The Michigan Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to send a proposal to split the denomination over the long-debated issue of homosexuality to the UMC's top legislative body.
Last week, the Michigan conference became the third annual conference and the first based in the United States to support sending the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, which would allocate $25 million for Methodists who adhere to biblical sexual ethics to vote to leave the UMC and create their own denomination, to the UMC General Conference.
UMC bishops and activists had first announced support for the proposal in January.
At a special session held at Goodrich Chapel in Albion, Michigan conference delegates voted 927 to 92 in favor of sending the proposal for consideration.
The Michigan Conference reported that while many attendees of the session spoke in favor of the protocol, the approved did not officially endorse the separation proposal.
“Unlike the two international conferences that acted before the March 7 vote in Albion, The Michigan Conference did not endorse the Protocol,” explained the conference.
“The single motion brought by the delegation for action by the Special Session was ‘to send the petition entitled 'Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation and Restructuring' (BOD New ¶2556)’ to the 2020 General Conference.’”
Last month, Michigan Bishop David Bard announced that his conference was going to hold a special session to determine whether to send the protocol to the General Conference.
“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," wrote Bard in a blog entry.
In February, The Philippines Conference Cavite voted to endorse and send the protocol to the General Conference. Later, the Sierra Leone Conference became the second regional body to support the protocol, voting 322-0 in favor, with two abstentions.
Over the past several years, the UMC has been embroiled in debate over the denomination’s Book of Discipline, which labels homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
This position has included prohibiting the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of clergy who are in same-sex romantic relationships.
Theological liberals have failed again and again to have the rules changed, most recently at a February special session of General Conference when the UMC again reaffirmed its traditional stance on LGBT issues.
Nevertheless, liberal leaders in the UMC have increasingly refused to enforce the Book of Discipline rules and laity in the United States and Western Europe oppose the rules.
This has led many to conclude that separating the UMC in some way is the only solution to the debate, with multiple proposals being offered for the General Conference in May.
Of the proposals, the protocol may have the strongest backing, as its supporters include a broad range of theological views on the homosexuality debate.