The United Methodist Church’s (UMC) judicial council upheld a new plan which strengthens bans on LGBTI inclusion on Friday (26 April).
This includes banning same-sex weddings and the ordination of LGBTI pastors.
The move comes amid ongoing speculation that the largest mainline Protestant denomination in America could break up because of disputes surrounding LGBTI rights.
The policy, called the Traditional Plan, could go into effect by 1 January next year.
While conservative elements of the UMC welcomed the council’s ruling, opponents to the Traditional Plan expressed dismay.
Liberal and centrist elements of the UMC have vowed to increase their resistance to the policy, the Washington Post reports.
Set to go into effect at the start of 2020
The nine-person council ruled in favor of the Traditional Plan following a four-day meeting in Illinois.
While they found some aspects of the policy to be unconstitutional, the council upheld the bulk of the plan.
It is now set to go into effect at the start of 2020.
The Traditional Plan was first voted in by 438-384 votes from Methodist delegates at a special UMC conference in St. Louis in February.
Most of the US-based delegates opposed the plan and supported LGBTI-inclusive options.
However, US conservatives rallied Methodist delegates from Africa and the Philippines to vote through the policy. Africa and the Philippines are two Methodist strongholds with fierce anti-LGBTI beliefs.
While opponents of the Traditional Plan will have the chance to overturn the policy at the UMC’s next general conference in May next year, this seems unlikely to happen.
Analysts have predicted that the UMC’s conservative base will have become even stronger by the time of the conference.
The dispute over LGBTI inclusion in the UMC has been brewing for decades.
The UMC has 12.6 million members around the world, with almost seven million living in the US.
While official UMC policy has largely been anti-LGBTI, LGBTI bans have been inconsistently enforced.
Several UMC churches have performed same-sex ceremonies, sometimes while flying rainbow flags in support of LGBTI rights. A number of pastors have also come out while at the pulpit.
With the Traditional Plan set to go into effect, there will be increased speculation that the church will split.
It seems likely that the conservatives base will remain in the UMC, while the liberal and centrist factions break off from the main church.