United Methodists Agree on Compromise to Split Denomination

United Methodist bishops stand on stage as others process into the Feb. 24 opening worship service for the 2019 United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS. / Image: United Methodist News Service / Flikr

Factions in the United Methodist Church (UMC) have reached an initial settlement around its intractable division over LGBT marriage and ordination—offering $25 million to a group of conservative congregations who want to break away and form a new denomination.

For both conservatives and progressives in the church, this compromise comes as an answer to prayer.

Various groups were slated to once again propose different plans for a split at the UMC’s general conference in May, but under the new agreement, they will abandon the proposals and put their full support behind the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, which was announced Friday.

The eight-page statement details the terms of the split for the nation’s largest mainline denomination:

The undersigned propose restructuring The United Methodist Church by separation as the best means to resolve our differences, allowing each part of the Church to remain true to its theological understanding, while recognizing the dignity, equality, integrity, and respect of every person.

The protocol will still need to be approved by the UMC’s legislative body, but has unanimous support from a diverse 16-member mediation team, including representatives from “UMCNext; Mainstream UMC; Uniting Methodists; The Confessing Movement; Good News; The Institute on Religion & Democracy; the Wesleyan Covenant Association; Affirmation; Methodist Federation for Social Action; Reconciling Ministries Network; and the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus; as well as bishops from the United States and across the world.”

“This is very likely to bring to an end this dysfunction that we have suffered through for the past 47 years,” said Rob Renfroe, president and publisher of Good News and pastor of adult discipleship at The Woodlands UMC outside of Houston. “We were never going to find a way to move forward together. Our ultimate goal of setting each other free to do ministry as we believe God would have us do has come to fruition.”

The 12.5-million-member UMC has been in a standoff over LGBT issues for decades, culminating in a vote in favor of its traditional position against same-sex marriage and gay clergy during a special session last year. As a result, some left the UMC, some continued to defy the UMC positions outright, and some challenged the legality of the vote in the denomination’s court—ultimately putting the question of how to move forward before the delegation once again in 2020.

The result of months of negotiation, the new protocol creates a quick, “clean break” for a new, traditionalist denomination that has yet to be created but will receive a $25 million sum at its inception.

“The assumption for everybody involved in this agreement was that the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) would launch the traditional denomination referenced in the protocol,” said Virginia pastor Keith Boyette, WCA president. The WCA includes 125,000 people in 1,500 churches who favor the UMC’s traditional marriage stance.

For years, they have feared they have reached a point of “irreconcilable differences” with more progressive factions in the UMC, and WCA leaders have prepared for the launch of a new denomination. As part of the agreement, the WCA will not make further claims for money beyond the $25 million.

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Source: Christianity Today