In an announcement made January 3, leaders of the United Methodist Church — the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States — declared that the congregation would formally split into two factions as a result of disagreements over same-sex marriage that have been plaguing the church for years, reports The New York Times.
The plan would maintain the United Methodist Church as well as create a new “traditionalist Methodist” denomination. This traditionalist sect would maintain the ban on same-sex marriage and would prevent members of the LGBT community from being ordained as part of the clergy.
This separation — while shocking to some — was not wholly unexpected. In February 2019, at a general conference for members, 53 percent of church leaders and lay members voted to tighten the ban on same-sex marriage and the prevention of those who identify as LGBT from serving in the church, causing significant backlash among the more liberal members of the church, as reported by The New York Times. Since that vote, talk of a schism has persisted, with some churches who allow same-sex marriage resolving to work together to maintain their church affiliation and their openness to people of all sexual orientations.
Now, with the new laws set to take effect this month, the schism has officially been proposed. In the months that followed the vote, a 16-person committee worked to figure out how to best resolve the differences between the various factions of the international church. The committee ultimately decided separation was the only way to allow “each part of the Church to remain true to its theological understanding,” The New York Times writes.
The split has not yet become official, however. The plan must be approved at a church conference that will take place in May, although initial reactions to the news from both conservative and liberal members seem to suggest that the divide will likely pass. Many seem to be relieved that a solution has finally presented itself.
Some members of the United Methodist Church have recently made headlines for their stance on another political hot-button issue — immigration. According to the United Methodist News, over 800 affiliated churches across the United States offered sanctuary to immigrants that feared deportation under President Trump’s new laws.
This focus on the plight of immigrants extended to the holiday season. At one methodist church in Claremont, California, the traditional Nativity scene of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus was replaced by the three holy figures trapped in cages. The controversial decision led some — who disagreed with the political statement — to rethink their association with the church.