Before the Sunday sermon recently at Crossroads United Methodist, Pastor Scott Walters discussed with the congregation a proposal to allow the United Methodist Church’s congregations to split, and how the process could unfold.
The proposal, signed by 16 church leaders from around the world in December, is expected to be voted on in May. If passed, it would allow for churches to separate from the United Methodist Church and for the United Methodist Church to lift its ban on performing same sex marriages and ordaining LGBTQ members.
“I told the congregation I think it might be very freeing,” Walters said. “It allows us to be the church, rather than having the same argument about human sexuality, and allows us to continue the work of Christ or God, instead of having the same argument all the time.”
If the proposal is approved, a traditionalist church could be formed that would not allow gay clergy or same-sex marriages, Walters said.
Each of the church’s annual conferences, including Wisconsin’s, will largely determine what the churches within that conference do. The United Methodist Church has many gay members, but officially, the church cannot ordain pastors or marry same-sex couples. However, Walters noted that the Bishop of the Wisconsin conference has “put a kind of moratorium on trials of pastors.”
Walters said quite a number of pastors have married same-sex couples and there are gay pastors.
The Waunakee congregation will have a chance to discuss the proposal further prior to the general conference in May, and all congregations will have until July of 2021 to vote on the formation of new congregation. Any decisions would be made in by Dec. 31, 2024. Congregations that choose not to hold a vote will remain part of the Methodist denomination.
Walters said he has been at Crossroads United Methodist for just over a year, and from talking to the congregation, he expects the members will not want to withdraw.
“We haven’t taken an official vote,” Walter said, adding that a vote will be taken after the general conference.
Walters called the protocol – mediated by Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund – is less theological and more about the process and logistics.
It also addresses the finances, restructuring them so local churches can be released from the trust clause.
Titled “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation,” it sets aside funds for the traditionalist congregation and provides funds to support communities “historically marginalized by the sin of racism,” according to the document. Those funds are intended to strengthen ministries by and for Asian, Black, Hispanic-Latino, African American and Pacific Islander Communities.
Its Statement of Principals notes that the General Conference was unable to “resolve their differences specifically related to the full participation of LGBTQ person in the life of Christ,” and that with the members at an impasse, its mission is impeded.
The Bishops sought to reach a “gracious and dignified resolution of the impasse,” it states, and the restructuring is meant to resolve the differences “while recognizing the dignity, equality, integrity and respect of every person.”