Rival factions within the Methodist church are contemplating a divorce, weighing plans to split in half due to an intractable dispute over its current ban on gay marriage and LGBT clergy.
The plan will be considered at the church’s major yearly conference in Minneapolis, set for May, which if approved would rupture 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 plan was developed with the aid of Kenneth Feinberg, an attorney and mediator who made his name working on several high-profile cases, usually overseeing pay disbursements to plaintiffs, including the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill. He was also appointed by the Obama administration’s Department of Justice in 2016 to manage the Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.
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.
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