United Methodists haven’t been truly united in decades.
Last year, ongoing disputes over biblical teaching on human sexuality threatened to blow up America’s second largest Protestant denomination.
Now, a diverse group of representatives from the denomination’s varied factions has come up with a plan to divide the church.
The plan’s warm reception may indicate that the one thing growing numbers of Methodists can agree on are the terms of their divorce.
Church representatives will vote on the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation at their May General Conference.
Local Methodist leaders embracing various sides of the debate are busy studying and discussing the Protocol — and other proposals — with their congregations.
Many local leaders expressed support for the Protocol, seeing it as a way around an unbridgeable divide.
The Rev. Kent Ingram, senior minister of First United Methodist Church, the oldest church in Colorado Springs and the largest Methodist congregation in Colorado, is part of the progressive side of the church, which favors marrying and ordaining gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender members.
If the Protocol passes in May, progressives would remain in the United Methodist Church, while more traditionalist congregations would leave to form a new denomination.
“I feel like right now this proposal has the best chance of passing and moving our denomination past the conflict we have been mired in for almost 50 years,” Ingram said.
The Rev. Bob Kaylor of Tri-Lakes United Methodist is part of the traditionalist side of the church, which represents a minority of members in the United States, but a majority of the global church.
Kaylor supports the Protocol, seeing it as a way for all parts of the church to stop bickering and focus on being a church.
“I believe that this proposal offers our best way forward, allowing us to part amicably and bless one another into new opportunities for ministry in the 21st century,” Kaylor said.
Methodists have stuck together as they argued about human sexuality, while Presbyterians and Episcopalians split up.
A Methodist split seemed more likely after a 2019 vote in favor of a Traditional Plan that reaffirmed the denomination’s 1972 statement that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The Traditional Plan also added new enforcement powers to discipline or dismiss gay and lesbian clergy, including Denver-based Bishop Karen Oliveto, the denomination’s first openly lesbian bishop, who heads the denomination’s liberal-leaning Mountain Sky Conference region.
Concerned leaders from across the denomination hired all-star mediator Kenneth Feinberg, who handled compensation for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to create a plan that would prevent the church’s implosion.
Fienberg and the team hammered out the nine-page Protocol, which allows traditionalist congregations to form a new denominational body and keep their local church properties. This new body will receive a going-away gift of $25 million.
Not all local pastors will vote at May’s general conference, but many are devoting significant time and energy to helping members understand this major crossroad in the denomination’s history.
First United Methodist has studied various proposals, and will study the new Protocol, too.
The Rev. Olon Lindemood, senior pastor of Sunrise United Methodist Church in Briargate, is a fifth-generation United Methodist clergyman. Last Sunday, he told members of his congregation that he would be sending them information about the Protocol, and the Church Council will meet this quarter to devise a process for preparing them for upcoming votes.
Calvary United Methodist Church’s senior pastor, the Rev. David Amrie, is grateful that the Mountain Sky Conference has actively resisted the 2019 Traditional Plan. And Calvary has been on its own nine-month journey of discovery, recently creating its own open-and-affirming document, “Calvary Essentials.”
Calvary is offering members a range of chances to learn about and discuss their tradition’s historic changes:
• The church posted the Protocol, FAQs, and informational from United Methodist News Service on the church website
• Hard copies of the Protocol are available in the church
• Amrie is also recommending that interested members view a live-stream panel discussion with team members who helped draft the Protocol, and attend a General Conference Focus Group on Thursday, Jan. 16, at 6:30 p.m. at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church
Amrie says the Protocol isn’t perfect, but it addresses concerns of traditionalists, centrists, and progressives, giving Methodist churches a way to move forward, even if not together.
“Nobody got everything they wanted,” he said, “but I support and advocate for the Protocol, and I look forward to a new season in the United Methodist Church where LGBTQ persons can be fully welcomed and accepted and for an equal season of blessing for the new Traditionalist Methodist church which is yet to form where folks can live faithfully according to their spiritual conscience.”
Divorce better than decline, destruction
The Rev. Dave Hiester of Wilson United Methodist Church on Flying W Ranch Road has been hosting regular informational meetings about denominational issues, and will host another meeting Sunday.
“This proposal will not settle the dispute, but it’s the best way forward that I have seen,” he said. “It seeks to provide opportunity for groups, who very clearly interpret and understand Scripture differently, to bless and encourage one another as they seek to live in mission.
“I support this proposal, and hope the church seizes the opportunity for a positive witness to the world. How different would it be if we came together to work together on a solution, even if it meant separation, and we did so blessing one another as we went?”
Kaylor says Tri-Lakes United Methodist has spent time studying how the Bible and Christian theology address human sexuality. And a congregational task force will organize monthly town hall meetings on the Protocol and its potential impact.
“The denomination has been in decline, and fights over theology and differing visions of ministry haven’t helped us win more people to Christ,” said Kaylor, who sees a silver lining in the split that has been coming for decades.
“I think that the vast majority of Methodists on all sides of this conflict want to be welcoming to all people and provide a place where they can be transformed by the love of God. We have different visions of how to do that, and now we will get to see how those visions unfold. The proposal offers us a chance to part with grace and bless one another into those new visions. It’s a historic opportunity to spark a potential new revival of Methodist Christianity around the world.”