Disagreements between different factions within the United Methodist Church, mainly over whether the church should allow same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy, have led to a split.
On Friday, January 3, leaders of the United Methodist Church formally announced plans for splitting the church. The reason? A fundamental divide between more liberal members who support allowing the church to hire gay and lesbian clergy and provide marriages between same-sex couples, and conservative members who oppose both changes.
After a vote taken at last year’s General Conference of the United Methodist Church favored continuing to ban same-sex marriage and gay clergy, but only by a slim margin — only 53 percent voted in favor of what is known as the Traditional Plan — many saw a decision like this as inevitable.
“We tried to look for ways that we could gracefully live together with all our differences,” Louisiana Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey told the New York Times. “It just didn’t look like that was even possible anymore.”
Bishop Harvey and 15 other Methodist church leaders worked together to come up with the plan for a split. Harvey told the New York Times that the plan is “the best means to resolve our differences, allowing each part of the church to remain true to its theological understanding.”
The plan, which was formalized in a two-day meeting at a Washington, DC law office, was created with the participation of UMC leaders from both the United States and abroad, including representatives from Europe, Africa, and the Philippines. The main focus of the meeting was to determine how to split up the church’s assets and create a well-defined separation process.
The plan must still be approved at this year’s General Conference in May, but based on response from church members to the announcement, it seems approval is likely.
Under this plan, it’s expected that most United Methodist congregations within the United States will remain part of the United Methodist Church, which will become more liberal. Meanwhile, the more conservative congregations within the UMC, many of which are outside the US and from places where LGBTQ people aren’t as accepted, will form at least one “Traditionalist Methodist” denomination, which will continue to ban same-sex marriage and gay clergy.
“The solution that we received is a welcome relief to the conflict we have been experiencing,” Rev. Tom Berlin of Herndon, VA’s Floris United Methodist Church told the New York Times. Berlin has been a leader in the movement to allow greater LGBTQ acceptance within the church. “I am very encouraged that the United Methodist Church found a way to offer a resolution to a long conflict.”
Meanwhile, conservative groups within the United Methodist Church seem just as happy with the terms of the split. “It is not everything that we would have hoped for, but we think it is a good agreement that gets us out of the decades-long conflict that we have experienced and enables us to focus on ministry in a positive way,” Tom Lambrecht of conservative United Methodist group Good News told the New York Times.
Most importantly, the many LGBTQ members of the United Methodist Church were relieved to hear of the plan. JJ Warren, a gay United Methodist member whose impassioned speech in support of LGBTQ acceptance at last year’s General Conference went viral, was thankful that this decision would make it possible for him to become an ordained pastor within the church.
Speaking to Huffington Post, he said that he’d hoped the church could remain united, but felt that the terms of the split were “the next best thing.” Warren said it has the “potential to unshackle the church from our decades of infighting and allow us to seek justice for queer people, people of color, and to correct our neocolonial US-centric governance structure.”
While he pointed out that, in light of the fact that gay babies will continue to be born in both factions of the UMC, the fight for full acceptance will continue, his overall response was a positive one. “This Protocol would allow the broader UMC to come to terms with, repent, and reform toward justice.”
Top Photo via Centenary United Methodist Church/Facebook