United Methodists on Thursday voted to keep an anti-gay policy, despite fierce lobbying from gay rights groups.

The Washington Post reported that the nearly 1,000 delegates gathered for the United Methodist Church's (UMC) General Conference in Tampa, Florida rejected two proposals which sought to soften the church's opposition to homosexuality.

The proposals sought to replace the denomination's stance that homosexual acts are “incompatible with Christian teaching” in the Book of Discipline with more ambiguous statements on homosexuality, such as stating that church members differ about “whether homosexual practices [are] contrary to the will of God.”

Delegates on Friday are expected to consider proposals aimed at dismantling the church's bans on noncelibate gay clergy and gay marriage.

Lay delegate Jennifer Ihlo from the Baltimore/Washington Conference argued in favor of altering the “incompatible” phrase.

“I want to be clear that this is not an abstract issue,” the paper quoted Ihlo as saying. “This is about people who are being harmed by the church and by the use of the 'incompatibility' language.”

“I am a lesbian and a child of God and I strongly urge the body to support this compromise language so that gay youth … will recognize that the church loves them and God loves them and the violence and pain and suicide will stop.”

While UMC is the nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination, power is increasingly shifting to more conservative churches in Africa and Asia as United Methodism shrinks in the United States.

One delegate from Africa condemned homosexuality, comparing it to bestiality.