United Methodist Church strategists have been sweating out how to maneuver since last February’s special General Conference voted by 53 percent to reinforce traditional doctrines that bar same-sex weddings and actively gay clergy. Ongoing resistance to that from liberal bishops, agency officials, educators, pastors and congregations appears to make it inevitable that the existing disagreement will be formalized in a big breakup.
But what, when and how?
Religion writers will want to focus on proposed legislation on this for next year’s General Conference (May 5–15 in Minneapolis), due to be filed by a September 18 deadline. Three notable drafts, which may be polished further before submission, are thus far in the mix:
On July 8, Bishops David Bard of Lansing, Michigan, and Scott Jones of Houston, Texas, offered “A New Form of Unity.”
On August 8, a dozen key figures representing traditionalist, liberal and “centrist” views joined to issue the “Indianapolis Plan.”
On August 19, the less detailed “UMCNext Proposal” was issued by an alliance of UMC caucuses that want a change to full LGBTQ inclusion.
All three schemes envision the simplest possible path to schism without the hassle of rewriting the UMC constitution, and fairly soon, though timelines vary. You’ll want to compare the final texts with help from UMC analysts, but looks to The Religion Guy like the outlines of a deal are already emerging. However, endless details remain to be thrashed out. Methodists would need to carve up a global church of 12.6 million members and 44,000 congregations, with annual donations of $6.3 billion, plus massive assets.
Some envision a three-way split if necessary, but the UMC essentially faces a two-way divide, with LGBTQ policy the precipitating issue that reflects generally differing attitudes toward the Bible and historic theology.