After the United Methodist Church’s (UMC) General Conference surprised the world last year by adopting the Traditional Plan that rejects same-sex marriage, the denomination began the process of schism. On Friday, a diverse UMC working group agreed to a concrete proposal detailing how a schism would go forward. According to Bible-believing Methodists, the deal is “obviously rather unfair towards traditionalist believers within the UMC.”
While the UMC General Conference voted to uphold the traditional Bible-based beliefs about marriage and sexuality, the separation agreement — Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation — effectively gives the denomination to the pro-LGBT faction, forcing conservatives to split off and create their own church.
The Protocol designates $25 million to a new traditionalist Methodist denomination over the next four years, in exchange for that new denomination surrendering any further claims to UMC’s assets. Another $2 million would be allocated for other new Methodist denominations that may split from the UMC. Finally, the Protocol designates $39 million “to ensure there is no disruption in supporting ministries for communities historically marginalized by racism.”
A 16-member group representing UMC members from Africa, Europe, the Philippines, the U.S., and various segments of the United Methodist Church, agreed to the Protocol with the assistance of attorney Kenneth Feinberg, best known for his mediation work on the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund and the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. Legislation to implement the agreement is expected before the United Methodist General Conference for a vote at the legislative meeting in Minneapolis, Minn., in May 2020.
“Liberals inherit UMC structures. Conservatives would need to vote themselves into traditional denomination,” Mark Tooley, president at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), told PJ Media. “There are $120 million in undesignated assets held by UMC agencies. One third would go to conservatives, with part of that going to ethnic churches, and $25 million left.”
“If General Conference approves division in May, then conservatives would launch their denomination, and liberals will have their denomination. We can assume liberals will make liberalizing sexuality their first order of business,” Tooley predicted.
John Lomperis, the United Methodist director at IRD who served on pastoral staff for two United Methodist congregations and is a duly elected delegate to the United Methodist General Conference, explained that the Protocol “is not a plan to really dissolve the UMC but to basically provide for the UMC to split into two or more denominations.”
Lomperis said the Protocol, in its current form, is not fair to conservatives.
Once a new denomination has been created, “the burden would be imposed entirely on conservatives to take the initiative and force a vote if they wanted their congregation or annual conference (the main UMC regional unit) into the more conservative branch. I expect a great many will be eager to do so. Some other groups, including but not limited to liberals who have strong differences with other liberals, may also want to separate out.”
In order to affiliate with a new Methodist denomination, a 57 percent vote of the entire annual conference is required.
“Much of this plan is helpful, but some details of the terms are obviously rather unfair towards traditionalist believers within the UMC,” Lomperis argued. “When an annual conference votes on which of the two denominations to affiliate with, how is it remotely reasonable to rig the elections so that if a mere 44% minority votes to affiliate with the denomination that rejects the UMC’s longstanding and repeatedly affirmed doctrinal and moral standards, then that minority wins the day?”
Lomperis said he remains uncommitted to any particular plan.
“As a voting delegate to the May 2020 General Conference, there is no grand-bargain plan that has earned my vote at this point. But as we approach May 2020 I remain committed to defending traditional, biblical, Wesleyan values and to getting the best deal possible, within the limits of our political realities, for traditionalist United Methodists,” he explained.
As for the UMC’s assets, he explained that “basically the conservative branch gets 1/3 of the assets and the liberal denomination gets 2/3 – after an earlier offer to have a more even split to bring greater benefit to non-American churches was rejected. Then from their respective shares, both sides contribute to a fund of $39 million, which is not merely for continuing denominational programs, but to specifically support ‘communities historically marginalized by the sin of racism.’ This is a worthy goal, and churches within the traditional denomination would be eligible to receive funding through this portion.”
It does seem the deck is stacked against conservatives. Even though the denomination voted to affirm the traditional view of marriage and sexuality, under this plan the conservatives are being exiled and the liberals given the keys to the kingdom, along with 2/3 of the church’s assets. Adding insult to injury, no Methodist unit will be able to join a new denomination if a minority of 44 percent or more vote against it.
As mainline Protestant churches have embraced same-sex marriage, they have faced declining attendance numbers. The Methodist Church seemed an exception to that rule, but under the terms of this agreement, the UMC would join the increasing number of mainline denominations that reject the Bible’s clear teaching on sexuality.
The Bible clearly condemns homosexual activity as sinful, while offering repentance and forgiveness to all people. This is a hard balance, and liberals are right to say that Christians have often proven too judgmental of LGBT people. Yet conservatives are also right to insist on the truths of the Bible. Churches need to do a better job of showing love and acceptance to people while refusing to affirm their sinful practices. While Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, He did tell her to “go, and sin no more’ (John 7:53-8:11).
Sadly, in their zeal to reverse the harm done to LGBT people, liberals have embraced a false version of Christianity — one that twists scripture in order to kowtow to modern sensibilities. This created a de facto schism, and now the Methodist Church is honoring that fact. It is a tragedy when any church splits, but the separation — when it comes — is only confirming a division that has already taken place.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.