In a move critics are calling “unwise and potentially destructive,” the United Methodist Church has delayed its General Conference meeting for a third time amid the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting theologically conservative United Methodists to announce the official launch of a new denomination.
On Thursday, General Conference organizers announced they are postponing the meeting to 2024 “due to COVID-related and governmental policies/constraints.” The 2020 General Conference originally had been set for May 2020 in Minneapolis but was rescheduled for Aug. 29 – Sept. 7, 2021. It was rescheduled again for 2022 at the same venue.
Commission Chairperson Kim Simpson said the decision to postpone the meeting “was an exceedingly difficult one,” the UMC statement said.
"We engaged in a fair, thorough, integrity-filled discussion of the alternatives," said Simpson. "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 move comes at a particularly sensitive time for the UMC, as delegates to the General Conference were expected to negotiate a denominational split over theological differences, including the full inclusion of LGBT members into the denomination.
The decision to postpone drew criticism from some theologically conservative UMC groups that said they are not willing to wait until 2024 to move forward.
On Thursday, the Global Methodist Church, a more conservative Methodist denomination, announced it will officially launch in May. The creators of the GMC and other United Methodists had previously said they would hold off from launching until after the General Conference.
The denomination’s website says thousands of Methodist clergy and laity from around the world have worked together for “over three years to lay the groundwork for a new, theologically conservative Methodist denomination steeped in the great ecumenical and evangelical confessions of the Christian faith.”
“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,” the denomination said in a statement.
“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.”
The Rev. Keith Boyette, the chairman of the Transitional Leadership Council that has been overseeing the creation of the GMC, said theologically conservative 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,” he said. “As we embark on this great venture, we know we will stumble and fall at times. But with the great prophet Isaiah, we also firmly believe we will, in God’s good time, ‘run and not be weary,’ and ‘walk [in the way of the Lord] and not faint!’”
In a statement, UM Action, an organization that “works to defend biblical faithfulness and a disciple-making focus in the United Methodist Church,” accused General Conference organizers of succumbing to “an intense institutionalist pressure campaign” in canceling the conference.
"This decision was extremely unwise and potentially destructive,” it said. “The Commission’s majority and those who pressured them into this destructive path will provoke confusion, more church division, and litigation in which there are no winners.”
“The United Methodist Church remains our church, and we will continue to defend its doctrine and moral standards,” it added. “We will have more to say and do in the coming days.”
The UMC has been engaged in a long battle over the church’s teachings on sexuality, prompting more conservative churches to leave the denomination. The UMC’s official stance, as outlined in the Book of Discipline, labels homosexuality a sin, bars the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals and prohibits the blessing of same-sex marriages.
However, progressive United Methodists have on several occasions defied the rules by ordaining openly gay clergy or officiating same-sex marriages. In December, a UMC pastor was relieved of his duties after participating as a drag queen in the HBO reality series “We’re Here.”
On Jan. 30, Frazer United Methodist Church, a congregation of about 4,000 members in Montgomery, Alabama, became the latest church to disaffiliate from the mainline Protestant denomination.
The church said in a statement to The Christian Post that the congregation intends to join the Free Methodist Church: "[W]e believe that the Free Methodist Church is a better fit for our present identity and future fruitfulness.”
The UMC has more than 6.2 million members in the U.S., according to 2020 data, making it the third-largest Christian sect in the United States.
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: email@example.com