Sierra Leone Conference of United Methodists Approves Separation Protocol

Bishop John K. Yambasu presides over a session of the Sierra Leone Conference meeting in Koidu City, Sierra Leone. Delegates endorsed a plan of amicable separation for The United Methodist Church and voted to send it to General Conference in May. Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert, UM News.

The Sierra Leone Conference voted overwhelmingly to be the second United Methodist annual conference to approve and send to the 2020 General Conference legislation for the protocol, a plan for an amicable separation of the denomination.

The Philippines Conference Cavite had earlier approved the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation. The Michigan Conference is meeting in special session March 7 to consider voting to send the protocol to General Conference, although Michigan is not expected to consider endorsing the protocol, only whether to send it to General Conference.

Members of the conference voted 322-0, with two abstentions, in favor of the protocol.

The proposal was developed after the official petition deadline for the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, scheduled May 5-15 in Minneapolis.

However, a little-used part of the Book of Discipline — the denomination’s policy book — lets annual conferences submit legislation later if they meet between 230 and 45 days before General Conference. For that reason, the protocol legislation had to be sent by an annual conference.

For almost 50 years, The United Methodist Church has been in sharp disagreement over the role of LGBTQ Christians in church leadership. “Practicing” LGBTQ people cannot be ordained and United Methodist churches and pastors are not allowed to officiate at same-sex weddings, nor can same-sex couples be married in a United Methodist church.

Each General Conference since 1972 — when that language was added to the Book of Discipline — has been punctuated by protests, tears and pain by those on both sides of this issue.

Sierra Leone Area Bishop John K. Yambasu, the African bishop who brought together traditionalist, centrist and progressives for the negotiations that resulted in the protocol, has spent many hours explaining the plan.

Yambasu said traditionalists do not condone homosexuality and believe that it is forbidden by the Bible.

He pointed to the conference members and asked: “How many of you are traditionalists?” Almost everyone raised their hand.

During his March 5 address to lay leaders, Yambasu called the three United Methodist viewpoints, “the new United Methodist Holy Trinity.”

Just as other historic documents produced since the very beginnings of the denomination, the protocol “is by no means a perfect document,” Yambasu said, adding that he has made that point in a variety of settings across the denomination.

Various other plans for the future of The United Methodist Church also will be before General Conference.

Liberian Bishop Samuel Quire preached during the opening worship service on March 4. At their annual conference on Feb. 14, Liberian United Methodists said they won’t support a proposed separation plan for The United Methodist Church without major amendments.

But both Quire and Yamabsu said separation is inevitable.

“The United Methodist Church is at a crossroads,” Quire said. “There is a time for everything — a time to be together and a time to part.”

Negotiators in the protocol group said the contentious special called 2019 General Conference in St. Louis underscored intensifying divisions and the need for amicable separation.

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Source: United Methodist News