A convention at which the 6.3 million-member United Methodist Church was expected to finalize the terms under which so-called “traditionalist” congregations could amicably leave has been delayed again, this time to 2024, denominational officials said late Thursday.
Separately, the Global Methodist Church said Thursday it would formally begin operations May 1, with the hope that some Methodist dioceses, known as conferences, would permit amicable separations of those congregations which do not support the main body’s progressive takes on same-sex marriages and gay clergy.
Instead of an Aug. 29-Sept. 6 meeting in Minneapolis this year — which the Methodists had announced in February would be put off by only 12 months — United Methodist Church leaders said they would wait until 2024 to meet.
The location for the 2024 event, formally known as a General Conference session, has not yet been disclosed.
Kim Simpson, a lay delegate from Arlington, Texas, who chairs the committee overseeing the meeting, said “the massive backlog of visa applications” for overseas delegates wishing to participate in the meeting, along with health concerns over COVID-19, caused the panel to shift the gathering once more.
“We engaged in a fair, thorough, integrity-filled discussion of the alternatives,” Ms. Simpson said in a statement released by the church’s Nashville headquarters. “The visa issue is a reality that is simply outside our control as we seek to achieve a reasonable threshold of delegate presence and participation. Ultimately our decision reflects the hope that 2024 will afford greater opportunity for global travel and a higher degree of protection for the health and safety of delegates and attendees.”
The postponement drew sharp criticism from Mark Tooley, a Methodist who heads the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a District-based think tank that has a “United Methodist Action” program to advocate for “Scripture-based reform” in the denomination.
“This decision was extremely unwise and potentially destructive,” Mr. Tooley told The Washington Times in an interview. “It is essentially an extraordinary filibuster of the entire General Conference even as United Methodists across the spectrum agree a negotiated denominational split is needed.”
Mr. Tooley said there was an alternative to get United Methodists together before 2024.
“Our Council of Bishops can avoid this tragedy by calling a special General Conference to help our church move forward, which a majority of them may do at any time,” he said.
The United Methodist Church’s 2016 rules, called “The Book of Discipline,” require the church to “assure full participation of all General Conference delegates.”
The church said “the physical attendance of as many delegates as possible” at this particular session “is critically necessary.”
At stake are the parameters of a document known as the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation,” which would allow theologically conservative congregations could separate from the parent body.
“Many United Methodists have grown impatient with a denomination clearly struggling to function effectively at the general church level,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Global Methodist’s transitional leadership council.
“Theologically conservative local churches and annual conferences want to be free of divisive and destructive debates and to have the freedom to move forward together. We are confident many existing congregations will join the new Global Methodist Church in waves over the next few years, and new church plants will sprout up as faithful members exit the UM Church and coalesce into new congregations,” he added.
A spokeswoman for the United Methodist Church did not immediately respond to questions submitted by The Times via email.
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at email@example.com.
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