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United Methodist Conservatives detail separation plans over gay inclusion

Conservative leaders of the United Methodist Church on Monday unveiled plans to form a new denomination, the World Methodist Church, with a doctrine that does not recognize same-sex marriage.

The move could accelerate the long-awaited dissolution of the UMC due to different approaches to LGBTQ inclusion. For now, the UMC is the largest Protestant church in the United States and the second only after the Southern Baptist Convention, an evangelical denomination, among all the American Protestant churches.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the UMC general conference – at which the schism would be debated – has been postponed for two consecutive years and is now scheduled to be held in Minneapolis from the end of August 2022.

The Rev. Keith Boyette, a former Methodist from Virginia who chairs the World Methodist Initiative, has said he and his allies do not want to wait that long to officially leave the CMU. They have requested that the subject of schism be added to the very limited agenda of a special one-day general conference to be held online on May 8.

“The church is basically deadlocked right now,” Boyette said. “We don’t think an extra year will be useful for anyone.”

However, Louisiana-based Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, who heads the UMC Council of Bishops, said the debate over a schism would involve “delicate deliberations” and that attempting to conduct them online in May “won’t. seems neither wise nor ethical ”.

If the issue is not addressed on May 8, Boyette said he and his allies would be prepared to delay the 2022 General Conference, but only if the UMC centrists and progressives remain committed to previous agreements on a break-up. . Any decrease in those commitments could spur conservatives to birth the new church, Boyette said.

Differences over same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy ordination simmered for years at UMC and peaked in 2019 at a conference in St. Louis where delegates voted 438-384 to strengthen bans inclusive LGBTQ practices. Most US-based delegates opposed this plan and favored LGBTQ-friendly options; they were outclassed by American conservatives associated with most of the delegates from Methodist strongholds in Africa and the Philippines.

In the aftermath of that meeting, many moderate and liberal clergy made it clear that they would not abide by the bans, and various groups worked on proposals to let the UMC separate along theological lines.

The most important plan, the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, enjoys high-level support, including from the Council of Bishops and the World Methodist Group. Under the protocol, conservative congregations and regional organizations would be allowed to separate from the UMC and form a new denomination. They would receive $ 25 million in UMC funds and be able to keep their properties.

On a new website launched Monday, Methodist world organizers said the new denomination would allow women to serve at all levels and seek an “ethnically and racially diverse” membership.

Regarding LGBTQ issues, organizers said the denomination would adhere to “the traditional understanding of Christian marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman and as a God-intended framework for human sexual expression.” .

Bishop Karen Oliveto of UMC’s Mountain Sky region – who in 2016 became UMC’s first openly lesbian bishop – said in an email that “it’s heartbreaking when the Body of Christ comes together. fragment ”.

“I pray that those called into the worldwide Methodist Church will find themselves free to be the people God calls them to be,” she added.

Formed in a 1968 amalgamation, The United Methodist Church claims approximately 12.6 million members worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the United States.

The demographics of the UMC are illustrated by the distribution of voting delegates for the 2022 General Conference: around 56% are from the United States, 32% from Africa, 6% from the Philippines and most of the rest of Europe.

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