United Methodist Church leaders have announced a proposal to split the church due to debates over same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy.
If the new plan goes into effect, there will soon be two Methodist denominations — a traditional branch that opposes gay marriage and LGBT clergy, and a progressive branch that allows both.
The United Methodist Church’s debates over LGBTQ issues have been going on for years. In March 2019, delegates of the denomination’s General Conference voted to reinforce the church’s stance against performing gay weddings and ordaining LGBT clergy. Moreover, the conference ruled that all Methodist churches and clergy could face removal if they didn’t enforce these stances by 2021.
Some members of the church were deeply disappointed by the decision. Thomas Bickerton, a New York Conference Bishop, says the debate at the conference demonstrated 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,” he added.
On Friday, a 16-member group of bishops and church leaders proposed a split as “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.”
Other church leaders view the plan as unnecessarily divisive.
“A set of complex church issues were reduced to a showdown between the left and the right, ‘progressives’ and ‘traditionalists,'” William Willimon, Methodist bishop and professor at Duke Divinity School, said in a statement. “Both factions love their take on the issues more than the continuance of the United Methodist Church.”
Meanwhile, LGBTQ Methodists are left “in limbo” by the split, says HRC religion and faith program director Michael Vazquez.
The plan will go under debate at the church’s next conference in Minneapolis in May.
The United Methodist Church lists over 13 million members in the U.S. and 80 million worldwide.