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United Methodist Church Expected to Finalize Formal Split

United Methodist Church Expected to Finalize Formal Split

The Washington Post reports that there is a plan in place to split the United Methodist Church into at least two separate denominations.

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 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.”

… 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 both liberal and conservative wings of the church signed an agreement saying they will postpone those sanctions and instead vote to split at the worldwide church’s May general conference.

The Post article goes on to describe the financial implications of such a move.

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.

Churches that vote to leave could take certain assets with them.

An additional $2 million would go to any other new denomination that wishes to split from the church.

The plan also calls for $39 million “to ensure there is no disruption in supporting ministries for communities historically marginalized by racism.”

The UM News website further reports that the agreement is the result of consultations among “a diverse leaders’ group” which included representatives from a wide swath of the UMC.

New York Conference Bishop Thomas Bickerton, part of the group, said the contentious 2019 special called General Conference in St. Louis underscored intensifying divisions and the need for amicable separation.

“It became clear that the line in the sand had turned into a canyon,” Bickerton said. “The impasse is such that we have come to the realization that we just can’t stay that way any longer.

“This protocol provides a pathway that acknowledges our differences, respects everyone in the process and graciously allows us to continue to live out the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, albeit in different expressions.”

The plan looks toward a restructuring of the remaining global United Methodist Church into regions, with flexibility to adapt church policies, including on LGBTQ inclusion.

Meanwhile, traditionalists forming a new denomination could continue what they see as Bible-supported restrictions on same-sex marriage and ordination of gay persons as clergy.

The traditionalist Wesleyan Covenant Association already has taken steps toward forming a new denomination, such as drafting a book of policies and doctrines. Bickerton and the Rev. Keith Boyette, WCA president, said the negotiating team’s assumption is that the new church would emerge out of the WCA.

Boyette was part of the group developing the proposal. He said traditionalists have long felt that divisions in The United Methodist Church were irreparable, and that an amicable separation was the best way forward.

“I believe this is a fair and equitable solution that puts decades of conflict behind us and gives us a hopeful future,” he said.

Also negotiating and signing onto the agreement was Jan Lawrence, executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, which has long sought to remove restrictions against LGBTQ participation in the denomination.

“As a United Methodist who is LGBTQ, my priority at the table was to make sure we addressed the full participation of LGBTQ people in the life of the church, making sure the answer was not `ask us again in 2024,’” she said. “The language needs to be removed now. I am pleased that there is opportunity here for that to happen in 2020.”

The Protocol, which will have to be approved by this year’s General Conference, is available here.


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Thomas Rightmyer

I hope than in the process of division the work of the ecumenical dialogues, particularly the UNC Episcopal proposed full communion agreement, is not lost. I was part of the North Carolina UMC-TEC dialogue in the 1990’s; some of our work is included in the national proposal. Like the full communion /shared ministry agreements the Episcopal Church has with the ELCA and the Moravian Church, the UMC – TEC proposal has potential to really help with ministry in small and rural churches. For almost 2 years I served in a joint Lutheran / Episcopal congregation in Newland, NC, in the mountains of Avery County. That congregation hs witnessed to the love of God in Jesus our Savior for more than 40 years. The Episcopal Church uses more part-time and supply clergy; the UNC tends to share clergy among 3 or more point “charges.” The potential for more local ministry is great. I hope it does not get lost in the resolution of the internal UMC conflict over sex.

Jay Croft

I think Mr. Rightmyer means “UMC,” not “UNC,” which of course stands for the University of North Carolina.

JC Fisher

It hurts me to see even *1c* given in aid of homophobic hatred.

However, there can be no unity in being “United” w/ such demonic homophobia, and I can see how LGBTQ-affirming Methodists would be able to give almost ANYTHING to be rid of it.

I welcome affirming Methodists into the Holy Spirit-filled light of day!

Thomas Rightmyer

I think this comment needs to be removed. “Demonic homophobia” is hate speech.

Jay Croft

This is going to be interesting. First, there will be, apparently, a LOT of money tossed around. Can their national church structure afford this?

Second, in cities or areas with more than one Methodist church, there will be large shifts of membership, both ways. In rural areas some difficult choices will have to be made, resulting in loss of members.

Third, what happens to endowments for one congregation when the family decides to move to another church? What about family burial plots?

And then, of course, there’s the status of present and future Methodist clergy. Can clergy shift between one denomination and another? What about their pensions? Will the two denominations recognize each other?

Eric Bonetti

To Jay’s point, the UMC in my experience tends to reflect the splits in larger American society, with rural areas more conservative, and suburban and urban parishes more progressive/inclusive. Thus, the footprint of the two denominations may tend towards one being rural, conservative, but financially largely powerless. The other may be smaller, concentrated in more populated areas, and more affluent/empowered.

Regardless of one’s views on the underlying issues — and I fully support marriage equality — it is not clear to me that this Balkanization of the UMC is in the long-term best interests of either side to the debate.

Chris Harwood

Since the article mentions all assets remaining with the liberal branch, I think anyone trying to leave but keep endowments, burial plots, etc. is out of luck, just like the conservatives in TEC. Although would they really stop someone from being buried in a cemetery or demand control over who did the burial service? How many millions did 815 spend in litigation to keep property? 25 million doesn’t sound like that much for the worldwide church if they’re keeping all the assets, endowments, etc. Gifts for world missions were very popular here for a while, If someone gave money for an endowment for missions in Africa, etc. will they give it up without a fight?

Steven Wilson

The full agreement says local congregations that opt to disaffiliate will be allowed to keep congregational assets. (Article IV.a.1 “A local church that affiliates with a Methodist denomination pursuant to this Protocol other than the post-separation United Methodist Church retains its assets and liabilities.”) The UMC was only formed in 1968 as a result of merger between existing denominations, so one would expect that those congregations which voted themselves into that new merger would have much greater legal control over their assets than congregations which (as in the case of TEC) overwhelmingly were formed by missionary efforts of the denomination.

Kenneth Knapp

I am glad they are attempting to resolve those issues through good faith negotiations rather than litigation.

Eric Bonetti

Agree, although I note that the UMC did not face the efforts, spearheaded by the infamous Sewickley memo, to topple the duly elected hierarchy and replace it with an ACNA infrastructure.

Greg Michels

I wonder if the traditional Methodists will look to the ACNA as a model for a leaner “new” church structure. Also curious to see what happens with the growing UMC conferences overseas. To be consistent shouldn’t progressive Methodists in the US say they also can’t be in the same church with Africans (or Filipinos) who oppose same sex religious marriage? Right now it seems their ire is only directed at US traditionalists.

Chris Harwood

The article on the Post makes it sound like all churches are going to have to choose who they are related to, though not on the same day as the vote for breaking up the American church. It sounds like the liberal group are hoping that some of the foreign churches will choose to align with them instead of the conservatives as there are many churches, schools, missions, etc. supported by the American church, and therefore allowing gay marriage and priests in other countries. This may cause splits worldwide.

Kurt Hill

Methodist clergy are not recognized as valid priests in the Episcopal Church. Some of those clergy who retain a more “high church” Wesleyan sensibility (as opposed to a more Asburyite evangelicalism/fundamentalism) might be persuaded to accept Holy Orders from a bishop in the Historic (Apostolic) Succession. They would then be free to minister in the Episcopal Church.

Thomas Rightmyer

I hope Mr Hill and others interested will read the full communion / shared ministry proposal of the UMC and the Episcopal Church. If I understand it correctly if it is approved by the UMC General Conference and for the second time by General Convention 2021 Episcopal and UMC clergy will be able – with the bishop’s permission – to serve in the other church as of January, 2022. I hope the proposal does not get lost in the Methodist division. I look forward to the day when clergy ordained in the UMC will “be free to minister in the Episcopal Church.”

Kurt Hill

Being a life-long Anglican Catholic and respecter of the Prayer Book myself, I’m sure that Mr. Rightmyer will understand my reticence (and no doubt the reticence of many other Episcopalians who frequent this Cafe) to consider as presbyters non-episcopally ordained United Methodist clergy. Any “full communion” with the Methodists which does not include the provision that Methodists agree to accept the Historic Episcopate (Apostolic Succession) as part of its foundation is likely to be disdained by many Anglican laity, if not by the Church bureaucrats who agree to it. Certainly as a layperson I would be under no obligation to consider non-episcopally ordained UMC clergy as having valid orders whether or not they were statutorily permitted “to minister in the Episcopal Church.” Nor would I, and others, be compelled to agree that saltine crackers and grape juice can be the Body and Blood of Christ).

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