The United Methodist Church (UMC), the largest mainline Protestant denomination in America, could soon break up due to differences on same-sex marriages and ordination of LGBTI pastors.
The Associated Press reports that a nine-member UMC Judicial Council will hold a four-day meeting in Evanston, Illinois, starting on Tuesday to discuss options.
Depending on how that meeting turns out, the break up could begin as early as 2020.
The controversy has been brewing for decades. Conservative, centrist and liberal UMC leaders have long argued over whether to be more LGBTI inclusive.
A few UMC churches have been defiant and preformed same-sex marriage ceremonies, some even flying rainbow flags to show their support of LGBTI issues. A few pastors have even come out on the pulpit.
However, official UMC policy has always been anti-LGBTI. The ban has just been inconsistently enforced.
Delegates voted for ban
Things came to a head in February at a conference held in St. Louis, Missouri, where delegates voted to maintain the LGBTI ban and to start enforcing it vigorously.
On a 438-to-384 vote, delegates approved a proposal called the Traditional Plan, which strengthens the ban on LGBTI-inclusive practices.
The majority of delegates from the U.S. opposed that Traditional Plan, favoring instead more LGBTI-friendly practices.
However, U.S.-based conservatives joined by allies from Africa and the Philippines outvoted them. Africa and the Philippines are two Methodist strongholds with fierce anti-LGBTI beliefs.
During the UMC Judicial Council meeting this week, the nine members will discuss legal challenges to the Traditional Plan.
If that plan is upheld, it goes into effect in the United States on 1 January 2020.
Of the United Methodist Church’s 12.6 million members worldwide, almost 7 million live in the U.S.
If parts of the plan are struck down, it will spark a new debate at the next UMC general conference scheduled for May 2020.
That new debate will likely boil down to which faction will leave and form a new denomination, the liberal, LGBTI-friendly churches or the conservative, anti-LGBTI churches.
It would seem more likely the liberal UMC churches would leave.
However, those churches may opt to stay and continue to push for pro-LGBTI policies. In the process, the liberals would probably also try to convince the conservatives they are the ones who should break off and form a new church.