View of the stage during the United Methodist Church’s special session General Conference inside the Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. | United Methodist News Service/Kathleen Barry
A group of United Methodist Church members have urged their bishops to approve a plan to allow congregations to leave the denomination now, rather than wait for legislation for separation to be passed at next year’s General Conference.
The UMC has been embroiled in a divisive debate over its biblically-based stance that says homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” with many churches expecting to leave once the denomination approves a more gracious dismissal process at the 2022 General Conference.
An open letter posted to the website acalltograce.com and signed by several pastors, seminary professors, and other church leaders expressed concern about the continued postponing of General Conference, which was originally supposed to happen in May 2020.
“As the writer of Ecclesiastes notes, ‘For everything there is a season,’ and the season for waiting on General Conference legislative solutions as the only way forward has passed,” stated the letter.
“We recognize that continued delay in making decisions about the future of The United Methodist Church hurts our mission and is especially harmful to our central conference and LGBTQIA+ siblings who are caught up in this conflict.”
The letter called on church leaders to, among other things, create “a pastoral response to the anxiety generated by having to delay decisions that impact peoples’ lives and ministries,” “to develop resources to assist local churches in discerning their future,” and to help allow congregations that want to leave the UMC to do so immediately.
“Honoring the expressed desire of some churches and church leaders to leave The United Methodist Church and participate in other denominations, we call bishops and annual conferences to use existing disciplinary authority to find grace-filled ways for these leaders and churches to follow their call now, allowing them to take their church property with them where appropriate,” the letter continued.
“Those who have decided to remain in The United Methodist Church wish to begin doing the work now of envisioning the future UMC. To be able to do that requires the ability to graciously release others to their own future.”
“We hope the bishops receive this in the spirit which it is meant,” explained George Howard, a signatory of the letter and a General Conference delegate from West Ohio, to UM News.
“We believe all in the UMC want to pursue mission and ministry. We encourage the bishops to consider all the available options open to people seeking a path beyond the UMC. We likewise encourage all who seek a different path to engage with their bishop and annual conference.”
Scheduled to begin in late August of next year, the UMC General Conference will tackle proposals aimed at creating a gracious separation for congregations that want to adhere to the biblical definition of marriage and sexuality.
Although the UMC takes a theologically conservative position on LGBT issues, many in Church leadership roles refuse to enforce the denomination’s rules, among them a ban on the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.
As such, many expect hundreds if not thousands of congregations to leave the UMC and form their own theologically conservative Methodist church, once legislation is approved at General Conference, allowing for the funding of this new denomination and an easier process for congregations to leave.