The Banner has a subscription to republish articles from Religion News Service. This story by Emily McFarlan Miller was published on religionnews.com May 2, 2022. It has been edited for length. A paragraph with context for the Christian Reformed Church has been added.
Sunday, May 1, marked the official launch of the Global Methodist Church, a new theologically conservative denomination splintering from the United Methodist Church.
After decades of rancorous debate over the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ United Methodists, a special session of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference and three postponements of a vote to formally split the denomination, the schism finally came “without fanfare, but full of hope, faith, and perseverance.”
That’s how the Rev. Keith Boyette, chairman of the Transitional Leadership Council of the Global Methodist Church, described the launch of the new denomination in a statement published days earlier on its website.
Sunday’s launch, Boyette told Religion News Service last week, “was very definitely driven by practicality and the fact that the postponement of the General Conference moved many people to say they were tired of waiting and tired of the conflict not being addressed and resolved by the United Methodist Church.”
Delegates have debated questions about sexuality at every quadrennial meeting of the United Methodist Church General Conference since 1972, when language first was added to the denomination’s Book of Discipline saying that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
That debate came to a head in 2016, when bishops announced a special session of the General Conference devoted to the topic.
Delegates to the 2019 special session ended up approving something called the Traditional Plan, which strengthened enforcement of language in the denomination’s rulebook against the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ members.
Progressive United Methodists pledged to disregard the results of the special session. Conservatives, frustrated by the continuing debate, threatened to leave anyway. Finally, a group representing all different theological viewpoints within the denomination brokered a deal to create a separate “traditionalist” Methodist denomination that would receive $25 million over the next four years.
Delegates to the 2020 General Conference—which gathers delegates from around the world—were prepared to vote on that proposal, called the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, when COVID-19 swept the globe, canceling their meeting not once, but three times. Currently, it is set for 2024.
The third postponement earlier this year was the last straw for members of the Global Methodist Church’s Transitional Leadership Council, which already was laying the groundwork for a new denomination. The council immediately announced it would launch the new denomination on May 1.
The date was driven by practical reasons, according to Boyette: If clergy, churches and regional annual conferences want to join the Global Methodist Church, it first needs to exist.
United Methodist conferences in the U.S. hold their annual meetings in May and June, he said. Over the coming weeks, some might consider pathways to allow churches to leave with their properties. Others might vote for the entire conference to disaffiliate.
Already, the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference has voted to leave the United Methodist Church and join the Global Methodist Church.
At least one retired bishop—Bishop Mike Lowry, a member of the Transitional Leadership Council—has surrendered his credentials to the United Methodist Church for the newly launched denomination.
So has Boyette.
Boyette said the Transitional Leadership Council doesn’t know how many more will follow this summer. He did not have numbers Monday for how many clergy, churches or conferences had joined the denomination with the launch, but he believes hundreds of churches across the U.S. already have begun the process to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church, and most will land in the Global Methodist Church.
Some might wait to see what the United Methodist General Conference decides in 2024.
Until the Global Methodist Church holds its convening conference, the Transitional Leadership Council will conduct background checks on clergy and review information submitted by those hoping to join the new denomination to make sure they align with the Global Methodist Church and its Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline.
The progress toward a new denomination is bittersweet.
“I don’t think anyone is dancing with joy that we are at this place in Methodism. I think there is a sadness that we have come to this and that we find ourselves in this season,” Boyette said.
Bishops echoed that sentiment at last week’s spring meeting of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.
“While I will always wish we could all remain in this church, I’m clear some cannot. I grieve and regret that more than words can express, but I have no interest in serving an echo chamber,” said Bishop Cynthia Fierro-Harvey, outgoing president of the council.
“I am a big-tent church person who believes that every voice is important to the whole, sometimes as annoying as that might be—that every part of the body is important to the whole. I also realize that it might be time to bless and send our sisters and brothers who cannot remain under the big tent,” she said.
As of Sunday, the Global Methodist Church had completed all the necessary steps to be a legal entity, according to its leadership.
Other protestant denominations, including the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America have found members, churches and classes (regional groups of churches) at odds over issues of human sexuality. Last year the RCA voted at its General Synod to prepare for a restructuring of the denomination and to allow for “gracious separation” for churches that choose to leave. In January 2021 a new denomination, the Alliance of Reformed Churches, formed with the departure of 43 of those congregations. Earlier, the Kingdom Network, an association of five formerly RCA congregations, formed with a focus on multiplying disciples, training leaders, and planting churches. The CRCNA will take up its human sexuality report in June at Synod 2022. Overtures (formal requests) to synod representing varying veiewpoints—that the traditional interpretations of the church prohibiting homosexual sex and relationships are already confessional; that the church should explore a local option on deciding these matters; and that the church should delay decisions to prepare a more pastoral approach—indicate deliberations will not be easy. The CRC has launched a prayer initiative ahead of Synod 2022.
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