- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2020

The United Methodist Church, the nation’s third-largest religious denomination, announced a plan that would spin off a new denomination that would continue to bar gay marriage and clergy.

The nine-page “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation” outlines a $25 million payment to the separating congregations, which would also keep their properties.

The churches that remain in the UMC almost certainly would allow for gay marriage and ordination in the coming months.

Methodists would vote on the split, called a “separation plan” by the UMC’s official news service, at the spring general assembly meeting in Minneapolis.

“I believe this is a fair and equitable solution that puts decades of conflict behind us and gives us a hopeful future,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, the president of the traditionally minded Wesleyan Covenant Association, who had already taken steps to form its own denomination after February’s historic vote by the international church that affirmed the faith’s ban on LGBTQ clergy and marriage.

MostAmerican churches at last February’s meeting sought for greater inclusion of LGBTQ members but were outvoted by many southern and international Methodists.

The document presented Friday emerged from meetings of what the church is calling a “diverse” 16-member group of UMC bishops and leaders from both liberal and conservative wings. Noted mediator Kenneth Feinberg, who helped facilitate the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, assisted in writing the proposal.

Leaders for nearly a year have sought a resolution to logistical impasses ranging from the ownership of church property and assets to the payment of clergy pensions resulting from the schism over fundamental theological differences on the roles of LGBTQ individuals in the church.

“As a United Methodist who is LGBTQ, my priority at the table was to make sure we addressed the full participation of LGBTQ people in the life of the church, making sure the answer was not ‘ask us again in 2024,’” said Jan Lawrence, executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, which has sought for gay marriage and clergy to be recognized within the church. “The language needs to be removed now.”

Methodists will converge in Minneapolis in May to vote on various proposals — including the one that was released Friday — during the church’s General Conference. Congregations that remain in the denomination would vote to allow for gay marriage and clergy at a follow-up conference. According to the proposal, congregations would have until July 1, 2021, to vote to leave the UMC.

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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