UNITED METHODIST CHURCH CONSERVATIVES BENT ON A BREAKAWAY
Conservative leaders within the United Methodist Church (UMC) unveiled plans Monday to form a new denomination, the Global Methodist Church (GMC), with a doctrine that does not recognize same-sex marriage, David Crary reported for the Associated Press (AP).
The move could hasten the long-expected breakup of the UMC over differing approaches to LGBTQ inclusion. For now, the UMC is the largest mainline Protestant church in the US and second only to the Southern Baptist Convention, an evangelical denomination, among all US Protestant churches.
It has expanded its membership to more than 70 million worldwide, particularly in mission areas in Africa, Latin America and Asia, while official records show the baptized and confirmed members number 12.6 million worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the US.
The UMC’s demography is illustrated by the apportionment of voting delegates for the 2022 General Conference: About 56% come from the US, 32% from Africa, 6% from the Philippines and most of the rest from Europe.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the UMC’s General Conference — at which the schism would be debated — has been postponed for two consecutive years, and is now scheduled to take place in Minneapolis starting in late August 2022.
The Rev. Keith Boyette, a Methodist elder from Virginia who chairs the Global Methodist initiative, said he and his allies do not want to wait that long to formally leave the UMC. They have asked that the topic of schism be added to the tightly limited agenda of a special one-day General Conference to be conducted online on May 8.
“The church is basically stalemated right now,” Boyette said. “We don’t believe an additional year is going to be helpful for anybody.” However, Louisiana-based Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, who heads the UMC’s Council of Bishops, said debate over a schism would involve “delicate deliberations” and attempting to conduct them online in May “does not seem wise or ethical.”
Bishop Karen Oliveto of the UMC’s Mountain Sky region — who in 2016 became the UMC’s first openly lesbian bishop — said in an email that “it is heartbreaking when the Body of Christ fragments itself.” She added: “I pray that those who are called into the Global Methodist Church will find themselves free to be the people whom God calls them to be.”