MANCHESTER, Mo. — The third-largest religious denomination in the nation could split in two.
For years, the United Methodist Church has been in a fight over allowing same-sex marriages and allowing gay clergy members.
But a new proposal could be the next step in dividing that united front.
A group of 16 members of United Methodist bishops and leaders offered a nine-page proposal on Friday: “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation."
Pastor Andy Bryan from the Manchester United Methodist Church said this group is very diverse.
"From most progressive to most conservative and everything in between," Bryan said. "It was initiated by African bishops who said something needed to be done."
This proposal could split the United Methodist Church into two denominations.
The proposal says a "Traditionalist" Methodist denomination would break off. That group would oppose same-sex marriage and prohibit a gay clergy. The remaining portion of the church would allow same-sex marriages and LGBTQ clergy members for the first time in the church's history.
In February 2019, St. Louis was the hub for a special General Conference of the United Methodist Church to talk about these two topics specifically.
The end result landed in a vote that rejected a plan to allow openly gay pastors and same-sex marriage.
The United Methodist Church voted to adopt the "Traditional Plan." That means the church would uphold the language that says homosexuality "is not compatible with the teachings of Christianity" and would add penalties for clergy who break that rule.
It was approved by a vote of 438-384.
Sanctions for this new plan were about to go into effect that would punish pastors performing same-sex marriages. For the first wedding, they would receive one year's suspension and removal from the clergy for any additional weddings.
But with this new proposal, the sanctions are postponed until a vote on the split at the General Conference in Minneapolis in May. It's the church's conference to vote on multiple matters every four years.
"The only body that can speak for the denomination as a whole is the General Conference," Bryan said.
Bryan isn't just the lead pastor at his church in Manchester -- he's also the head delegate for Missouri. He's one of 12 delegates in the state who goes to the worldwide General Conference. This conference has over 800 delegates from around the world.
If the proposal passes, the separating group would get $25 million in United Methodist funds and would keep its local church properties.
But it wouldn't happen in an instant since there are many details that would need to work out.
If it doesn't pass, the topic could be brought up again in another General Conference.
But for now, Bryan says, "This is a time for discernment, time for prayer and let the Holy Spirit guide us to the next right thing to do."
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