United Methodist Church delays General Conference, prompting some conservatives to leave
(RNS) — The United Methodist Church has postponed its General Conference meeting for the third time due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. In response, some conservative United Methodists announced that they would leave the denomination preemptively rather than wait for the long-awaited reunion.
General Conference delegates were expected to agree to a proposal to split the denomination over disagreements over the full inclusion of its LGBTQ members at the meeting of its global decision-making body scheduled for Aug. 29-Sept. 6 in Minneapolis.
But General Conference organizers announced late Thursday (March 3) that they were rescheduling that meeting until 2024 due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
Obtaining vaccinations and travel visas remains a challenge for delegates traveling outside the United States, according to the General Conference Commission.
“We engaged in a fair, thorough, and honest discussion of the alternatives,” said Kim Simpson, chairman of the General Conference Commission.
“The visa issue is a reality that is simply beyond our control as we seek to achieve a reasonable threshold of delegate attendance and participation. Ultimately, our decision reflects the expectation that 2024 will provide greater opportunity for global travel and a higher degree of protection for the health and safety of delegates and attendees.
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But a group of theologically conservative United Methodists said Thursday it was unwilling to wait any longer to discuss a split and announced its intention, through its Transitional Leadership Council, to launch the World Methodist Church on May 1.
“Many United Methodists have become impatient with a denomination that is clearly struggling to function effectively at the general church level,” said Reverend Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and chairman of the Transitional Leadership Council, which guided the establishment of the World Methodist Church in the past year.
“Theologically conservative local churches and annual conferences want to be free from divisive and destructive debates, and have the freedom to move forward together. We are confident that many existing congregations will join the New World Methodist Church in waves over the next few years, and new church plants will spring up as faithful members leave the UM Church and merge into new congregations.
Meanwhile, the Reconciling Ministries Network, which advocates for the full inclusion of LGBTQ United Methodists, said Thursday it supports the commission’s decision to postpone General Conference again.
“Let’s be honest here: Hosting a General Conference in the age of the pandemic with myriad barriers to safe and equitable participation would not have been a Christ-like way of being the Church,” the group said. in a written statement.
Still, according to the statement, leaders of the Reconciling Ministries Network lament the delay in discussing a possible split.
“These circumstances only extend the path to justice for our LGBTQ+ loved ones and to parity in the global church,” he said.
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The General Conference, which typically brings together delegates from around the world every four years, was originally scheduled for 2020. But the General Conference Commission postponed the faith-based meeting twice due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. , delaying an expected vote on a proposed schism after a decades-long debate over whether LGBTQ United Methodists can marry or be ordained.
The commission’s latest decision comes as United Methodists released letters and statements arguing for and against postponing the 2022 meeting.
Last month, 170 delegates from around the world sent a letter to the commission urging its members to postpone the conference until 2024 to “properly ensure the health, safety and participation of all participants”.
Travel still carries health risks in 2022, according to the letter. And the General Conference lacks the kind of technology and systems needed to ensure that delegates from around the world can fully participate in the meeting.
“Especially given the seriousness of the legislation that this General Conference will be discussing, including the possibility of an ‘amicable separation’, it is important that the General Conference Commission exercise caution and ensure that that no delegate, especially those from Central Conferences” – the regional bodies of the denomination outside of the United States – “are excluded from full in-person participation due to the ongoing COVID pandemic,” it reads. in the letter.
Competing letters from African delegates argued both for and against another postponement.
The 2020 General Conference was originally set for May 5-15, 2020 in Minneapolis. This meeting has been rescheduled from August 29 to September 29. On February 7, 2021, when the Minneapolis Convention Center announced it was restricting events during the pandemic.
It has again been rescheduled for 2022 at the same location.
It is not immediately clear whether the postponed 2020 General Conference will replace the regularly scheduled 2024 General Conference.
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General Conference delegates are expected to agree to a proposal to split the denomination, called “A Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.” The proposal, brokered by 16 United Methodist bishops and advocacy group leaders from all theological divisions, would allow churches and conferences to leave with their buildings and other assets to form new Methodist denominations, including a “traditionalist” Methodist denomination. Conservative who would receive $25 million. over the next four years.
Calls to divide one of the largest denominations in the United States have grown since the 2019 special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church approved the so-called traditional plan reinforcing the prohibitions of the Church on LGBTQ United Methodist ordination and marriage.