The United Methodist Church has announced a proposal to separate into two denominations, a decision stemming from a 2019 vote regarding same sex marriage and LGBTQ+ clergy. The plan was announced on Jan. 3 and is set to be voted on at the General Conference in May 2020.
Passage of the resolution would separate the church, introducing the Traditionalist and Progressive denominations. “Simply stated, the Traditionalist approach looks more to ‘moral absolutes’ and an inerrancy in the words of the bible’s writers to inform morality and behavior,” said Pastor Chris Lane of Traverse City Central United Methodist Church.
In contrast, he explained the other side as well, “the Progressive approach seeks to appreciate that what the Bible’s writers addressed to their original audience may not apply the same way to modern audiences,” said Lane.
The components of the proposal have been in progress for decades and came to a critical debate after the 2019 General Conference. “This was a tipping point moment for our denomination, no longer seeing how we all might live amicably in the same denomination, despite our differences,” said Lane.
The issue of same-sex marriage has been a topic of contention between other religious dominations as well, “the conversation is already happening in every denomination, even if it is less obvious,” said Andrew Pomerville, Alma College Chaplin.
“We went through similar conversations about same-sex clergy within the Presbyterian Church and also wrestled with this topic,” said Pomerville. He continued, “for those of us who have gone through it, we are watching our brothers and sisters in the Methodist Church, praying for healing and for hope, and are saddened that they have come to this conclusion to split.”
Generational divide appears to be playing a significant role in the decision. “As the generations shift, we see conversations that result in these changes… what one generation thought was believed by all, is not what their children and grandchildren would support,” said Pomerville.
Splits within denominations is not a new concept. Daniel Wasserman, professor of history, explained the effects of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. “The primary impact of the Reformation was the division of Christians into several different churches. That reality often produced intense conflict within families, neighbors and church members,” said Wasserman.
Wasserman also explained the debate surrounding dividing religious affiliations among experts; “It’s been argued that the spawning of more divisions (and thus new Christian denominations) has led to a ‘hyper-pluralism’, with so many different groups and views that the larger government or society has difficulty functioning.”
In regard to whether this separation will create more division rather than solidarity, both Pomerville and Wasserman gave insights to how the future may play out for Methodists. “It’s not hard to see that the historical conflicts among Christians often have led to many Christians becoming disillusioned with their churches… many parishioners may be alienated by these divisions” said Wasserman.
Pomerville explained, “Anytime we split, it is sad because at one point somebody was together, and they had to decide not to be together anymore, it’s tough… it’s hard to say as a Christian, witness of our mission is helped by any splits, regardless of how necessary it may be.”
Pastor Lane is optimistic about the future of the Church. “I look forward to the day when I can, without reservation, celebrate the marriage vows of a couple who are in love and who see God’s Spirit at the center of their love, and who just happen to be two men or two women… this is an exciting time to be part of the barrier-breaking movement of love that Jesus began two thousand years ago. I feel blessed to be part of it.”