Well, it’s pretty much a done deal: the United Methodist Church is splitting up and the two remaining factions will have nothing to do with each other. As with most divorces, this was less about the nature of the disagreement that led to the split and all about who gets to keep money and property:
Leaders of the United Methodist Church have agreed in principle on a deal that will divide the denomination, potentially ending years of discord over the status of gay and transgender people in the church.
The agreement, which was signed by 16 leaders of the church on both sides of the debate, would allow same-sex marriage in the Methodist church and for gay clergy members to serve openly.
Conservative churches that oppose same-sex marriage could leave the denomination and take their property with them, a sticking point that in other denominations facing similar conflicts has led to long legal battles over who owns church buildings.
Since the Episcopal Church began consecrating openly gay clergy in 2003, dozens of churches have split off and sued the denomination in an effort to keep hold of church property.
The agreement would give the conservative churches that leave $25 million to start their own denomination. Clergy members who leave would keep their United Methodist Church pensions.
For the deal to take effect, it will have to be approved at the denomination’s next general conference in May. Several church leaders involved in the deal said that because advocates on both sides of the debate were involved in negotiating it, they are optimistic it will pass.
“We’ve essentially put this conflict behind us,” said Keith Boyette, a signatory to the deal who is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a collection of more than 1,000 conservative congregations that oppose same-sex marriage. “For traditionalists, we can now focus on the next steps. That would not be achievable if there were not this kind of plan in place.”
Mr. Boyette said that he was holding conference calls with members of the association on Friday, and that the group had already put out a draft book of bylaws that a new, traditionalist denomination could use.
He said he hoped to hold a convening conference for a new denomination this year and estimated that as much as 30 to 40% of the denomination in the U.S. would leave the United Methodist Church.
The agreement follows years of rancor over LGBT people’s place in the Methodist church, the third-largest religious denomination in the U.S., with 13 million members world-wide.
Last year, the church convened a special general conference specifically to address the question. But the meeting ended without a clear resolution. While 53% of delegates voted to strengthen the ban on same-sex marriage, more progressive churches across the U.S. continued to conduct same-sex weddings and gay clergy continued to serve. Some prominent conservatives advocated for dissolving the denomination altogether.
Ken Carter, president of the United Methodist Church’s council of bishops and a signatory of the deal, said he had hoped to keep the denomination from splitting, but was convinced to give churches a path to leave after witnessing the damage that the continuing fight was causing at the conference.
“There are simply some convictions and matters of conscience that do not allow people to be in unity with each other,” he said.
Sad to watch things like this happen, but it is probably a sign of things to come for the Roman Catholic Church too. Even the pope has resigned himself to the idea of a schism.