(WBIR-Knoxville) Same sex marriage is now legal in 19 states but many churches reject gay marriage on moral grounds.

Last month, some pastors across the country called for a split in the United Methodist Church over the issue.

A regional meeting of United Methodist Church leaders just wrapped up with about 900 churches represented. That includes the churches here in East Tennessee. The Holston Annual Conference made a statement of unity opposing a split in the church.

"We affirmed our unity in Jesus Christ. And though we may differ on a lot of different subjects we won't let those differences divide us," Rev. Nathan Malone said.

Reverend Nathan Malone is the Knoxville District Superintendent.

"When we are at our best in the United Methodist Church and really as Christians everywhere we don't let our differences divide us. We're willing to talk but we're willing to stay together even as we have difference on whatever issues," he said.

The Book Of Discipline outlines the church's beliefs. It says the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and it does not allow ministers to conduct same sex unions.

"And yet we also affirm that every person is of sacred worth and therefore to be loved and to be accepted and so we try to focus there," he said. "This is just one issue among many at which conversations are happening on a local church level as well as a national level all the time."

Reverend Malone says Methodists are open to conversation with those who don't agree.

"We have differences among us and that's a good thing. The key is that we not let our difference divide us."

The United Methodist General Conference is the only entity that speaks for the entire church and it meets only every four years. So 2016 is the earliest the church could officially affirm or change its stand.

The United Methodist Church is the third largest Christian denomination in the U.S. Only the Catholic and Baptist churches claim more members.