Fallout continues from a February vote within the United Methodist Church (UMC) that would lead to the banning of same-sex weddings and the ordination of LGBTQ+ clergy. Approval of the Traditional Plan at the denomination’s Special Session of the General Conference has led to soul-searching among organizations and people associated with the UMC. Now some are beginning to leave.
Colleges Cut Ties With the UMC
Last week, the board of trustees at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, voted unanimously to end its 174-year affiliation with the UMC. According to board chair Charles Rotuno, the decision honors the commitment to inclusion expressed by the school’s Methodist founders. “While we value the relationship that we have had with the United Methodist Church,” he says, “we’ve concluded that becoming an independent university will allow the Baldwin Wallace community to continue to fully embrace and embody the values of diversity and inclusion today and always.”
University president Robert Helmer emphasizes the school “is not changing.” He says, “Baldwin Wallace values and supports the faith lives of all students. We are a campus where all people are welcome, all are valued, all are given the same opportunities, and all are supported.”
The school’s historic Methodist chapel will stay open, with a chaplain remaining on staff. Denominational scholarships will be honored for this fall’s incoming students. Down the road, a governance committee may reconsider a current rule that one-tenth of trustees must be Methodists.
On Tuesday, Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, announced a “one-year pause in its relationship” with the UMC, also in response to the controversial LGBTQ vote. The school, founded by Methodist ministers in 1842, was due for its once-a-decade visit and review from denominational leaders this year but requested a one-year delay. The school’s affiliation with the UMC remains intact for now.
“I think there is a real possibility that there will be a new form of Methodism within the next year that will be fully inclusive, reflecting the interests of the majority of American United Methodists,” says Ohio Wesleyan University president Rock Jones. “Because nearly all of the colleges and universities in the country are very inclusive, I think if there’s a new form of Methodism, institutions of higher education will gravitate to that body.” A continuing relationship between OWU and the UMC could hinge on such developments, he indicates.
A month before the historic UMC vote, 93 members of the National Association of Schools and Colleges of The United Methodist Church (NASCUMC) signed a statement urging denominational leaders to reject the Traditional Plan.
Confirmands Decline Vows, Citing ‘immoral’ Policy
Younger worshipers also are making their voices heard. Instead of celebrating confirmation on April 28, eight middle-schoolers in Omaha, Nebraska, read a letter during worship explaining why they wouldn’t take membership vows yet.
Despite all their study and preparation, the confirmands at First United Methodist Church are “disappointed about the direction the United Methodist denomination is heading.” They say, “We are concerned that if we join at this time, we will be sending a message that we approve of this decision,” which they call “immoral.”
The Omaha congregation, a longtime Reconciling Ministry Congregation, has been active in LGBTQ causes. On April 2, the church council voted to allow same-sex weddings on its property, despite the denominational ban.
The confirmands, who received a standing ovation, reportedly wrote the letter with minimal adult input. They listed several things they love about First UMC, including “participating in the Pride Parade,” and say a future decision about getting confirmed depends on how the congregation “responds to the general conference action.”
“We are not standing just for ourselves,” the teens say. “We are standing for every single member of the LGBTQ+ community who is hurting right now. Because we were raised in this church, we believe that if we all stand together as a whole, we can make a difference.”