Conservative leaders within the United Methodist Church unveiled plans Monday to form a new denomination, the Global Methodist Church, with a doctrine that does not recognize same-sex marriage.
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 U.S. and second only to the Southern Baptist Convention, an evangelical denomination, among all U.S. Protestant churches.
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 of 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 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.”
If the issue is not addressed on May 8, Boyette said he and his allies would be willing to delay until the 2022 General Conference, but only if UMC centrists and progressives remain committed to previous agreements about a breakup. Any lessening of those commitments might prompt the conservatives to bring the new church into existence, Boyette said.
Differences over same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy have simmered for years in the UMC, and came to a head in 2019 at a conference in St. Louis where delegates voted 438-384 to strengthen bans on LGBTQ-inclusive practices.
In the aftermath of that meeting, many moderate and liberal clergy made clear they would not abide by the bans, and various groups worked on proposals to let the UMC split along theological lines.