United Methodist Church announces plan to split denomination over LGBTQ inclusion

Staff photo by Doug Strickland / St. Elmo United Methodist Church on Friday, June 7, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Staff photo by Doug Strickland / St. Elmo United Methodist Church on Friday, June 7, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The United Methodist Church announced a plan Friday to split the denomination after years of debate over LGBTQ inclusion in the second-largest Protestant denomination in the country.

The proposal, created by 16 leading clergy members and advocates, allows traditional churches to create a new denomination with $25 million in UMC funds and keep established church properties.

The topic of LGBTQ participation in the church has for years driven a wedge between traditional and progressive churches. Many members of the progressive coalition of churches were stunned when, in a February 2019 special session, the church voted to adopt the Traditional Plan, which stiffens and enforces rules on gender and sexuality, including banning LGBTQ members of clergy and prohibiting same-sex marriage.

The decision emphasized rules outlined in the denomination's "Book of Discipline," which states, "The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" and bars gay marriage and members of the LGBTQ community from serving in the church. While the majority of American Methodist churches supported inclusion, the vote to adopt the Traditional Plan was helped by the church's growing global, and more conservative, presence.

READ MORE: Firing of Chattanooga pastor draws locals into United Methodist fight over sexuality

Since the vote, churches in both camps have organized for what many saw as an inevitable split, such as the UMC Next meeting of progressive leaders in Kansas in May to reject the Traditional Plan and the orthodox-focused Wesleyan Covenant Association creating policies for a new denomination.

The group that created the proposal to split included key figures on both sides of the debate, but it still requires approval during the church's upcoming General Conference in May.

"The plan looks toward a restructuring of the remaining global United Methodist Church into regions, with flexibility to adapt church policies, including on LGBTQ inclusion," the announcement said. "Meanwhile, traditionalists forming a new denomination could continue what they see as Bible-supported restrictions on same-sex marriage and ordination of gay persons as clergy."

READ MORE: The Methodist church is fracturing. A conference this weekend will help decide its future.

According to the proposal, if adopted, the new denomination would get $25 million over four years and be allowed to keep its church properties. The remaining Methodist churches would hold another conference to repeal the anti-LGBTQ policies of the Traditional Plan. Non-U.S. churches could vote to leave the UMC for the new denomination. Also, the church's General Council on Finance and Administration would use $39 million to "support communities historically marginalized by racism."

The General Conference to vote on the new proposal takes place May 5 in Minneapolis.

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