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The debate over LGBTQ issues may finally split the United Methodist Church, America’s second-largest Protestant denomination.
Following a special session of the church’s General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri over the weekend, delegates voted down the One Church Plan on Tuesday, Feb. 26. The proposal was submitted by more progressive members of the global church to lift the denomination’s ban on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy.
With the threat of schism looming, a majority of the Council of Bishops in May 2018 recommended the One Church Plan as a way forward through the denomination’s nearly 50-year-old battle over homosexuality. It would have let individual churches and regional bodies decide whether to ordain and marry LGBTQ members.
The One Church Plan was first rejected during a preliminary vote on Monday, Feb. 25, getting only 47 percent support. It was presented again by Rev. Tom Berlin of Virginia as a minority report during the plenary session of the General Conference made up of 864 invited delegates, split evenly between lay people and clergy. About 43 percent of the delegates were from abroad, mostly from Africa, and overwhelmingly supported the LGBTQ bans. This top lawmaking body makes decisions for the church and is the only body that can officially speak on behalf of the church.
Berlin, a member of the church’s legislative committee, made a final push to substitute the One Church Plan for the Traditional Plan, asking delegates to otherwise abstain from voting for the more conservative legislation. The One Church Plan minority report failed by 75 votes.
The Traditional Plan, which delegates from around the world voted 438 to 384 to pass, will reinforce the church’s current positions.
The Book of Discipline teaches that homosexual practice – as well as all other extra-marital sex – is inherently immoral, bans “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from being clergy, forbids their ministers from performing or their congregations from hosting same-sex wedding ceremonies, and forbids the use of official denominational funds from being used “to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.”
These provisions have been on the books for years, repeatedly reaffirmed by General Conference, which take place every four years. The next regular General Conference is set for 2020 in Minneapolis.
This story is developing. BTL is gathering reaction from Michigan churches.