Methodist church voids key vote on pro-LGBTQ church departures

After an investigation, the United Methodist Church found that four ballots were ineligible in a measure that passed 402-400.
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A rainbow flag flies along with the U.S. flag in front of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kansas on April 19, 2019.Charlie Riedel / AP file
By Tim Fitzsimons

The United Methodist Church announced that it has voided a vote that would have governed how congregations leave the faith over the issue of LGBTQ inclusion, citing “irregularities” in a measure that passed by just two votes in February.

In a press release released Saturday, the United Methodist Church said that an investigation uncovered that four people posed as absent delegates to cast votes at the February conference.

“Multiple pieces of evidence corroborated the conclusion that these four individuals improperly cast votes,” the press release said.

In February, Methodists met in St. Louis for a General Conference that was summoned in order to “resolve the longtime debate over the status of LGBTQ people” in the church.

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The church voted on multiple measures on the issue, including the "Traditional Plan," which passed by a vote of 438-384 and reaffirmed the church’s traditional stance on LGBTQ issues by banning same sex marriages and the ordination of gay clergy. The Traditional Plan goes into effect January 1, 2020 and is not impacted by the voided vote.

However, voting irregularities emerged over another part of a measure known as the “disaffiliation legislation,” which would have changed how congregations could choose to leave the United Methodist Church.

Following the implementation of the "Traditional Plan," LGBTQ-inclusive Methodist churches whose gay clergy and same-sex marriages will be banned, might be looking to leave the church. The “disaffiliation legislation” would have governed how they leave the church and whether they would be able to "take their buildings with them," according to UM News, a Methodist news service. With the process in limbo, it is not clear how these churches will go about breaking ties the the United Methodist Church.

Only this plank of the legislation had voting irregularities, and it is now up to the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council whether the wrongly-decided plank also means that the entire disaffiliation legislation must also be voided.

Kim Simpson, chair of the Commission on the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, said, “I know there are some poised and ready [to leave the UMC] because [the Traditional Plan] goes into effect January 1.” Simpson said that if the Council of Bishops refers the disaffiliation legislation voting issue to the Judicial Council, “they could decide that it needs to be voted on again.”

According to the church’s internal rules, “any possibility that invalid ballots might affect the result of a vote renders the entire ballot null and void,” and since the disaffiliation measure passed by a wafer thin margin of two votes — 402 to 400 — the four ineligible ballots render the entire ballot null and void.

“The Commission on the General Conference is committed to protecting the integrity of the legislative process,” said Simpson. “We’ve carefully and prayerfully reviewed the results of the investigation undertaken with oversight from the task force, and we are taking the necessary steps to strengthen our procedures and restore confidence in the process.”

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