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Major Christian denomination splits over 'divisive and destructive debates' on LGBT issues

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Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The United Methodist Church, one of the largest Christian denominations in the U.S., will officially undergo a schism in the coming months, ending a years-long internal disagreement over LGBTQ+ issues.

What are the details?

On Thursday, organizers of the Global Methodist Church — a more conservative Methodist denomination that favors a traditional view of marriage and opposes the ordination of LGBT clergy — announced a formal launch date of May 1, 2022.

The announcement came amid yet another General Conference postponement over COVID-19 pandemic fears and travel obstacles. With the next meeting pushed back until 2024, conservative United Methodists decided they could not wait for the next meeting before launching the new denomination.

"Many United Methodists have grown impatient with a denomination clearly struggling to function effectively at the general church level," said Rev. Keith Boyette, chairman of the Transitional Leadership Council that has been guiding the creation of the new denomination over the past year.

"Theologically conservative local churches and annual conferences want to be free of divisive and destructive debates and to have the freedom to move forward together. We are confident many existing congregations will join the new Global Methodist Church in waves over the next few years, and new church plants will sprout up as faithful members exit the UM Church and coalesce into new congregations," he added.

Delegates were supposed to vote on an agreed-upon separation plan at the General Conference, called the "Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation."

The plan, often referred to as simply the Protocol, stipulates that the UMC would pay the new denomination $25 million over the next four years to cover start-up costs and that disaffiliating congregations would be allowed to join the GMC "with all of their property and assets intact."

With the conference delayed and the Protocol not yet adopted, those provisions have not been approved.

What's the background?

According to Boyette and his leadership council, the hastened split was necessary in order to provide a place to land for those Methodist congregations or individuals who have already decided to leave the UMC or were planning to in the coming months.

Earlier this week, Frazer United Methodist Church, a Methodist megachurch in Alabama, announced it had voted to leave the UMC.

The mainline denomination's long-anticipated schism was first sparked in 2019 after delegates to the General Conference voted 438-384 to approve the so-called Traditional Plan, which strengthened the church’s bans on the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ United Methodists.

Most U.S.-based delegates opposed that plan in favor of LGBTQ-friendly options, but they were outvoted by U.S. conservatives aligned with delegates from Methodist strongholds in Africa and the Philippines, the Associated Press reported.

After the meeting, moderate and liberal clergy vowed that they would not abide by the bans, kick-starting talks for a formal separation. Though in a somewhat disjointed manner, that plan for separation will be carried through in May.

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