United Methodist Bishops Acknowledge Breakup Is Imminent | Way of life
The United Methodist Council of Bishops, closing a five-day meeting on Friday, acknowledged the inevitable split in their denomination — a schism that will widen this weekend with the launch of a global movement led by theologically conservative Methodists.
The breakaway denomination, called the Worldwide Methodist Church, will officially exist from Sunday. Its leaders have been infuriated by the liberal churches’ continued disregard for UMC bans on same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy.
Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who on Friday became the new president of the Council of Bishops, described the launch of the new movement as a “sad and sobering reality.” Bickerton said he regretted any departure from UMC and valued the denomination’s diversity of thought.
“There is no perfect church,” he said. “Constant fighting, vitriolic rhetoric, punitive behaviors have no place in how we preserve and promote our testimonies as Christian believers.”
He said he prayed for the infighting to end and for the UMC to rediscover its mission of making disciples for Christ. He urged the UMC, even though it is facing defections, to also consider May Day as its launch day.
“We are The United Methodist Church who is not interested in the continuation of sexism, racism, homophobia, irrelevance and decline,” he said. “What interests us is a discovery of what God has in mind for us on the horizon as the next expression of who we are as United Methodists.”
Bickerton, who leads the UMC’s New York Region, succeeded Louisiana-based Cynthia Fierro Harvey as president of the Council of Bishops.
Harvey acknowledged the inevitable breakup of the denomination when she preached on April 25 in her last address as president of the Council of Bishops: “I also realize that it may be time to bless and ‘send our sisters and brothers who cannot stay in the big tent’.
A leader of the dissident movement said Sunday’s launch would go off without fanfare.
“This is the date when we can begin to receive churches as they leave The United Methodist Church, and this is going to happen over a considerable period of time,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Transitional Leadership Council. of the new denomination and a United Methodist minister in Virginia. “It will be more of a rolling celebration.”
Its transitional doctrine includes the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that clergy must adhere to it – a central point of division in the UMC for decades.
Boyette said he expects some churches and pastors to announce on Sunday that they are joining the Methodist World Church. He will be among them.
“As of May 1, I will no longer be a member of The United Methodist Church,” said Boyette, who has already been approved — effective Sunday — as a clergyman in the new denomination.
It is easier for clergy to leave UMC than an entire church, which must go through a layered process. As a result, Boyette expects the ranks of the World Methodist Church to grow over time, noting that some of those wishing to join will wait until after the 2024 UMC General Conference — and possible adoption. a protocol that sets out the details of the termination.
Boyette criticized the actions of some members of the Council of Bishops, including the decision to further delay General Conference. He suggested that some bishops intentionally prevent churches from using certain processes to leave the denomination.
World Methodist Church organizers originally planned to launch the denomination only after the upcoming UMC General Conference. This legislative body is the only one that can approve a tentative agreement – unveiled in 2020 after negotiations between conservatives, liberals and centrists – to allow churches and regional groups to leave the denomination and keep their assets.
But the General Conference, originally scheduled for 2020, has already been delayed for two consecutive years by the pandemic. In March, the UMC announced it was once again pushing back the next gathering — until 2024 — due to long delays in processing U.S. visa applications. Just over half of the denomination’s membership is overseas, including in Africa and the Philippines.
The United Methodist Church claims 6.3 million members in the United States and 6.5 million overseas.
Differences over same-sex marriage and 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 toughen bans LGBTQ inclusive practices. Most US-based delegates opposed this plan and favored LGBTQ-friendly options; they were outvoted by American conservatives associated with most delegates from Methodist strongholds in Africa and the Philippines.
In the aftermath of this meeting, many moderate and liberal clergy made it clear that they would not abide by the bans, and various groups worked on proposals to let the UMC divide along theological lines.
Associated Press writer Giovanna Dell’Orto contributed to this report.
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