Earlier this month, the United Methodist Church, which includes about 13 million members worldwide, announced a plan to resolve a decades-long, internal struggle about how LGBTQ people may participate in the church, including same-sex marriage and ordination.
“I hate those headlines … dividing, splitting, tearing apart …,” said Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of the United Methodist Church’s Louisiana Conference in a video message posted on the conference’s website. “We’ve been very intentional about using the word ‘separation.’
Harvey was one of 16 church leaders from across the globe who worked together to find a proposed solution: the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.”
The plan, about how the church may move forward, may lead to the creation of at least one new denomination that emphasizes conservative, rather than progressive, values.
Here are some key things to know about the process:
1. It’s been a long journey
For more than four decades, the church has wrestled with issues related to sexuality. In February 2019, the decision-making body of the church held a special session in St. Louis to address these matters. Specifically, would the church make changes to the “Book of Discipline,” its rulebook? In a relatively narrow vote, 53 percent of the delegates opted to reinforce rules that oppose same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy. Even though there was a prevailing vote, there was no consensus — and it was a painful, divisive process.
2. An African bishop — and a Jewish lawyer — helped the church move forward
Bishop John Yambasu is the leader of the Sierra Leone Conference in West Africa.
“He saw the hurt” that came out of the meeting in St. Louis, Harvey said.
Yambasu wanted to work toward resolution and reconciliation, Harvey recounted. He brought together the 16-member mediation team, a diverse group of church members with differing views.
As the negotiation process evolved, a highly regarded mediator stepped forward Kenneth Feinberg, who helped shape settlements from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the 2010 BP oil spill, assisted the church on a pro bono basis.
3. It’s not a done deal
The proposed plan is being fine-tuned as church legislation, which will be considered at the UMC’s global conference, which begins May 5 in Minneapolis.
It is expected that the plan with the United Methodist Church is that is will be adopted.