On Friday, Jan. 3, the United Methodist Church announced a proposal to separate from the Traditionalist Methodist denomination over LGBTQ rights.
The proposal was prompted after a session of the church’s general conference February 2019, when 53% of church leaders voted to keep the ban on same sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy. Church officials also introduced harsher punishments against clergy who disregard these rules, including a one year suspension for the first offense and dismissal from the clergy for the second.
The ban on same sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy has been a debate since the founding of the United Methodist Church in 1968, but the measures introduced at the conference were enough to anger many progressive church members who feel all people should be represented and find acceptance within the church.
The proposal was first signed in December after conflicts within the church became unmanageable.
This proposal, signed by 16 church leaders from around the world, would enable the United Methodist Church to repeal the ban on same sex marriages and LGBTQ clergy. With the traditionalists separated from the church, they would have a real chance at enacting change.
“This would allow us to put a controversy to rest,” said Reverend Tom Berlin, a pastor at the Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia who signed the proposal. “The controversy itself has been a stumbling block toward our larger mission.”
The proposal will be voted on at the church’s general conference in May 2020.
The nine page proposal mostly focuses on the distribution of financial assets. Under this legislation, the church’s General Council on Finance and Administration would provide $25 million to the newfound Traditionalist Methodist denomination over four years.
Additionally, if any new denominations were formed during this time, another $2 million would be issued.
“Every other mainline denomination in the United States has faced this conflict,” says Reverend Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association who signed the proposal to represent the Traditionalist Methodists according to WUSF, out of Tampa Bay. “This agreement models how a conflict can be addressed in an amicable way. The separation would be bittersweet, but each faction could move forward unhindered by the other.”
By the end of 2024, local churches would have to decide if they wish to join the new denomination or remain part of the United Methodist Church. Any church who wishes to join a denomination separate from these two choices would maintain their assets and liabilities.
Though the proposal has not yet been voted on, an Ohio clergyman serves as a beacon of hope.
Reverend David Meredith, an openly gay pastor at the Clifton United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, has withstood countless attempts to get him out of the church.
“When my husband and I made it legal, suddenly they had this piece of evidence, my marriage license, to get me.” Meredith told NPR.
However, Meredith is well loved within his church—both his supervisors and congregation are happy to have him. Though the Reverend may be constantly under investigation, together he and his community are fighting it.
“The United Methodist Church post-separation will be a place where the injury and harm of LGBTQ clergy and of LGBTQ couples, their families, their congregations and their communities will be removed.” Meredith told NPR, “part of that begins immediately.”