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Same-sex marriage will potentially divide the United Methodist Church later this year, church leaders have said.
According to an announcement on Friday, the church plans to separate itself into two distinct factions — one which supports same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy, and a “traditionalist Methodist” denomination which opposes the changes, the Washington Post reports.
The plan, which will be put to the church’s worldwide conference in May, comes after years of heated debate over the issue of becoming more LGBTQ-inclusive.
In announcing the plan, Methodist leaders called it “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.”
As previously reported, the church’s official position is that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and, as such, has opposed attempts to liberalize its official stances on LGBTQ-related issues.
Some American congregations have tried to embrace the LGBTQ community, but congregations in other parts of the world, notably Africa and Eastern Europe, are more hostile to LGBTQ rights and have advocated strict adherence to Church teachings.
At a special session of the church’s General Conference last year, delegates rejected plans to make the church more accepting of LGBTQ people, including allowing same-sex marriages to take place in Methodist churches and allowing LGBTQ people to become ordained ministers.
The “One Church Plan” would have allowed individual churches to decide whether to allow same-sex marriages and LGBTQ clergy.
But conservative churches which preferred the “Traditional Plan” — advocating against LGBTQ inclusion — threatened to leave the United Methodist denomination should modernization take place. The One Church Plan ultimately failed by 75 votes.
Friday’s announcement suggests that the church has been unable to reconcile the differences between traditional churches and those attempting a more modern, inclusive approach.
It also comes as the Methodist Church prepared to implement harsher punishments for those churches that perform same-sex weddings, including removal from the clergy for repeat offenders. Those changes are now on hold until the proposed split is officially voted on.
Should the vote on the split succeed, the United Methodist Church would then vote to officially allow same-sex marriages and LGBTQ clergy.
It would also divide what is currently the United States’ third-largest religious denomination, after the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention.
“It became clear that the line in the sand had turned into a canyon,” New York Conference Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who helped draft the new plan, told UM News. “The impasse is such that we have come to the realization that we just can’t stay that way any longer.
“This protocol provides a pathway that acknowledges our differences, respects everyone in the process and graciously allows us to continue to live out the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, albeit in different expressions.”
Jan Lawrence, executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, which advocates for LGBTQ participation and acceptance in the Methodist Church, told UM News she was “pleased” with the new plan.
“As a United Methodist who is LGBTQ, my priority at the table was to make sure we addressed the full participation of LGBTQ people in the life of the church, making sure the answer was not `ask us again in 2024,’” Lawrence, who helped negotiate the agreement, said. “The language needs to be removed now. I am pleased that there is opportunity here for that to happen in 2020.”
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