Date: January 03, 2020 02:50PM
The United Methodist Church is expected to split into more than one denomination in an attempt to bring to a close a years-long and contentious fight over same-sex marriage.
The historic schism would divide the third-largest religious denomination in the United States.
Leaders of the church announced Friday they had agreed to spin off a “traditionalist Methodist” denomination, which would continue to oppose same-sex marriage and to refuse ordination to LGBT clergy, while allowing the remaining portion of the United Methodist Church to permit same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy for the first time in its history.
The plan would need to be approved in May at the denomination’s worldwide conference.
The larger divide is between American Methodists and foreign members of the United Methodist Church, especially churches in Africa. In a church that conducts all of its major decisions in churchwide votes, the much more conservative-leaning voters from Africa competed with American delegates who often fervently pushed for a change on same-sex marriage.
The writers of the plan called the division “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 United Methodist Church is the United States’ largest mainline Protestant denomination and among the only remaining such churches that still does not perform same-sex marriages. The church has fought bitterly about LGBT inclusion for years, and leaders often feared the fight would lead to a schism.
Friday’s announcement came as new sanctions were set to go into effect in the church, which would have made punishments for United Methodist Church pastors who perform same-sex weddings much more severe: one year’s suspension without pay for the first wedding and removal from the clergy for any wedding after that.
Instead, leaders from liberal and conservative wings signed an agreement saying they will postpone those sanctions and instead vote to split at the worldwide church’s May general conference.
They said the agreement was brokered by Kenneth Feinberg, the mediation expert who handled the compensation fund for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, among other major negotiations.
The agreement pledges $25 million to the new “traditionalist” denomination, which will break away from the United Methodist Church, a group that is likely to include most of the church’s congregations in Africa, as well as some in the United States. In exchange, Friday’s announcement said, the new denomination would drop any claim to United Methodist assets, such as church buildings.
Any local church that wants to join the new conservative denomination would have to conduct a vote within a specified time frame, the announcement said. A church would not need to vote to remain United Methodist.