United Methodist Church to split over LGBTQ issues

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NASHVILLE — A group of United Methodist Church leaders announced a plan for the denomination to split on Friday.

The news came out through a statement on UMNews, the denomination’s news service.

The church, the third largest denomination in the U.S., has been roiled by infighting ever since a conference a year ago voted to tighten restrictions on LGBTQ clergy and members. Since then, local congregations have protested, confirmation classes refused to be baptized, and institutions have cut ties.

New York Conference Bishop Thomas Bickerton, part of the group, said the 2019 special called General Conference in St. Louis underscored intensifying divisions and the need for amicable separation.

“It became clear that the line in the sand had turned into a canyon,” Bickerton said. “The impasse is such that we have come to the realization that we just can’t stay that way any longer.

“This protocol provides a pathway that acknowledges our differences, respects everyone in the process and graciously allows us to continue to live out the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, albeit in different expressions.”

The plan would allow the UMC to reorganize into regions with flexibility to adapt their own LGBTQ policies. Meanwhile, conservatives would establish a new denomination that would continue the restrictions currently in place.

UMNews said that the traditionalist Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) already has taken steps toward forming a new denomination, such as drafting a book of policies and doctrines. Bickerton and the Rev. Keith Boyette, WCA president, said the negotiating team’s assumption is that the new church would emerge out of the WCA.

Boyette was part of the group developing the proposal. He said traditionalists have long felt that divisions in The United Methodist Church were irreparable, and that an amicable separation was the best way forward.

Jan Lawrence, executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, was a member of the group and has signed on to the proposal.

“As a United Methodist who is LGBTQ, my priority at the table was to make sure we addressed the full participation of LGBTQ people in the life of the church, making sure the answer was not `ask us again in 2024,’” she said. “The language needs to be removed now. I am pleased that there is opportunity here for that to happen in 2020.”

The new proposal would allow other United Methodist churches to form their own denominations, while foreseeing agreements and cooperation in some areas.

Key elements of the proposal include:

  • The General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church would provide $25 million, over four years, “to the traditionalist Methodist denomination established pursuant to this protocol.” The new denomination would give up further claims to United Methodist assets, including those of general boards and agencies.
  • GCFA would escrow $2 million to help other potential new denominations.
  • To support communities historically marginalized by racism, GCFA would allocate $39 million over eight years to strengthen Asian, Black, Hispanic-Latino, Native American and Pacific Islander ministries, as well as Africa University. Of that total, $13 million would come from funds the separating traditionalist denomination chose to forgo.
  • After the 2020 General Conference, set for May 5-15 in Minneapolis, there would be a special General Conference for the remaining denomination. “The protocol also references a plan which calls for a special general conference of the post-separation United Methodist Church. The purpose of the Special Session would be to create regional conferences, remove the current prohibitions against LGBTQ persons, and to repeal the Traditional Plan,” said a press release from the negotiating group.
  • A (non-U.S.) central conference would be able to choose with a two-thirds vote to affiliate with a new Methodist denomination. The vote deadline would be December 31, 2021, and if no vote is taken the conference remains in The United Methodist Church.
  • An annual conference, whether in a central conference or U.S. jurisdictional conference, also could vote to affiliate with a new Methodist denomination. A vote of 20 percent or more at an annual conference session would be needed to have the disaffiliation vote, and a disaffiliation vote would have to pass by 57 percent. The disaffiliation vote deadline is July 1, 2021.
  • The leadership body of a local church considering disaffiliation could determine a threshold of a simple majority or two-thirds for the vote on whether to separate. Decisions about disaffiliation must be made by December 31, 2024.
  • A local church affiliating with another Methodist denomination “pursuant to the protocol” would keep its assets and liabilities.
  • The pension plans of The United Methodist Church would remain in place for all current clergy and lay employees, even if they affiliate with another Methodist denomination under the protocol.

The full nine-page proposal can be read here.

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