United Methodist Church Announces Plan to Split Over Same-Sex Marriage

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

United Methodist Church Announces Plan to Split Over Same-Sex Marriage

Under an agreement to be voted on in May, a new “traditionalist Methodist” denomination would continue to ban same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian clergy.

Credit…Madeline Heim/The Winona Daily News, via Associated Press

A group of leaders of the United Methodist Church, the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States, announced on Friday a plan that would formally split the church, citing “fundamental differences” over same-sex marriage after years of division.

The plan would sunder a denomination with 13 million members globally — roughly half of them in the United States — and create at least one new “traditionalist Methodist” denomination that would continue to ban same-sex marriage as well as the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy.

It seems likely that the majority of the denomination’s churches in the United States would remain in the existing United Methodist Church, which would become a more liberal-leaning institution as conservative congregations worldwide depart.

A separation in the Methodist church, a denomination long home to a varied mix of left and right, had been brewing for years, if not decades. It had become widely seen as likely after a contentious general conference in St Louis last February, when 53 percent of church leaders and lay members voted to tighten the ban on same-sex marriage, declaring that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

“We tried to look for ways that we could gracefully live together with all our differences,” Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of Louisiana said. After last year’s conference, she said, “it just didn’t look like that was even possible anymore.”

In the months following, Bishop Harvey and 15 other church representatives came together in an informal committee that determined separation was “the best means to resolve our differences, allowing each part of the church to remain true to its theological understanding.”

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The United Methodist Church is only the latest denomination to be roiled with intense and exhausting theological disputes over the place of L.G.B.T. members and clergy. Such fights have led to an exodus of congregations from Presbyterian and Episcopal churches in recent years, and pushed young evangelicals and Catholics to leave the pews as well.

Representatives from the Methodists’ wide-ranging factions, including church leaders from Europe, Africa, the Philippines and the United States, hammered out the separation plan during three two-day mediation sessions held at law offices in Washington. The negotiations largely centered on how to allocate the church’s significant financial assets and how to craft a separation process.

Once the agreement is written in more granular detail, it must be approved when the denomination meets for its global conference in Minneapolis in May. The initial response from some conservatives and liberals after the announcement suggests its passage is likely.

“The solution that we received is a welcome relief to the conflict we have been experiencing,” said the Rev. Tom Berlin, who represented groups that opposed discrimination against L.G.B.T. people in the mediation. “I am very encouraged that the United Methodist Church found a way to offer a resolution to a long conflict.”

Conservatives, who seemed to have the upper hand after the vote tightening a ban on same-sex marriage, would get $25 million once their new denomination is formed and incorporated. All current clergy and lay employees of the denomination, even if they affiliate with the traditionalists, will get to keep their pension plans.

“It is not everything that we would have hoped for, but we think it is a good agreement that gets us out of the decades-long conflict that we have experienced and enables us to focus on ministry in a positive way,” said Tom Lambrecht, vice president of Good News, one of the conservative groups.

The factions agreed to allocate $39 million to support “communities historically marginalized by the sin of racism,” according to the agreement. That sum includes $13 million the traditionalists contributed instead of receiving as part of their portion.

Despite the deep doctrinal disputes that led to the split, the negotiations were “largely secular: process, governance, finances,” said Kenneth R. Feinberg, the lawyer who helped craft the thorny settlements that arose from the 2010 BP oil spill and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I’m the last person in the world who’s going to help the parties resolve their doctrinal differences,” said Mr. Feinberg, who assisted in the church’s mediation on a pro bono basis.

Local churches will choose whether to join any new traditionalist denomination or remain in the United Methodist Church. Several people interviewed on Friday believed that most American churches would stay, though there has not been any formal survey.

While a plurality of American Methodists consider themselves conservative, according to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study in 2014, six in 10 believe that homosexuality should be accepted and nearly half favor same-sex marriage.

At many of the church’s regional conferences this past summer — in states like Florida, Georgia and Texas — members responded to last year’s vote by electing delegates for the upcoming global conference who largely supported including gays and lesbians in the full life of the church.

“There was a clear message; it is almost like what happened in St. Louis was not reflective of the majority in the United States,” Bishop Kenneth H. Carter of Florida, the president of the church’s Council of Bishops and a member of the mediation team, said of the response to last year’s vote. “That church just awakened.”

Methodism in the United States dates to the early 1700’s, with a long history of valuing local congregations over a top-down structure. It has split many times, most notably over slavery before the Civil War. Membership is varied demographically and politically, counting as adherents everyone from Hillary Clinton to Jeff Sessions.

Americans make up a diminishing share of the United Methodist Church’s global membership, and are projected to soon be a minority, if they are not already.

While they are leaving the church, congregations overseas are growing rapidly, particularly in Africa; there are nearly 3 million members in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These groups tend to be more conservative than the typical American Methodist, which in part explains the vote in St. Louis, where more than 40 percent of delegates were from outside the United States.

Bishop Carter, the president of the Council of Bishops, said that while he had long advocated unity of the church, his own thinking shifted during the mediation process.

“It could not be a unity at someone’s expense,” Bishop Carter said. “There is a kind of unity that oppresses persons. It was just as obvious as we went along that we were going to look structurally different in the future.”

Though the traditionalists won the narrow vote in 2019, it is the progressives who will remain under the banner of the United Methodist Church. This was a topic of extensive conversation among the committee, Bishop Harvey said, though she said the conservatives seemed as if they had been making preparations to leave for some time.

The Wesleyan Covenant Association, a more conservative network of orthodox Methodist laity, clergy and churches, had been preparing for such a contingency for years, said its president, the Rev. Keith Boyette.

“People of all theological perspectives have grown very weary of the conflict and don’t have a vision for how it can end,” he said. And while he profoundly disagrees with the “centrists and progressives” on certain matters, he said, people cannot be compelled to leave the Methodist church. So the traditionalists are agreeing to do so voluntarily.

“I believe that our witness and message is much more important than a name,” he said, estimating that about a third of American churches could follow.

For those remaining, the future already looks different. After the vote last year to disallow gay clergy, candidates for ordination like Chet Jechura were devastated. Mr. Jechura, 30, who recently became engaged to his boyfriend and who serves at Foundry United Methodist in Washington, first felt the call to preach when he was 12, and he had spent years trying to find a church that would fully accept him.

When the plan was released on Friday, Mr. Jechura read it carefully and decided to take time to reflect on what it all meant. He thought of the spiritual practice he has started with his fiancé: naming one hope or joy every morning.

This day, he said, “I do feel hope for the people called Methodist.”

Methodists Split Over Same-Sex Marriage
United Methodists Tighten Ban on Same-Sex Marriage and Gay Clergy

‘We Are Not Going Anywhere’: Progressive Methodists Vow to Fight Ban on Gay Clergy

Improper Voting Discovered at Methodist Vote on Gay Clergy

Elizabeth Dias covers faith and politics from Washington. She previously covered a similar beat for Time magazine. @elizabethjdias

A version of this article appears in print on , Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: Methodists Agree to Split on Same-Sex Marriage. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Most religious groups becoming more Republican, data show

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

 

Most religious groups becoming more Republican, data show

Most religious groups becoming more Republican, data show

Christians in worship in this photo uploaded on November 16, 2017. | Acts 29

Most religious groups in the United States, including mainline Protestant denominations like the United Methodist Church, have become more Republican since 2008, according to a political science researcher.

Ryan Burge of Eastern Illinois University analyzed data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, between 2008 and 2018, using two-year intervals. He looked at 34 different religious groups in the United States who had at least 100 respondents in the biannual survey.

In an analysis published last week by Religion in Public, Burge found that of the 34 faith traditions charted, 27 of them leaned more Republican in 2018 than they did in 2008. Only seven became more Democrat.

Burge noted that the average shift for all of the groups from 2008 to 2018 was +0.13 on the scale, with a positive change associated with becoming more Republican while a negative change meant becoming more Democrat.

Among surveyed religious groups, major shifts rightward included “Independent Baptist” at 0.69, “American Baptist Churches in USA” at 0.43, “Other Pentecostal Church” at 0.72, and “Eastern or Greek Orthodox” at 0.61.

The United Methodist Church, which has in recent months endured a divisive debate over LGBT issues, shifted rightward by 0.34 from 2008 to 2018, according to the report.

Rightward shifts were also documented for non-Christian traditions like Buddhists (0.29), Agnostics (0.14), and Jewish (0.1).

The religious category that went the most leftward during the time period were respondents who identified as “Mormon,” with an overall shift of -0.31.

Other groups that leaned more Democrat in 2018 than in 2008 included atheists (-0.28), nondenominational Fundamentalist (-0.23), and “other” (-0.16).

“Taken together,” Burge concluded, “this evidence strikes a blow to the argument that there is polarization among Protestant Christian traditions. Looked at here, the overwhelming narrative is that Protestants are more and more Republican every two years. … American religion is becoming more and more synonymous with the Republican Party while those who have no religious affiliation tend to be the (weak) base for the Democrats. If one wants to be an active Christian but disagrees with Republican politics, where do they go? Despite the fact that most Democrats do currently claim a religious affiliation, it seems that the places of refuge are dwindling every year.”

Burge’s analysis of a rightward shift in most religious groups comes as many candidates in the crowded Democratic presidential primary field address faith issues.

Emma Green of the Atlantic noted in a story published earlier this month that “Faith has come up often in the 2020 Democratic race so far.”

“In her campaign-kickoff speech, Senator Kamala Harris of California nodded to the faith of abolitionist and civil-rights leaders, arguing that ‘to love the religion of Jesus is to hate the religion of the slave master,’” wrote Green.

“Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts referred to the Book of Matthew in a CNN town-hall interview in mid-March while talking about the importance of fighting poverty. At a similar CNN event, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey told potential voters that ‘Christ is the center of my life,’ and quoted Jewish teachings in Hebrew.”

Democrat candidate and openly gay South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg garnered attention for recent comments in which he argued that entering a same-sex marriage strengthened his Christian faith.

“My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man — and yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God,” stated Buttigieg at an LGBT Victory Fund event, as reported by USA Today.

“And that’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand, that if you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

In response, conservative commentator Erick Erickson argued that Buttigieg’s comments against Pence and others against President Donald Trump showed “why progressive Christianity is so corrupt and flawed.”

“As much as Buttigieg makes a valid critique on the president’s behavior and evangelicals’ excusing that behavior, Buttigieg wants to reject the inconvenient parts of faith he does not like,” wrote Erickson earlier this month.

“Buttigieg wants to use the social obligations as Christians against the president, but wants to avoid any implication on the personal obligations of Christians in terms of clear biblical sexual ethics and how we are to live our lives applying our faith even for ‘the least of these.”

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2 pastors just heckled Jeff Sessions at an event on religious liberty

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF VOX.COM)

 

2 pastors just heckled Jeff Sessions at an event on religious liberty

They told him “you are wounding the body of Christ” by failing to care for marginalized.

Jeff Sessions has come under fire from religious groups for his anti-immigrant stance
 Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was heckled by religious leaders for his approach to the migrant crisis at a religious freedom event Monday morning.

While Sessions spoke about religious freedom at the Boston Lawyers chapter of the conservative Federalist Society, two religious leaders interrupted his speech, according to video footage from ABC News. The first man, since identified as United Methodist Pastor Will Green of the Ballard Vale United Church in Andover, quoted lines attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “I was hungry and you did not feed me. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me. I was naked and you did not clothe me.” The verses are frequently read as Jesus’s exhortation to care for the poor, sick, and marginalized.

He then told Sessions, “Brother Jeff, as a fellow United Methodist, I call upon you to repent, to care for those in need, to remember that when you do not care for others you are wounding the body of Christ.”

While Green did not explicitly state what he was criticizing Sessions for, the attorney general has frequently come under fire from some religious groups for his hard-line stance on immigration, including his role in helping enact the Trump administration’s migrant family separation policy. Sessions is currently advocating for the narrowing of grounds for applying for asylum in the United States, even as a 4,000-strong caravan of migrants from Honduras is currently making its way to the United States-Mexico border.

ABC News Politics

@ABCPolitics

Religious leaders interrupt Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ speech: “Brother Jeff, as a fellow United Methodist I call upon you to repent, to care for those in need.”

Sessions: “Well, thank you for those remarks and attack but I would just tell you we do our best everyday”

His companion, Pastor Darrell Hamilton of the First Baptist Church in Boston, rose to give a second speech, but was drowned out by boos and cries of “go home” from the audience. As he was escorted out, Hamilton accused his audience of being “hypocrites” for advocating for religious liberty politically, only to deny him the opportunity to express his religious faith by quoting the gospel at the event.

Sessions appeared to laugh off the interruption, telling his audience, “I don’t believe there’s anything in the Scripture … [or my] theology that says a secular nation-state cannot have lawful laws to control immigration … not immoral, not indecent, and not unkind to state what your laws are and then set about to enforce them.” His listeners responded with raucous applause.

This is not the first time Jeff Sessions has come under fire from religious leaders for his role in the migrant crisis. In June during the migrant family separation crisis, 600 clergy and members of the United Methodist Church brought formal church charges against Sessions, who is himself a Methodist, over his role in the crisis.

Sessions was charged with racism, child abuse, immoral behavior, and the dissemination of heretical Biblical teaching — a reference to his use of the Bible verse Romans 13 to justify Christians’ submission to government policy on the issue of migration. The charges were dropped two months later, with the district superintendent in charge of Sessions’s church, Barbara Bishop, arguing in a statement that “a political action is not personal conduct when the political officer is carrying out official policy.”

The protests of the two clergymen at the event exemplify the increasingly visible role that the religious left, including both mainline Protestants and some evangelicals, are playing under the Trump administration.

From presiding Episcopal bishop Michael Curry’s fiery liberation theology-tinged sermon last spring at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Royal Wedding to retired Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson’s openly political advocacy for LGBTQ rights at last week’s interring of Matthew Shepard, more and more religious leaders are using their platform to spread a message of political resistance.

Or, in the case of these two men, simply sharing the gospel.

Update: this article has been updated to reflect the fact that the pastors have now been identified

Jeff Sessions Own Church Charges Him With: Child Abuse, Immorality, Racism

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE HILL’ NEWSPAPER)

 

Hundreds of members at Sessions’s church write formal complaint over immigration policy

More than 600 members of the United Methodist Church signed on to a letter Monday condemning Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant parents and children at the U.S. border.

In the letter, the group of churchgoers, including clergy and church leadership, accuse Sessions of child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of the doctrine of the United Methodist Church.

They note in the letter that Sessions is a member of Ashland Place United Methodist Church, in Mobile, Ala.

“While other individuals and areas of the federal government are implicated in each of these examples, Mr. Sessions — as a long-term United Methodist in a tremendously powerful, public position — is particularly accountable to us, his church,” the letter reads. “He is ours, and we are his. As his denomination, we have an ethical obligation to speak boldly when one of our members is engaged in causing significant harm in matters contrary to the Discipline on the global stage.”

The letter comes as President Trump and his administration face backlash over its policy to separate migrant families.

Sessions announced the “zero tolerance” policy earlier this year, saying the Department of Justice would criminally prosecute all adults attempting to illegally cross the southern border into the U.S. As a result, families who crossed together would in some cases be separated, he said.

Trump has repeatedly blamed Democrats for the policy, and administration officials have asserted that only Congress can fix the issue by passing immigration reform.

Members of Congress have introduced legislation to end the practice of separating families, while simultaneously urging Trump to unilaterally stop the separations.

United Methodist Regional Body Enforces Noncelibate Gay Clergy Ban

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

United Methodist Regional Body Enforces Noncelibate Gay Clergy Ban After First Resisting Church Rule

(PHOTO: FACEBOOK/UNITED METHODIST GENERAL CONFERENCE)Delegates pray before a plenary session at the United Methodist Church’s 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon.

A regional body of the United Methodist Church that previously refused to enforce the denomination’s ban on noncelibate homosexual clergy has upheld the ordination standards.

In 2016, the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference of the UMC joined a few other regional bodies in refusing to enforce the UMC Book of Discipline’s ban on clergy who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”

However, in a ruling given on Wednesday evening, Baltimore-Washington Area Bishop LaTrelle Easterling said that two individuals approved by the Board of Ordained Ministry for ordination and commissioning are ineligible due to violating the “practicing homosexuals” ban.

Bishop Easterling said in a statement posted to the Baltimore-Washington Conference’s website on Thursday that she believed “there are no winners here today,” adding that while she does not agree with the current Book of Discipline’s position on ordination standards, “it is the book upon which we order our work together, and live in covenant with one another.”

“In my opinion, when we pick and choose how and when we will uphold it, we begin the slippery slope toward chaos,” said Easterling.

“While disobedience on the conference level may allow for some persons to seek the outcome they desire, it does not provide concrete systemic change. That only occurs on the General Church level.”

Over the past several years, the UMC has been undergoing extensive debate over its official stance that labels homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

At the 2016 General Conference, delegates passed a resolution creating a commission that would discern what position the denomination should have on LGBT issues.

During that time, the ordination boards of a few annual conferences announced that they would no longer ask clergy candidates questions about their sexual orientation, thus rejecting the Church’s ban on the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”

These reginal bodies included the New York Annual Conference, the Northern Illinois Annual Conference, the Pacific-Northwest Annual Conference, and Baltimore-Washington.

Charles A. Parker, chair of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference BOOM, told The Christian Post in a 2016 interview that he did not believe their policy on LGBT ordination inclusion violated the UMC’s central rule book.

“We believe that our policy walks a narrow line of allowing us to do the right thing, while staying within the bounds of the Book of Discipline,” said Parker at the time.

“So those who believe that our Church needs to change its restrictive language on LGBTQ people, but who are still committed to obeying the Book of Discipline, should be free to vote their consciences.”

For its part, the United Methodist Judicial Council, the denomination’s highest court, has ruled against annual conferences refusing to enforce the ban.

“The board’s examination must include all paragraphs relevant to election of pastoral ministry, including those provisions set forth in paragraphs that deal with issues of race, gender, sexuality, integrity, indebtedness, etc.,” read the Judicial Council’s Decision 1343, issued last year.

UMC Announces ‘Special Session’ to Determine Church’s Homosexuality Stance

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

CPCHURCH & MINISTRIES

UMC Announces ‘Special Session’ to Determine Church’s Homosexuality Stance

BY MICHAEL GRYBOSKI , CHRISTIAN POST REPORTER

Apr 26, 2017 | 6:16 PM

The United Methodist Church announced that its top legislative body will hold a special session in order to determine what stance the mainline denomination will hold on homosexuality.

image: http://d.christianpost.com/full/97282/590-213/img.jpg
(PHOTO: FACEBOOK/UNITED METHODIST GENERAL CONFERENCE)Delegates meet at the United Methodist Church’s 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon.

For the past several years, UMC has seen much internal debate over its official position against homosexuality, gay marriage, and ordination for those involved in same-sex relationships.

In a letter to its annual conferences written on Monday, UMC’s Council of Bishops announced that the special session of General Conference will take place Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri.

(PHOTO: UMNS/PAUL JEFFREY)Dozens of demonstrators demanding a more inclusive church hold vigil at the edge of the May 3 session of the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida.

“The purpose of this special session of the General Conference shall be limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward,” the council explained in the letter.

“The Council of Bishops encourages the entire church to continue in deep, unceasing prayer for Holy Spirit breakthroughs for the Commission on a Way Forward and the special session of General Conference.”

John Lomperis, delegate at the 2016 General Conference and member of the theologically conservative Institute on Religion & Democracy, told CP that he was “glad we will finally have time to address the issues we put off in 2016.”

“Time and again, we have shown that the votes are simply not there to liberalize the Discipline’s biblical standards on sexual self-control — no matter how much political organizing, money, and dishonest rhetoric about ‘compromise’ gets thrown into liberal efforts,” said Lomperis.

“The [Book of] Discipline (which constitutes the denomination’s law and doctrine) does need to change — but to strengthen enforcement and accountability of our already-settled biblical standards.”

At the 2016 UMC General Conference, delegates approved a recommendation creating a “Commission on a Way Forward,” which would analyze the denomination’s stance on LGBT issues.

“We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality,” read the recommendation from 2016.

“We will name such a commission to include persons from every region of our UMC, and will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate. We commit to maintain an on-going dialogue with this commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes.”

In October, the United Methodist Council of Bishops announced the names of the 32 people who would be members of the commission, noting the “theological diversity” of those selected.

“All of the members of the Commission have already indicated their willingness and availability to serve. The team of moderators — Bishop Ken Carter, Bishop Sandra Steiner-Ball and Bishop David Yemba — will soon convene the commission to begin to organize their work and finalize their meeting schedule,” stated the Council of Bishops.

“After hearing concerns that the proposed composition did not include enough laity, three additional laypersons were added from the original pool of more than 300 nominees.”

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Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/umc-announces-special-session-to-determine-churchs-homosexuality-stance-181785/#232vFvqESMrimy7W.99

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