Factions in the United Methodist Church (UMC) have reached an initial settlement around its intractable division over LGBT marriage and ordination—offering $25 million to a group of conservative congregations who want to break away and form a new denomination.
Various groups were slated to once again propose different plans for a split at the UMC’s general conference in May, but under the new agreement, they will abandon the proposals and put their full support behind the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, which was announced Friday.
The eight-page statement details the terms of the split for the nation’s largest mainline denomination:
The undersigned propose restructuring The United Methodist Church by separation as the best means to resolve our differences, allowing each part of the Church to remain true to its theological understanding, while recognizing the dignity, equality, integrity, and respect of every person.
The protocol will still need to be approved by the UMC’s legislative body, but has unanimous support from a diverse 16-member mediation team, including representatives from “UMCNext; Mainstream UMC; Uniting Methodists; The Confessing Movement; Good News; The Institute on Religion & Democracy; the Wesleyan Covenant Association; Affirmation; Methodist Federation for Social Action; Reconciling Ministries Network; and the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus; as well as bishops from the United States and across the world.”
The result of months of negotiation, the new rules create a quick, “clean break” for a new traditionalist denomination that has yet to be created but will receive a $25 million sum at its inception.
“The assumption for everybody involved in this agreement was that the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) would launch the traditional denomination referenced in the protocol,” said Virginia pastor Keith Boyette, WCA president. The WCA includes 125,000 people in 1,500 churches who favor the UMC’s traditional marriage stance.
For years, they have feared they have reached a point of “irreconcilable differences” with others in their denominations, and WCA leaders have prepared for the launch of a new denomination. As part of the agreement, the WCA will not make further claims for money beyond the $25 million.
In addition, the protocol sets aside $2 Million for other new denominations that are created pursuant to its guidelines.
Regional bodies of the UMC, known as annual conferences, would remain in the UMC unless they vote (by 57% majority) to join another denomination prior to July 1, 2021.
In the meantime, the protocol would put a moratorium on charges against clergy and members who have violated the current prohibitions around homosexuality.
The protocol also allots $39 million “to support communities historically marginalized by the sin of racism.”
Pastor Tom Berlin echoed the relief felt by many fellow Methodists, saying, “The United Methodist Church will have far greater possibilities for viability and vitality once this conflict is put behind us. It allows United Methodists to self differentiate and choose a future with hope that honors their theological convictions and their interpretation of Scripture.”