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UMC Bishops president decries schism over LGBT stance

Global Methodist Church breakaway denomination launches Sunday

United Methodist Church General Conference
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. |

The outgoing head of the United Methodist Church Council of Bishops has denounced the split of the mainline Protestant denomination over LGBT issues, arguing that fomenting division is “counterintuitive” to the Bible.

A theologically conservative denomination known as the Global Methodist Church is set to officially launch on Sunday, with many UMC congregations expected to join.

At the official spring meeting for the UMC Council of Bishops held virtually last week, Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey gave her final address for the leadership body, having served in the position for two years. She handed over the helm to new president Bishop Thomas Bickerton Friday. 

During a Monday speech, Harvey touched on the expected split within the UMC, acknowledging that “tensions in our United Methodist Church are running high as we anticipate the pending launch of a new expression of Methodism in our short future.”

Harvey referenced Romans 12, which speaks about how “in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” and that believers “have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”

“We are part of one another, and the energy we have spent trying to figure out how to make sense of this separation is egregious,” said the bishop, who mentioned reading the UMC Book of Discipline to help make “sense of separation for any reason.”

“Perhaps the reason the Book of Discipline is complex in this matter or is silent or vague about separation is that it is because that is not its intent. The Book of Discipline is designed to give us direction for how to be United Methodists, not how not to be United Methodists.”

Harvey told the other bishops that it saddened her to see leaders at various annual conferences say things like, “I’m here to help you understand the process for disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church.”

“Now I understand the intent, but the mere words make me so sad in the very pit of my stomach,” continued Harvey. “The fact that we have to give instructions for how to separate from the body is so counterintuitive from the instruction for how to be the Body of Christ.”

“We have said that we cannot be a traditional church or a progressive church or a centrist church, we cannot be a gay church or a straight church," she added. "Our churches must be more than echo chambers made in our own image, arguing with each other while neglecting our central purpose.” 

United Methodist Church General Conference
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey observes the results from a Feb. 26 vote for the Traditional Plan, which affirms the church’s current bans on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating at or hosting same-sex marriage. The vote came on the last day of the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis. |

Harvey referenced megachurch pastor Andy Stanley, who said in March while serving as guest chaplain for the Georgia House of Representatives that “those of you who pander to and foster division, you are terrible leaders.”  

“We ought never pander and foster division,” she said. “We lead out of and because of the love and grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. … We are to bring people together, not tear them apart. This is what it means to be the Body of Christ.”

Harvey says the UMC “must be one people, rooted in Scripture, centered in Christ, serving in love, and united in the essentials" and must also be “a church that is big enough for the left and the right and the in-between.”

Harvey conceded that although she "will always wish we could all remain in this Church, I am clear some cannot.” She said, “it might be time to bless and send our sisters and brothers who cannot remain under the big tent.”

“Our best witness is to love each other as Christ loves us, to show the world the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to bring us together despite our differences. This is what it means to live out the Gospel,” she emphasized.

The UMC Book of Discipline presently identifies homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching” and prohibits the blessing of same-sex unions or the ordination of clergy in same-sex romantic relationships.

Although the UMC has reaffirmed this stance several times at their churchwide General Conference meeting, theological progressives in the UMC have tried to change the teachings, occasionally outright refusing to enforce them.

Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and spokesman for the GMC, told The Christian Post last year that UMC leadership has shown “an unwillingness to uphold its teachings.”

“In the United States, particularly, some bishops, clergy, and churches are operating in open defiance to the teachings of the United Methodist Church,” Boyette said at the time.

“The Church has become ungovernable as a consequence, such unchecked defiance has destroyed the integrity of the Church.”

Boyette contends that “those who advocate for change in the official teachings and who are in defiance have made it very clear that they will not leave the Church voluntarily.”

“In light of this, theologically conservative leaders have decided to launch a new denomination that will be true to its doctrine and teachings and end this endless conflict within the United Methodist Church,” he added.

Initially, the UMC was to consider proposals on creating a gracious separation policy at the 2020 General Conference. However, the gathering was postponed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, when UMC leadership said the General Conference will be pushed back to 2024, conservatives announced that they would go ahead with plans to launch the Global Methodist Church.

“It is anticipated that some theologically conservative local churches will find annual conferences willing to negotiate fair and just exit provisions, while others will unfortunately face obstacles placed in their paths,” stated the GMC.

“The Transitional Leadership Council decided it was time to launch the Global Methodist Church, so those who can leave early will have a place to land, to begin building and growing, and making room for others to join later.”

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