In a move that many believe will result in the splitting of the third-largest denomination in the nation, the United Methodist Church will vote on gay marriage. The split is expected to end with the Church forming more than one denomination.
The vote will bring to a close what has been a contentious, year-long fight over the issue of same-sex marriage.
On Friday, the leaders of the Church announced that there was an agreement to a spin-off of the “traditionist Methodist” denomination.
This would present with one arm of the Church continuing the opposition of same-sex marriage, along with continuing to refuse LGBT clergy ordination. While the other arm would allow and permit same-sex marriage and, for the first time in the Church’s history, LGBT clergy.
The decision still needs the approval of the congregation, which will be decided at the worldwide denominations conference in May.
Those that penned the plan stated that the division was: “the best means to resolve our differences, allowing each part of the Church to remain to its theological understanding while recognizing the dignity, equality, integrity, and respect of each person.
The United Methodist Church is not only the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denominations but is among the only churches that remain that will not perform marriages of the same sex.
The Church has fought on the issue of LGBT inclusion for so many years, that its leaders were in fear of the argument leading to a schism within the Church.
The announcement on Friday was timed just before new sanctions were scheduled to go into effect with the church guidelines. The sanctions laid out punishments for any pastors found to be performing same-sex marriage.
The penalty handed down would be much more severe than before. It would involve a suspension of one year, forfeiting their pay, for the first wedding found to have been performed. If they so choose to perform a second one, they would be removed from the clergy.
The various leaders from both the liberal and conservative wings of the Church agreed that a postponement of the sanctions would take place, and they would put the splitting of the Church to a vote at the worldwide May general conference.
Included in the agreement is a $25 million pledge to the “traditionalist” denomination, which will create a new denomination when it breaks away from the current United Methodist Church.
Will the splitting of the Church pacify its congregation? Or will it be setting both denominations up for future problems?