My husband is a Methodist, one of 13 million strong of the second largest denomination. I probably am too as I was named after my father John Wesley whose namesake was the founder of Methodism, and with his brother Charles, wrote many hymns sung from the Methodist hymnal.
Last week, United Methodist Church leaders from around the world introduced a plan “A Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.” This plan proposes a new Conservative wing of the UMC to split from the rest of the church. Apparently, a debate has been going on for years within this church over gay marriage and gay clergy. Rather than a compromise, the traditionalists would leave and start their own church. Reverend Keith Boyette, President of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, composed of more than 1,000 conservative congregations opposing gay marriage, believes that 30 to 40% would leave the church.
This plan should be approved at the next General Conference of Delegates that takes place in May in Minneapolis. Individual churches don’t have to make up their mind until 2024 to vote on whether they want to leave and restructure their church. The Protocol would allow gay marriage and transgender members to serve openly in the Methodist Church, and recent efforts to punish clergy who perform same-sex weddings would be blocked.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study in 2014, six out of ten believed that homosexuality would be accepted and nearly half favored gay marriage. But that was 2014. Since then, UMC’s first transgender deacon Reverend M. Barclay was ordained in 2017.
However, last February, by a narrow vote of the conservative delegates (40% outside the United States), the Convention of the UMC voted to NOT be LGBT-inclusive. Delegates from Africa and the Philippines seem to tip the scales as they did with the Episcopal Church in the past as well.
Remember the gay priest Eugene Robinson from New Hampshire who was elected Bishop in 2003? I do, but I was raised Episcopalian. He was in a long-term civil union with another man. It ruffled a lot of collars in the Anglican church (Episcopalian). Bishops all over the world criticized Robinson’s election, calling it “hasty.” Consequently, in the U.S. and Canada, conservative congregations left the national churches and aligned themselves with the Anglican Church of Nigeria and its homophobic leader, Archbishop Peter Akinola. Yet, Robinson in 2009 gave one of the inaugural prayers to President Obama (who “evolved” to support gay marriage) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Since that split, at its Episcopal Convention in 2012, the forward-thinking Episcopal Church also approved transgender ordination. In 2018, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention approved Resolution, expanding marriage rates for same-sex couples to all dioceses. That same year, the church committed to oppose all legislation that restricts public restroom, locker room and shower access for transgender and gender non-conforming people.
Why Can’t Churches Cross the Aisles Instead of Splitting?
The UMC and other denominations seem to be operating with forked tongues. If God loves all, and we are called to care for everyone against discrimination and marginalization, why don’t churches practice what they preach? If you accept that principle, then why be in favor of splinter groups?
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.