The deep divide over LGBTQ issues in the United Methodist Church has prompted the formation of a breakaway church called the Global Methodist Church, which will oppose same-sex marriage.
The latest update, unveiled on the United Methodist Church website, was expected since last year when the Methodist Church announced the “traditional Methodist” part of the church would leave the main church due to differences over same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy.
The issues have reached a boiling point by now, but they have been simmering for years in one of the United States’ largest denominations. At the church’s 2019 general conference in St. Louis, global leaders voted 438-384 to uphold bans on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy. Many Methodist leaders from the United States voted to take the inclusive, pro-LGBTQ route, while the opponents were primarily from other countries with more conservative cultures.
The breakup process, however, has been snarled by the coronavirus pandemic — and complete details about the Global Methodist Church are not yet available. Leaders were supposed to hash out the path forward at last year’s general conference, but that was postponed. This year’s meeting was also postponed, meaning the next conference is not slated until August of next year.
Church leaders are also divided over whether to proceed with breakup deliberations now or wait until the next general conference. The Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), which promotes LGBTQ rights in the Methodist Church, expressed frustration over the delay but ultimately agreed that it would be best to wait.
“Although these are painful decisions that prolong oppression, they were also the only right decisions to make,” the group said in a written statement. “To respond faithfully to this moment, we must hold tight. As a justice-seeking organization, RMN supports equity of global access and deliberation for such critical legislation that determines the future of our Church. We cannot advocate for a rushed deliberative process that further strains local churches engaged in critical ministries during a pandemic, and we cannot advocate for a process that may exclude any part of our connection due to virtual accessibility.”
Regardless of how it all ends, some plans are already in place. Church leaders from the US, Africa, Europe, and the Philippines agreed last year to shell out $25 million in Methodist Church funds to the traditionalist wing of the church and $2 million for any congregations that opt to leave the main church in the future. Notably, that plan also called for $39 million in Methodist Church funds to be steered to “support communities historically marginalized by the sin of racism.”
Reverend Stephen Bauman of the LGBTQ-friendly Manhattan-based Christ Church, United Methodist, said that plan remains in place.
“I suppose the only ‘surprise’ here is that it comes before the formal agreements are settled,” Bauman said. “[The conservative side] clearly wanted to move forward. But I would point out that while the new denomination stands on its own, the assumption remains that the ‘protocol of agreement’ will ultimately win the day when the general conference finally does its thing — and among other things, that means $25 million goes to the traditionalists.”
The debate over LGBTQ inclusion in the Methodist Church has coincided with dips in Christianity in the United States. The last decade has witnessed a twelve percent decrease in Americans identifying as Christian, while there has been a 17 percent increase in Americans who are atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular,” according to Pew Research data from 2018 and 2019.
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