Methodists to split over same-sex marriage
The United Methodist Church proposes to create a new “traditionalist Methodist” denomination, as leaders say it is “the best means to resolve our differences”.
WASHINGTON D.C. · 07 JANUARY 2020 · 18:10 CET
Leaders of the United Methodist Church (UMC) announced on Friday a plan to formally split the church, due to “fundamental differences” over same-sex marriage and gay clergy.
The proposal of 16 UMC bishops and leaders on both sides of the debate, set out the path to create a new “traditionalist Methodist” denomination for those who hold to a conservative-Biblical view on marriage.
“THE BEST MEANS TO RESOLVE OUR DIFFERENCES”
This new denomination would get $25 million in funds over the next four years, and keep its local church properties and the clergy pensions.
They also agreed to “allocate $39 million over eight years, to support communities historically marginalized by the sin of racism, to strengthen Asian, Black, Hispanic-Latino, Native American and Pacific Islander ministries, as well as Africa University”.
The nine-page document called 'Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation' released on Friday, states that a separation is “the best means to resolve our differences, allowing each part of the Church to remain true to its theological understanding, while recognizing the dignity, equality, integrity, and respect of every person”.
“THE LINE IN THE SAND HAD TURN INTO A CANYON”
The agreement comes less than a year after the global UMC conference in San Louis, in February 2019, where the participants approved to maintain a conservative position regarding marriage, in a tight vote, against the will of most US representatives.
At that time, a survey by the UMC itself showed that 44% of the Methodists considered themselves conservative regarding the vision of marriage, and only 20% supported the liberal and inclusive positions.
“It became clear that the line in the sand had turned into a canyon. The impasse is such that we have come to the realization that we just can’t stay that way any longer”, said Thomas Bickerton, New York Conference Bishop and one of the agreement writers.
According to Bickerton, “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”.
TO BE APPROVE AT THE 2020 CONFERENCE IN MAY
Meanwhile, Jan Lawrence, the executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network and another agreement signatory, stressed his satisfaction. “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.
Although the proposal must be approved at the 2020 Conference in May, the traditionalist Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) has already taken steps towards the new denomination, such as drafting a book of policies and doctrines.
“I believe this is a fair and equitable solution that puts decades of conflict behind us and gives us a hopeful future”, Keith Boyette, WCA president, who was also part of the group developing the proposal, pointed out.
“MAINLY SECULAR NEGOTIATIONS”
Methodism is the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States and dates to the early 1700s. It has split many times, most notably over slavery before the Civil War. Membership is varied demographically and politically.
The proposal was reached with the help of lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who worked on the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
“Despite the deep doctrinal disputes that led to the split, the negotiations were largely secular: process, governance, finances”, said Feinberg.
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