The United Methodist Church moved toward becoming more progressive and LGBTQ-affirming during U.S. regional meetings this month that included the election of its second openly gay bishop. Conservatives say the developments only will accelerate their exit from one of the nation’s largest Protestant denominations.
Each of the UMC’s five U.S. jurisdictions — meeting separately in early November — approved similarly worded measures aspiring to a future of church where “LGBTQIA+ people will be protected, affirmed and empowered.”
They also passed nonbinding measures asking anyone to withdraw from leadership roles if they’re planning to leave the denomination soon — a category that almost entirely includes conservatives moving toward the exits.
“having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 2 Timothy 3:5
The denomination still officially bans same-sex marriage and the ordination of any “self-avowed, practicing homosexual,” and only a legislative gathering called the General Conference can change that.
But this month’s votes show growing momentum — at least in the American half of the global church — to defy these policies and seek to reverse them at the next legislative gathering in 2024.
Supporters and opponents of these measures drew from the same metaphor to say their church is either becoming more or less of a “big tent,” as the United Methodists have long been described as a theologically diverse, mainstream denomination.
“It demonstrates that the big tent has collapsed,” said the Rev. Jay Therrell, president of the conservative Wesleyan Covenant Association, which has been helping churches that want to leave the denomination.
“For years, bishops have told traditionalists that there is room for everyone in the United Methodist Church,” he said. “Not one single traditionalist bishop was elected. Moreover, we now have the most progressive or liberal council of bishops in the history of Methodism, period.”
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