The United Methodist Church, the third-largest religious denomination in the United States, is set to split over gay marriage and allowing LGBTQ people to become clergy members.
On Thursday, a group of Methodists bishops and other leaders finalized a proposal that would allow “traditionalist-minded congregations to form a new denomination” that could continue to oppose same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy members. The rest of the United Methodist Church, however, would go on to permit same-sex marriage and allow LGBTQ people to be ordained as clergy.
As part of the proposal, the United Methodist Church would pay out $25 million over four years to the new traditionalist denominations, though in turn they would have to give up claims to United Methodist assets, like church buildings.
The proposal still needs to be approved at the United Methodist Church’s 2020 General Conference, which takes place in May. In a statement, though, the Church said, “[G]iven the broad, influential coalition involved… the potential seems strong that the separation proposal can end or at least greatly reduce the denomination’s decades-long struggle over how accepting to be homosexuality.”
“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,” said New York Conference Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who was part of the group that helped craft the proposal.
As The Washington Post notes, the United Methodist Church is one of the few remaining mainline Protestant denominations in the United States to not perform same-sex marriage or allow LGBTQ clergy, and issues over LGBTQ inclusion have been a point of contention in recent years. But while political divides in the United States have fueled this fight, it was ultimately a global one, with international churches, especially those in Africa, tending to lean more conservative.
These factions clashed at the contentious 2019 General Conference, where a “Traditional Plan” over LGBTQ inclusion was passed that featured harsh punishments — such as a year’s suspension without pay, or removal from the clergy — for any pastor who performed a same-sex wedding. While those rules went into effect January 1st, the proposed split calls for temporarily suspending any “administrative or judicial processes related to same-sex weddings or ordination of gay clergy.”