It's inevitable that people will leave the church because of how polarizing the issue is, according to congregants, clergy and experts. It's also possible entire congregations could leave the denomination.
United Methodists represent the second-largest protestant denomination in the United States, behind churches that are part of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Lewis leads discussion using the Bible and the Book of Discipline, which is regarded as the law and doctrine of the United Methodist Church. She encourages attendees to think about how their life experiences have shaped their opinions and interpretations.
"There's a lot of lack of understanding about Scripture, and knowledge and experience," Lewis said. "This study is called 'Living Faithfully,' and my hope for our United Methodist Church is that whatever happens in February, love would be at the core."
After the 2016 General Conference, the Commission on a Way Forward was appointed to study Scripture and come up with plans addressing sexuality in United Methodist churches around the world. The commission's report notes that the church was founded in 1968 but the present-day language about human sexuality was added to the Book of Discipline in 1972. The Book of Discipline is updated and published after every general conference.
Of the three most prominent plans, the Council of Bishops recommends the One Church Plan, which would allow churches and pastors to make decisions based on their specific congregations and conferences.