United Methodist Group Proposes a Denominational Breakup Over Issue of LGBT Policy

United Methodist delegates who advocated for LGBTQ inclusiveness gather to protest the adoption of the Traditional Plan on Feb. 26, 2019, during the special session of the UMC General Conference in St. Louis. RNS photo by Kit Doyle

A dozen United Methodists meeting secretly in Indianapolis earlier this summer have unveiled a blueprint for spinning off one or two new denominations, hoping to put an end to decades of battles over LGBTQ inclusion.

The plan would allow the United Methodist Church to create a new, fully independent body for more conservative or traditional churches while preserving the current denomination as centrist/liberal in orientation. Each would have its own structures, policies and finances but share a common Methodist heritage.

The group’s members, who first met at an Indianapolis church in late June, started out with a conviction that a split in the 12 million-member global denomination was inevitable.

“We began by asking, ‘If a separation is going to occur, how might it occur?’” said Keith Boyette, one of the conveners. Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a conservative group that supports a ban on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings in the church.

The Indianapolis group was one of many that have gathered to consider the future of the beleaguered denomination in the wake of what may have been the most contentious United Methodist meeting in its 51-year-history — February’s General Conference in St. Louis, at which a majority of delegates voted to strengthen the ban on gay and lesbian ordination and same-sex marriages.

The close vote — 53% to 47% — unleashed a wave of anger and resentment among the denomination’s centrist and liberal wings, with public protests, defiant clergy conducting same-sex weddings and churches withholding dues to the denomination.

Governing such a divided group would be a huge challenge.

Boyette had a good rapport with Kent Millard, who calls himself a centrist and is president of United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, one of 13 United Methodist theological schools. The two began talking about bringing together a group of people from both camps to talk about a negotiated separation. The group’s 13 members included five conservatives and eight Methodists who are more liberal.

“It’s a practical plan that promotes peace and fairness,” said the Rev. Darren Cushman Wood, pastor of Indianapolis’ North United Methodist Church, where the group met.

The proposal put together by the group would not dissolve the United Methodist Church or require amending its constitution. Instead, the denomination would create a new legal entity for traditionalists.

Under the plan, the United Methodist Church would change its name. It would also make changes to the denomination’s rulebook. Most notably, it would delete a statement that says the “practice of homosexuality” is “incompatible” with Christian teaching.

Regional bodies called “conferences” would then have a choice of aligning with either the traditionalist or what it calls the “centrist/progressive” denomination.

The same would be true of the church’s overseas conferences, mainly in Africa and the Philippines. Individual churches unhappy with the way their regional bodies have aligned could then decide to affiliate with the alternative denomination.

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Source: Religion News Service