Originally published in Christian Newswire
The United States’ second-largest Protestant denomination, the United Methodist Church, voted on Tuesday to strengthen its embrace of marriage between one man and one woman, laid out in the church’s so-called “Traditional Plan”.
In an unexpected turn, the UMC’s delegates decided to reject the “One Church Plan”, which would have permitted individual church leaders and regional annual conference officials to decide whether to ordain and marry LGBTQ members, according to the Associated Press.
Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, described the denomination’s unexpected vote as historic, because its delegates “voted to uphold biblical standards of sexual morality”.
“Understand what happened,” he explained. “Yesterday, in St Louis, Missouri, a major mainline Protestant denomination in the United States said ‘no’ to the sexual revolution. It has never happened before. It happened yesterday. We had better pay close attention.”
The “Traditional Plan”, backed by the church’s conservative delegates, was approved by a vote of 438-384. It should be noted 43% of the plan’s backers came from overseas, many from African countries.
The Rev Jerry Kulah of Liberia said “the church in Africa would cease to exist” if the ban on LGBTQ clergy were lifted. He went on to say he “can’t do anything but support the Traditional Plan” because it is “the biblical plan”.
Other ministers in the US, like the Rev Scott Hagan of Bonaire, Georgia, said turning away from the biblical understanding of marriage by allowing each UMC church to take its own theological position on the issue would be “confusing”.
“To have each church — possibly in the same town — offering a different perspective and practice would surely be confusing to the public that comes to the church looking for guidance,” Hagan explained.
As Mohler explained, the UMC’s decision to stand by the biblical understanding of marriage is historic. While other mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Presbyterian (USA) and Episcopal churches, which tend to lean to the left, have embraced same-sex marriage, the UMC has rejected that shift.
Delegates at the Methodist denomination, it should be noted, rejected the leftward move despite support from the church’s top clergy, who pushed hard for the “One Church Plan.”
Following the vote Tuesday, it is likely many of the church’s progressive congregations will leave the UMC. Some, though, who disagree with the denomination’s decision will stay in the church to continue fighting the vote.
Deep split within church
The deep split within the church was evident in several fiery speeches opposing the Traditional Plan, reports CBN.
“If we bring this virus into our church, it will bring illness to us all,” said the Rev Thomas Berlin of Herndon, Virginia. He predicted many Methodist churchgoers and some regional bodies would leave the church, while others would “stay and fight,” performing same-sex weddings even if it meant punishment.
Many supporters of the more liberal plan stood in support as Berlin spoke. Some wore rainbow-motif garments or sat behind rainbow banners. After the vote, a small group of protesters carried a cross to the stage at the conference and sat around it. Another group of about 200 people staged a peaceful sit-down protest while about two dozen police officers watched.
The Rev Allen Ewing-Merrill, a pastor from Portland, Maine, pledged defiance of the Traditional Plan, tweeting: “I will not participate in your bigotry, sin & violence.”
An association of Methodist theological schools warned that if the Traditional Plan passes, the church “will lose an entire generation of leaders in America”.
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.
While other mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Episcopal and Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches, have embraced gay-friendly practices, the Methodist church still bans them, though acts of defiance by pro-LGBT clergy have multiplied. Many have performed same-sex weddings; others have come out as gay or lesbian from the pulpit of their churches.
The denominations enforcement of bans on gay-friendly practices has been inconsistent; the Traditional Plan aspires to beef up discipline against the growing number of definat pro-LGBT clergy, many of whom have performed same-sex weddings or come out as gay or lesbian from the pulpit of their churches.
The Rev Tim Bagwell, 64, pastor at a UMC church in Macon, Georgia, had opposed the Traditional Plan and called the outcome “deeply painful.” But he said his church will stay with UMC until at least 2020, when the next major conference is scheduled. He’s hopeful new delegates will be elected and change course to a more inclusive church.
“I am deeply sad,” he said. “The Methodist church has always been mainstream, reaching out to people. This sends a different tone … one of exclusion, not inclusion.”
The Rev. Scott Hagan, 45, a pastor from Bonaire, Georgia, supported the Traditional Plan, saying the liberals’ alternative would have sent a mixed message.
“To have each church — possibly in the same town — offering a different perspective and practice would surely be confusing to the public that comes to the church looking for guidance,” Hagan said.