A church divided: Split of Methodist denomination already underway

Published 5:02 am Sunday, July 3, 2022

Editor’s Note:
This is the first in a two-part series.

Members of the United Methodist Church in Southwest Louisiana know that there appears to be an inevitable breakup of their denomination. However, they may not be aware the schism has taken place much earlier than expected.

Recent news reports in April, May and June have said the breakaway denomination, called the Global Methodist Church, became official on
May 1.

Email newsletter signup

The Associated Press reported on April 29 that the launch of the global movement is led by theologically conservative Methodists. The major issues are same sex marriages and the ordination of openly gay clergy.

Leaders of the breakaway movement have become exasperated with the United Methodist Church’s continued defiance of UMC bans on those two issues, according to The AP report.

A Religion News Service (RNS) story published by the Washington Post on May 6 said, “After decades of rancorous debate over the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ United Methodists, a special session of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference and three postponements of a vote to formally split the denomination, the schism finally came ‘without fanfare, but full of hope, faith, and perseverance.’”

The sexuality debates have been going on at every quadrennial meeting of the General Conference since 1972, the RNS said. That is when language was first added to the denomination’s Book of Discipline saying that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

The debate came to a head in 2016 when UMC bishops announced there would be a special session of the General Conference devoted to the topic. In 2019, delegates at the conference in St. Louis voted 438-384 to strengthen bans on LGBTQ inclusive practices.

The AP said most U.S.-based delegates opposed that plan and favored LGBTQ friendly options. However, they were outvoted by U.S. conservatives teamed with most of the delegates from Methodist strongholds in Africa and the Philippines.

After that meeting, The AP said many moderate and liberal clergy made clear they would not abide by the bans, and various groups worked on proposals to let the UMC split along theological lines.

The 2019 special session approved what was called the Traditional Plan, which strengthened language against the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ members. However, progressive United Methodists pledged to disregard the results of the special session, according to the RNS.

Delegates to the General Conference in 2020 were prepared to vote on what was called the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. It didn’t happen because the 2020 meeting was delayed for two years by the coronavirus pandemic, and the church delayed the next General Conference to 2024.

Three postponements were enough for conservatives. That is when the new Global Methodist Church’s Transitional Leadership Council announced it would launch the new denomination on May 1. The Rev. Keith Boyette, a UMC minister in Virginia, is chairman of the council.

Boyette said United Methodists in the United States hold their annual conferences in May and June and some might consider pathways to allow churches to leave with their properties. He said whole conferences might decide to leave the UMC.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported on June 2 that a plan that would have made it easier for conservatives to leave the UMC was derailed by members of the Arkansas Annual Conference. The motion to defer passed 366 to 270.

The newspaper said the deferment surprised and disappointed many traditionalists. However, it didn’t stop 35 Arkansas United Methodist congregations from beginning the process to separate from the UMC.

Transfers in Arkansas are only permitted if they have the backing of a supermajority — two-thirds of a local church’s voting members.

It has also been reported that 107 of the 700 congregations in the Florida Annual Conference have announced they are going to join the Global Methodist Church. However, the Florida bishop said leaving the UMC isn’t as simple as saying they’re gone. He said it’s a long, complex process.


(Next: Officials comment)