Michigan United Methodists to hold special session for Protocol plan to separate over LGBT debate

View of the stage during the United Methodist Church's special session General Conference inside the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis, Missouri on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. | United Methodist News Service/Kathleen Barry

Correction Appended

The Michigan Annual Conference for the United Methodist Church will hold a special session to determine whether to forward to the denomination's next General Conference a highly publicized plan to separate the UMC over LGBT issues.

Last month, UMC leaders and activists of diverse theological views announced their support for a measure called the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation,” which among other things would allocate $25 million for theologically conservative Methodists who adhere to biblical standards of marriage and sexuality to vote to leave the UMC and create their own denomination.

Bishop David Bard of the Michigan Conference announced Wednesday that his regional body will hold a special session on March 7 to consider the protocol legislation.

According to a conference statement, the special session will not amend the proposed legislation, but will simply vote either in favor or against the protocol.

If passed, the protocol legislation will then go to the denomination-wide General Conference, scheduled to be held May 5-15 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“Michigan United Methodists gathered for this special session of annual conference will decide if we want to serve the wider church by forwarding this legislation. Delegates to General Conference will decide what to do with the legislation,” said Bard in a blog entry on Tuesday.

“I am calling our annual conference into special session because I believe in this liminal season, the delegates to General Conference need the opportunity to consider every good option for the future of our church.”

Tom Anderson, president of the Michigan Chapter of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a theologically conservative UMC advocacy group, supported the decision to hold a special session.

“I support holding of a special session of the Michigan Annual Conference,” said Anderson. “Michigan has the chance to open the door toward a civil, sober and hopeful future for the people called United Methodist. Let us all fast and pray for a day of new beginnings.”

Over the past several years, there has been increasingly divisive debate within the United Methodist Church over the denomination’s stance on homosexuality, acknowledging it as a sin and prohibiting the blessing of same-sex unions.

Theological liberals have introduced legislation every four years at General Conference to remove the prohibitive language from the UMC Book of Discipline. Their efforts have always failed.

In February 2019, a special session of General Conference not only upheld the language, but also passed stricter enforcement of the rules.

In response, many liberals in the UMC promised increased resistance to the Book of Discipline and many progressive church leaders have refused to enforce the rules.

For example, Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli, senior pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church of Washington, D.C., said at a major gathering of progressive UMC members last year that there would be a “wide variety of resistance tactics” to the denominations official position.

“For some of us, resisting the Traditional Plan means violating the Book of Discipline. For some persons in their context, it might not,” said Gaines-Cirelli at the time.

“There will need to be a wide variety of resistance tactics all leaning into and seeking to help accomplish the commitments that we have made together here.”

Many conservatives have expressed their preference to leave the denomination rather than continue what they consider an endless debate with liberals over the rules.

An earlier version of this article published Feb. 6 said that the special session would determine if the conference supported or opposed the Protocol. However, later that day, a representative of the Michigan Annual Conference reached out to The Christian Post and said that the special session will only decide whether to forward the Protocol to General Conference for consideration, not whether they oppose or support the plan.

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