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Leaders of the United Methodist Church (UMC), the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States, have announced plans to split the church in two after years of division over same-sex marriage. The church that has more than 13 million members in the United States and 80 million worldwide would split into two branches if they approve the plan at the church’s worldwide conference in Minneapolis in May. Those two branches would be a traditionalist branch that opposes gay marriage and the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clergy; a more tolerant branch that will allow same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ clergy.
The whole problem started from the question of whether individual UMC churches should be allowed to ordain LGBTQ members as ministers and perform same-sex marriages. While the majority of UMC churches in the United States supported that option, many in other parts of the world actively opposed that idea. Last year, 53% of UMC delegates voted on a plan that basically rejected LGBTQ inclusion for everyone formally affiliated with the church.
The New York Conference Bishop Thomas Bickerton, part of the group that drafted the plan called the “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation,” said this was a way to reach an amicable separation. Also, a “traditionalist” Methodist denomination would be given $25 million over four years.
As the Washington Post reports, the agreement pledges $25 million to the new “traditionalist” denomination, which will break away from the United Methodist Church. In exchange, Friday’s announcement said, the new denomination would drop any claim to United Methodist assets, such as church-owned agencies.
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 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,” he said.
Delegates from UMC at a crucial conference last year rejected a move to ease the faith’s ban on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy. “Devastation,” was how former Methodist pastor Rebecca Wilson of Detroit described her feelings at the time. “As someone who left because I’m gay, I’m waiting for the church I love to stop bringing more hate.”
“There are efforts in the protocol to stop condemnation of LGBTQ people, which of course is good. There are no signs pointing toward a church that affirms us and repents of the significant harm that has been done to LGBTQIA people for decades because of its complicity in spiritual violence against us,” said M Barclay, who was ordained in 2017 as the United Methodist Church’s first transgender deacon.
Barclay said the agreement does not put in place protections against discrimination of LGBTQ clergy.