The Methodist church appears headed for a split in two as a result of an intractable dispute over the church’s current ban on gay marriage and LGBT clergy.
The ban will be considered at the church’s annual conference in Minneapolis, set for May, and if lifted would break the denomination into traditionalist and ‘progressive’ camps. The former branch would continue to oppose LGBT marriage and the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy, while the other will open its doors to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation.
“The 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,” said New York Conference Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who helped draft the proposal.
Detailed in a 9-page document released on Friday, the schism plan proposes setting aside $25 million in church funds for the traditionalist branch to ease the separation process, and would not alter ownership of local church properties.
While church leaders say the split would impact Methodist organizations around the globe, potentially affecting millions of members, a Washington DC-based council of bishops hailed the idea on Friday as the “best means to resolve our differences.”
Traditionalist Reverend Keith Boyette said much the same, calling it a “fair and equitable solution that puts decades of conflict behind us and gives us a hopeful future.”
Same-sex marriage was legalized across the United States by the Supreme Court in 2015, but religious organizations retain the right to decline to officiate gay wedding ceremonies.
The United Methodist Church, a Protestant denomination, is the third-largest Christian body in the US, with over 7.5 million members, coming in behind the Southern Baptist Convention and the Catholic Church.