Deep disagreements about whether to allow gay marriage and the ordination of lesbian and gay clergy has prompted the United Methodist Church to officially announce its plan to split in two and create a new denomination for those who hold the “traditional” views on the issues. The schism in the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination, which has over 12 million members in the U.S., follows similar splintering in other major denominations over the issue of sexuality in recent years.
After years of debate over same-sex marriage, leaders from the United Methodist Church announced Friday that the church plans to officially separate, creating a new “Traditionalist Methodist” denomination for those who adhere to the “traditional” view of sexuality and marriage. The decision, the leaders said, was the result of “fundamental differences” in their view on gay marriage and LGBT ordination.
The long-brewing division in the denomination reached a boiling point in late February 2019 when the leaders and lay members voted to uphold and strengthen the church’s ban on same-sex marriage in the church by a vote of 438-384. “The practice of homosexuality,” a majority of the leaders and members voted, “is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
“Before opting for the Traditional Plan, delegates rejected an alternative known as the One Church Plan, which would have allowed individual churches to decide whether to perform same-sex marriages and welcome gay and lesbian clergy members,” Reuters reported in February. “Under that plan, the statement that homosexuality is at odds with Christianity would have been eliminated.”
“We are not going anywhere,” Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli of Foundry United Methodist told fellow progressives in the church after the tense February conference. “If someone wants to come for me, for us, then bring it.”
“The debate cannot continue forever,” the Wesleyan Covenant Association, one of the church’s leading conservative groups, said following the vote. “We recognize irreconcilable differences exist.”
Over the course of the year those “irreconcilable differences” only hardened. Progressives leaders in the church were soon working toward a plan for separation. Leaders from sixteen of the liberal-leaning churches created an informal committee to determine a separation plan that would allow “each part of the church to remain true to its theological understanding,” The New York Times reports.
After months of increasing disunity, the two sides determined that their beliefs on sexuality and marriage had diverged too far to remain under one roof. After a few days of mediation, church leaders announced Friday that they had roughed out a separation plan and would address, among other things, how to divide up the church’s considerable financial assets.
According to the Times, the majority of the denomination’s churches in the United States will likely “remain in the existing United Methodist Church, which would become a more liberal-leaning institution as conservative congregations worldwide depart.”
“Once the agreement is written in more granular detail, it must be approved when the denomination meets for its global conference in Minneapolis in May,” the Times reports. “The initial response from some conservatives and liberals after the announcement suggests its passage is likely.”
The Episcopal Church underwent a similar split in 2008, when conservatives announced that they were founding their own denomination, the Anglican Church in North America. The Presbyterian Church has also been deeply divided over the issue of same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has allowed LGBT people to serve in the church since 2010 and has allowed same-sex marriage since 2014.