United Methodist Church looks to split over LGBTQ issues

Church leaders worked with an expert mediator to draft a proposal, to be voted on in May 2020, that would split the UMC into pro-LGBTQ and anti-LGBTQ denominations.
Image: UMC Session
Protesters at the United Methodist Church's special session of the general conference in St. Louis on Feb. 26, 2019.Sid Hastings / AP
By Tim Fitzsimons

The United Methodist Church has proposed splitting into separate entities in order to resolve long-standing disagreements over the issues of same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay clergy, according to a statement shared Friday by the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

The proposal, titled Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace through Separation, notes that the church failed to reconcile its schism in prior meetings and has reached “an impasse.”

“...the Church’s witness and mission is being impeded, and the Church itself as well as its members have been injured,” the nine-page document says.

The proposal’s 16 signatories, most of them bishops and reverends within the global UMC, found “restructuring The United Methodist Church by separation as 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.”

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The separation proposal will be voted on at the May general conference in Minneapolis. As it stands now, the UMC is the third largest U.S. religious denomination with 13 million faithful. An additional 80 million United Methodists live in other countries around the world.

JJ Warren, an author and prominent LGBTQ activist within the UMC, said he's "in favor" of Friday’s proposal.

“It gives us an opportunity to say: go off and you can practice how you need to practice and we can practice how we need to practice,” he told NBC News.

Warren said if the proposal were passed, each congregation will have the opportunity to vote whether to join the “conservative church or any other new branch that forms, but no one has to vote to stay.” The proposal designates $25 million in funding for the “traditionalist Methodist denomination” that may emerge from the split so that these churches drop any future claims to church assets, such as property.

“Given that we have been at an impasse, this is a grace-filled way to move forward,” said Bishop Karen P. Oliveto, the first openly gay person to be ordained bishop in the UMC. “For one, LGBTQ lives will no longer be held as scapegoats for divisions in the church.”

Oliveto said she’s optimistic that the proposal will pass, in part because so many parties had a hand in drafting it.

“Right now, we see that about 70 percent of the U.S. church is solidly in favor of a more inclusive church,” she said. If the proposal were to pass, Oliveto said she hopes the church "can more effectively share God’s love with the world.”

While Warren said he is confident that a separation would result in a UMC that is more accepting of LGBTQ people, he stressed that this would not be the end of his work.

“Gay babies will be born in whatever church or churches come out of this, so the work will always continue,” he said.

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