United Methodist Church announces plan to split over LGBT rights

Methodist church A Methodist bishop receives Holy Communion

The United Methodist Church, the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States, has announced a plan to split over LGBT+ rights.

At the United Methodist Church general conference in February 2019, about 53 percent of delegates to the conference voted in favour of what members call the “Traditional Plan”.

The anti-LGBT plan reinforced church doctrine prohibiting same-sex marriage and the ordination of queer clergy, and also strengthened penalties for clergy who perform same-sex weddings, declaring that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”.

But many members of the church, which has 13 million members globally, pushed back against the plan in support of LGBT+ people.

The “Traditional Plan” was to come into force on January 1, but on January 3 a group of church leaders and bishops released the “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation“.

The protocol proposes that those within the United Methodist Church who support the “Traditional Plan” and oppose LGBT+ rights and same-sex marriage should leave the church and form a new “traditionalist” denomination.

The protocol must be approved when the United Methodist Church meets for its global conference in Minneapolis in May 2020. Local churches will then be able to choose whether to stay, or whether to join the new conservative denomination.

Negotiations were mediated by lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who gave his time pro bono to settle how the separation process would work and how finances would be split.

It was decided that the new “traditionalist” denomination would receive $25 million once it is formed and incorporated.

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, who was present during negotiations, told The New York Times: “We tried to look for ways that we could gracefully live together with all our differences, it just didn’t look like that was even possible anymore.”

Currently, according to the church’s Book of Discipline, the offence of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” is defined as when “a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, board of ordained ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual”.

It is in the same list of offences as sexual abuse, child abuse and racism.

But since the release of the plan, “all administrative or judicial processes addressing restrictions in the Book of Discipline related to self-avowed practicing homosexuals or same-sex weddings” will be temporarily suspended.

According to the protocol, after the split the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops would make “changes in the adaptable portions of the Book of Discipline including the repeal of Traditional Plan legislation and all other portions related to LGBTQ persons.”