Methodist leaders say ‘rebellion and dysfunction’ over LGBT issues splitting denomination

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Several Methodist leaders said the third-largest Protestant denomination in the United States is facing a growing divide as conservative clergy push back against liberals they claim are being disobedient to the church.

“[Liberal clergy] are the ones who are not abiding by the pronouncements of our General Conference, which speaks for the entire church,” Rev. Keith Boyette told Fox News Digital. “So they’re acting in violation of the provisions of our Book of Discipline, which undermines the effectiveness of the church.”

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Boyette, who serves as a top staff person at the newly established Global Methodist Church, calls it a “rebellion” by some liberal clergy who refuse to abide by the church’s rules, resulting in an inevitable split.

The North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) voted last Thursday to allow 70 churches in the state to disaffiliate largely over LGBTQ issues, and more are expected to depart as 35 congregations in Arkansas and over 100 in Florida are in the midst of a discernment process to consider following suit.

DOZENS OF GEORGIA CHURCHES SPLIT FROM UNITED METHODIST CHURCH OVER LGBTQ ISSUES

Protesters chant during the United Methodist Church's special session of the General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, on Feb. 26, 2019.

Protesters chant during the United Methodist Church’s special session of the General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, on Feb. 26, 2019.
(AP Photo/Sid Hastings)

Some are slated to join the Global Methodist Church, which is a conservative international Methodist denomination that formally began May 1.

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At a special session of the General Conference in 2019, the UMC voted 438-384 to uphold the church’s ban on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating at or hosting same-sex marriages.

The UMC also adopted a disaffiliation agreement that year providing a path for churches to leave the denomination through the end of 2023 “for reasons of conscience” related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” which is forbidden in the church’s Book of Discipline.

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Several conservative members of the Methodist clergy told Fox News that far from settling the issue, however, the 2019 vote was disregarded by many liberal leaders within the UMC who decided to remain in the denomination while commissioning openly gay clergy and officiating same-sex weddings anyway.

An LGBTQ+ flag flies over Union United Methodist Church in the South End of Boston on Jan. 5, 2020.

An LGBTQ+ flag flies over Union United Methodist Church in the South End of Boston on Jan. 5, 2020.
(Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

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Boyette said debate has been waged over various issues within the UMC for half a century and could have continued were it not that those who disagree with the church’s teachings are “blatantly disobeying” them in ways that bring dishonor on the institution and sow chaos in its administration.

“The church has been impotent to address those acts of rebellion and dysfunction,” he added.

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Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, the vice president of the denomination’s traditionalist Good News caucus, echoed Boyette’s assertions, saying the centrists and progressives in the UMC who chose to defy the church instead of leaving rendered it “essentially ungovernable.”

Several clergy members told Fox News that while the sexuality debate is important, they see it as a “presenting symptom” of deeper divisions that have been simmering within the denomination for decades.

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Multiple sources traced the seeds of the present disunity back even further when theological liberalism that questioned the Bible’s authority swept into U.S. seminaries from Europe during the 19th century.

Rev. Cynthia Good, pastor at Calvary United Methodist Church in Arlington, Massachusetts, speaks to her church during Sunday services on Jan. 5, 2020.

Rev. Cynthia Good, pastor at Calvary United Methodist Church in Arlington, Massachusetts, speaks to her church during Sunday services on Jan. 5, 2020.
(Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Bishop Scott Jones, a Houston-based prelate who serves as the resident bishop of the UMC’s Texas Annual Conference, said many believe the fundamental disagreement among Methodists hinges on biblical interpretation and church doctrine.

“There are people who believe that reason and experience should have a higher level of influence on how the Bible is read,” he said of liberals. “Conservatives tend to emphasize the authority of Scripture.”

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Rev. Tom Berlin of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia, pushed back against Methodists he suggested are leaving because they have not gotten their way.

Berlin, who classified himself within the centrist wing of the church, emphasized the complexity that comes with having a diverse denomination of 10 million members around the world.

“If you choose to be in a denomination that large, that is global in nature, you have to face the fact that in different cultures, people will be doing different things that may be offensive to you personally, your taste in how Scripture is read,” he said.

Rev. Tom Berlin of Herndon, Virginia, delivers remarks during the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in St. Louis, Missouri, on Feb. 26, 2019.

Rev. Tom Berlin of Herndon, Virginia, delivers remarks during the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in St. Louis, Missouri, on Feb. 26, 2019.
(AP Photo/Sid Hastings)

Stressing the importance of reading Scripture within the context “of the lives people really lead,” Berlin contrasted his own approach with fellow Methodists he claimed, “believe that anytime someone does something that they disagree with strongly, they don’t want to be in that church.”

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“There are United Methodists who believe that if any gay couple is married in any Methodist church anywhere, they no longer want to be in the denomination,” he said. “And I suppose if that issue is that important to you, then probably the logical thing to do would be to go and leave and find a new place to be the church together.”

All the clerical sources who spoke to Fox News saw the fracture within the UMC as part of a larger battle over sexuality that has played out in every other mainline Protestant denomination in the United States. Several noted, however, that the Methodists are the last to face the split, a fact they attributed to its global nature, which allows conservative congregations in Africa, Asia and elsewhere to hold the traditionalist line.

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The First United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, displays a rainbow decoration.

The First United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, displays a rainbow decoration.
(dlewis33 via Getty Images)

Ryan Danker, a church historian and director of the John Wesley Institute, noted that much of the liberalism in the UMC is confined to the United States and predicted that the conservative Methodist congregations splintering off will find themselves better aligned with Christians globally.

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“Theological commitments, I think, are stronger now than denominational ones,” Danker observed. “Conservative Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians would have more in common than they would with progressives in their own denominations.”

“So we’ll see a shift, I think, where the UMC becomes much more American-focused, and the Global Methodist Church will really, truly be global,” he added.



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