By Sheryl Stanley
The United Methodist Church, the second-largest protestant denomination in the United States is facing a vote which may split the religion into two separate entities.
It was announced earlier this month that churches may vote whether to stay with the current denomination and accept LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage or splinter off into a group labeled “traditional Methodist” which would ban both practices
Last February a special commission concluded with 53 percent of church leaders and lay people voting to tighten language on its same-sex marriage ban at a general conference, in a measure saying “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
The new proposal is called the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.” It has been drafted and signed by 16 church leaders in the United States, Europe, the Far East and Africa.
The Rev. Darren Rew, pastor of Garden City United Methodist Church, said he believes the national media “has done a disservice” by focusing on this proposal to the exclusion of all others.
The Rev. Kevin Shelton, pastor of Harrisonville First United Methodist Church,
added that the protocol is only one proposal which the next General Conference, scheduled for May in Minneapolis, will take up.
“There are several different plans going forward,” Shelton said. He added, however, that the proposal is unique in its scope and the many different individuals who came forward to support and draft it.
Both men agreed nothing will happen until church leaders take up all the proposals at the General Conference this spring. Anything approved by the conference will then go to the UMC Judicial Council for review to make sure it does not conflict with the Book of Discipline.
The Judicial Conference can reject all or part of any proposal which would necessitate revising or amending the document, before bringing it back to the General Conference.
“The mood in my church is fine. Members know these things take time,” Rew said, adding it could be years before any final proposal is reached and churches have the opportunity to vote on it.
Shelton acknowledged that at the conclusion of services on Jan. 12, he invited any concerned or interested member to meet with him and discuss the developments. “About 30 people hung around and I read a statement from (Missouri Bishop Bab Farr) and shared what information I have on the situation.”
Shelton echoed Rew’s opinion that the continuing debate on homosexuality, gay marriage and gay clergy would take time and would likely be “a process.”
However, he added, “Even in the midst of all this, we are still are church and we still share Jesus and love with all.”