The United Methodist Church, the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States with more than 12 million members, looks like it will soon split up over the question of whether or not to embrace bigotry.
It’s the right move. Some relationships need to end in divorce.
The entire controversy stemmed from the question of whether individual UMC churches should be allowed to ordain LGBTQ members as ministers and perform same-sex marriages. While the majority of UMC churches in the United States supported that a la carte option, many in other parts of the world actively opposed that idea. Last year, 53% of UMC delegates voted on a plan that basically rejected LGBTQ inclusion for everyone formally affiliated with the church.
That meant pro-inclusion churches were going to have to make a decision: Accept the new rules and say goodbye to LGBTQ leaders in relationships and those who wanted to perform same-sex unions — along with all those younger people who would never voluntarily join such a bigoted denomination. Or make a break and try to run a church with no support from a larger body. That latter option would’ve been difficult for many churches that rely on financial help from the UMC.
Today, however, a new proposal was put forth by UMC leaders. The “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation” would effectively create a “traditionalist” Methodist denomination — for the bigots — and seed it with $25 million over four years. Because they’re family and I guess you can’t let them go without a peace offering.
The flip side of that is that pro-inclusion churches can remain within the UMC fold and continue supporting LGBTQ members.
Friday’s announcement came as new sanctions were set to go into effect in the church, which would have made punishments for United Methodist Church pastors who perform same-sex weddings much more severe: one year’s suspension without pay for the first wedding and removal from the clergy for any wedding after that.
Instead, leaders from liberal and conservative wings signed an agreement saying they will postpone those sanctions and instead vote to split at the worldwide church’s May general conference.
In addition to breaking away from the more inclusive UMC, the bigots promised not to fight over UMC assets. In other words, this won’t be a messy divorce. Both sides are getting what they want. They’re pledging not to fight over custody. It’s pretty much the best thing everyone could’ve hoped for.
There’s still some work to do, though. Even after the bigots leave, the UMC’s official position remains anti-LGBTQ, and members will have to undo that. Some leaders say just getting rid of those rules, however, won’t fix the innate anti-LGBTQ culture within the church or its reckoning with history.
“There are efforts in the protocol to stop condemnation of LGBTQ people, which of course is good. There are no signs pointing toward a church that affirms us and repents of the significant harm that has been done to LGBTQIA people for decades because of its complicity in spiritual violence against us,” said M Barclay, who was ordained in 2017 as the United Methodist Church’s first transgender deacon.
Barclay said the agreement does not put in place protections against discrimination of LGBT clergy.
In short, one of the largest Christian groups in the country is about to get much smaller — and less powerful — all because they can’t agree on whether LGBTQ people deserve humanity. If that’s what you’re dealing with, then it’s a relationship that had to end, but it’s incredible this is the hill the UMC is literally splitting over.
Maybe one of the ripple effects of this whole thing is that some members will split from organized Christianity entirely and come to grips with the notion that the world is better off without religion getting in the way. No denomination needs to be supported when it can’t even agree on one of the simplest moral issues of our time.
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