Sixteen leaders within the embattled United Methodist Church (UMC) have released a proposal that essentially offers a United Methodist split as a solution to the church’s internal dispute over marriage and gender issues. One reason the proposal is distinctive is because of the influence and diversity among those who signed it.
“We humbly offer to the delegates of the 2020 General Conference the work which we have accomplished in the hopes that it will help heal the harms and conflicts within the body of Christ and free us to be more effective witnesses to God’s Kingdom,” said Bishop John Yambasu of Sierra Leone, according to United Methodist News (UMN). Yambasu was instrumental in initiating the proposal, which was also worked on by well-known mediator Kenneth Feinberg.
“I believe this is a fair and equitable solution that puts decades of conflict behind us and gives us a hopeful future,” said Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the New York Conference. “It became clear that the line in the sand had turned into a canyon. The impasse is such that we have come to the realization that we just can’t stay that way any longer.”
An Amicable United Methodist Split As a Solution
The “canyon” Bickerton was referring to has to do with the Special Session of the General Conference that took place last February, during which the UMC voted on its stance on marriage and same-sex relationships.
Delegates had to choose between two plans. One was called the “Traditional Plan,” which upheld a view of marriage as being between one man and one woman and put restrictions on LGBTQ members who wished to be clergy. The other was called the “One Church Plan,” and it allowed particular churches to come to their own conclusions about gay marriage and LGBTQ clergy. The decision was highly divisive, with 449 voting against the One Church Plan and 374 voting in favor of it. Controversy also surrounded the outcome when The New York Times reported that some of the delegates who participated in the UMC vote were not authorized to do so.
Fallout has continued since that vote. Some UMC colleges have decided to leave the denomination or at least to evaluate their relationship with the UMC. In July, seven Mississippi churches did decide to leave the United Methodist Church. One left, not because it disagreed with the UMC’s vote, but because the members felt the denomination was sidetracked by a debate that should not be taking place to begin with. Last November, five bishops in the UMC’s Western Jurisdiction refused outright to follow the Traditional Plan. Around that same time, leaders with the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA), who support the Traditional Plan, expressed that they were preparing to break from the UMC and to form a new, traditionalist denomination.
Now another step has been taken in the direction of a United Methodist split. According to UMN, a “diverse, 16-member group of United Methodist bishops and other leaders” has published a nine-page document called “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation.” The proposal outlines the terms under which churches may amicably leave the UMC. A congregation that wishes to separate would get $25 million and get to keep its property. At the same time, says UMN, the proposal anticipates “ecumenical agreements and cooperation on some fronts.”
UMN notes that this proposal for a United Methodist split would only take effect once approved by the 2020 General Conference, which is to take place this May. However, there is potential for the proposal to have significant sway because of the diversity of the parties involved in it, “including bishops from around the global connection and advocacy group leaders often sharply at odds.” These parties include Rev. Keith Boyette, who is the WCA president, and Jan Lawrence, who is the executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network and who identifies as LGBTQ.
Because leaders from opposing viewpoints have cooperated to achieve this agreement, UMN says “the potential seems strong that the separation proposal can end or at least greatly reduce the denomination’s decades-long struggle over how accepting to be of homosexuality.”
Said Boyette, “I believe this is a fair and equitable solution that puts decades of conflict behind us and gives us a hopeful future.”