United Methodism moved closer to formal schism with a new proposal released today negotiated with liberal and conservative groups, including bishops. The plan would divide the nearly 13 million member global denomination into separate conservative and liberal communions.
The mediator for these negotiations was Kenneth Feinberg, the Washington, D.C. attorney best known as Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
Under this plan, conferences (Methodism’s version of dioceses or presbyteries) could vote by 2021 to join the conservative denomination by a 57% vote. Local churches by 2024 could vote by majority. The conservative denomination would get $25 million from current denominational assets.
If the quadrennial General Conference approves this plan in May, when it meets in Minneapolis, the two separate denominations would start there immediately, with separate General Conferences. The liberal church of course would delete United Methodism’s current affirmation of sex only within male/female marriage.
This denominational schism would be historic and largely the first of its kind since the 1840s when Methodists and Baptists divided regionally over slavery.
It’s likely the General Conference, even if it approves this plan, will amend it.
My prediction: General Conference will approve a version of this plan. During several subsequent years of sorting, United Methodism’s current 6.7 million members in the USA will drop to about 6 million. About 2.5 million will join the conservative church, and about 3.5 million will be in the liberal church. Nearly all the 5.5 million overseas members, mostly in Africa, will join conservative church, so the conservative denomination will have about 8 million members globally.
This process will be messy and often tragic. Many local congregations will divide and die. But United Methodism is already dying in America. This division will allow evangelistic-minded Methodism to plant new congregations and grow. American Christianity and society desperately need a theologically cohesive rejuvenated Methodism.
I’m looking forward to participating in a Methodist revival!