United Methodist Church bishops and leaders are proposing a split into more than one denomination in a bid to resolve years of debate over LGBT clergy and same-sex weddings, according to the church’s official news agency.
The proposal, from a 16-member group of bishops and church leaders, says a separation was “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.”
The restructuring comes after a contentious General Conference of the second-largest Protestant denomination in the US voted last year to reinforce the church’s stance against ordaining gay clergy and performing same-sex weddings.
New York Conference Bishop Thomas Bickerton, part of the group behind the proposal, told the official United Methodist News Service that heated debate at the conference demonstrated “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 said.
At the St. Louis conference in February, the denomination decided that United Methodist churches and clergy could face removal if they do not affirm its stance against gay marriage and non-celibate LGBT clergy by 2021.
The new proposal calls for a traditionalist Methodist denomination that would continue its opposition to gay marriage and the ordination to LGBT clergy. A separate denomination would allow same-sex weddings and gay clergy.
The Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the traditionalist Wesleyan Covenant Association, called the separation plan “a fair and equitable solution that puts decades of conflict behind us and gives us a hopeful future,” according to the news service.
The church’s worldwide conference in May would need to approve the historic restructuring.
Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw the compensation fund for September 11 victims and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, helped broker the plan.
The proposal includes $25 million for the “traditionalist Methodist denomination.” Another $2 million would be set aside for other potential new denominations. And $39 million will be allocated over eight years to “support communities historically marginalized by racism.”
At the St. Louis conference last year, the vote for a so-called “Traditional” plan came after the church voted to reject an earlier proposal, known as the “One Church” plan, which would have allowed local churches to perform same-sex weddings and hire openly LGBT clergy.
That move was backed by proponents as a way to keep the increasingly fractious denomination together amid widespread disagreements about scripture and same-sex relationships.
The United Methodists’ Book of Discipline states that all people are of “sacred worth” but denounces the “practice of homosexuality” as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Openly gay and lesbian clergy members can be removed from ministry, but church trials on the matter are rare.
In 2016, dozens of United Methodist clergy came out as lesbian, gay or bisexual defying the ban on “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” in ministry and essentially daring their supervisors to discipline them.
In some parts of the United States, openly gay clergy serve with few if any restrictions. Conservatives argue that such policies threaten to break up the church into small, self-governing branches.
For more than a decade, liberal United Methodists have sought to push the church to adopt more lenient provisions, without success.