A possible schism over same-sex inclusion in the United Methodist Church, which has a huge Hall County presence, has been a lingering issue, one that could reach a boiling point this year.
Just how that move, which many feel is inevitable, will shake out locally is yet to be determined.
“Local churches will be able to join the Global Methodist Church shortly after it is officially organized,” according to the website for the proposed new denomination.
Conservative leaders in the church unveiled plans for the denomination on Monday, March 1, with a doctrine that does not recognize same-sex marriage. The move is expected to hasten the long-expected breakup of the UMC, which has about 800 churches with 350,000 members in North Georgia.
The Rev. Keith Boyette, a Methodist elder from Virginia who chairs the Global Methodist initiative, said he and his allies do not want to wait until the UMC’s General Conference in late August 2022 to be able to leave the UMC.
They have asked that the topic of schism be added to the tightly limited agenda of a special one-day General Conference to be conducted online May 8.
“The church is basically stalemated right now,” Boyette said. “We don’t believe an additional year is going to be helpful for anybody.”
The Rev. Rob Bruce, lead pastor of McEver Road United Methodist Church in Oakwood, said “I think those that are starting the Global Methodist Church are making a mistake by going full speed ahead with this without waiting for the General Conference next year.
“We have no clearly defined process of separation. I think it would be better to debate the separation plans that will be presented at the General Conference and decide which is the best for both sides,” Bruce said.
He added that he favors the church’s “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation.”
“Separation will come … but clearly agreed upon terms of separation would be better for all sides.”
After conference delegates voted in 2019 to strengthen bans on LGBTQ-inclusive practices, many moderate and liberal clergy made clear they would not abide by the bans, and various groups worked on proposals to let the UMC split along theological lines.
The most prominent plan, the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, has some high-level support. Under the protocol, conservative congregations and regional bodies would be allowed to separate from the UMC and form a new denomination. They would receive $25 million in UMC funds and be able to keep their properties.
What’s happening with Global Methodists may just be the tip of the iceberg, said the Rev. Alice Rogers, Gainesville district superintendent.
“There are other Methodist expressions forming, too, in other areas such as Florida and Texas,” she said in an email to The Times. “They have not formally declared their status as a new denomination, and if they do, the $25 million associated with the protocol for new Methodist expressions will be divided among all of them. They will not each receive $25 million dollars.”
Rogers added, “It remains to be seen how many new denominations will pop up if and when the protocol passes.”
If the issue is not addressed on May 8, Boyette said he and his allies would be willing to delay until the 2022 General Conference, but only if UMC centrists and progressives remain committed to previous agreements about a breakup. Any lessening of those commitments might prompt the conservatives to bring the new church into existence, Boyette said.
Formed in a merger in 1968, the United Methodist Church claims about 12.6 million members worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the United States.
For her part, Rogers said she was ordained into the UMC and has “vowed to be loyal to Christ through the United Methodist Church. It is a vow that I take very seriously … I remain faithful to our Discipline, which is the covenant we have agreed to support.
“The Discipline has changed in significant ways in the 36 years I have been ordained, yet I have always submitted to its covenant authority. If at any time, I felt like I could not be a part of this covenant community, I would have joined one of the other hundreds of Protestant denominations that already exist.”
The UMC’s Book of Discipline contains the rules that guide the denomination.
The Rev. Mike Morgan, senior pastor of Gainesville First United Methodist Church, said, “I’m aware we have people within our church with varying viewpoints on this subject,” he said of the same-sex controversy.
“One thing I want to be sure to provide is a church where we can be in mission and ministry together despite the fact that we have varying viewpoints. And I know that some of those viewpoints are strongly held.”
Sybil Davidson, spokeswoman for the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church, said, “For most North Georgia United Methodists, our focus remains on our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
“We do that through large and small congregations, feeding the hungry, serving after disasters, supporting essential workers, volunteering in our communities and beyond.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.