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Major US Denomination Splitting in Two After LGBT Disagreement

  A group of theologically conservative United Methodists plans to launch a new worldwide denomination on May 1, impatient to get started af...

 A group of theologically conservative United Methodists plans to launch a new worldwide denomination on May 1, impatient to get started after another pandemic-related delay to a formalized divorce agreement with their denomination.

The creation of the Global Methodist Church, announced Thursday, was long in the making, organized by conservatives who were fed up with liberal churches’ continued defiance of the United Methodist Church’s bans on same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy.

Global Methodist Church organizers originally had expected to launch the denomination after the next General Conference of the UMC.

That legislative body is the only one that could approve a tentative agreement — unveiled in 2020 after negotiations between conservatives, liberals and centrists — to allow churches and regional groups to leave the denomination and keep their property.

But the General Conference, originally scheduled for 2020, already was delayed for two straight years by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, the United Methodist Church announced it was pushing off the next gathering again — to 2024 — due to long delays in the U.S. processing of visa applications.

Nearly half the denominations’ members are overseas, notably in Africa and the Philippines.

UMC officials said the visa process has been delayed as long as 800 days in some cases.

“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,” said a statement by Kim Simpson, who chairs the denomination’s Commission on the General Conference.

But the delay is hastening the breakup of the third-largest religious body in the United States, behind Catholics and Southern Baptists.

Some conservative churches already have left the denomination, and more are eager to do so, according to a statement from the Global Methodist Church organizers.

“Many United Methodists have grown impatient with a denomination clearly struggling to function effectively at the general church level,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, chairman of the Transitional Leadership Council, which is organizing the Global Methodist Church.

“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.”

Differences over same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT clergy have simmered for years in the United Methodist Church, and they came to a head in 2019 at a conference in St. Louis, where delegates voted 438 to 384 to strengthen bans on LGBT-inclusive practices.

Most U.S.-based delegates opposed that plan and favored LGBT-friendly options; they were outvoted by U.S. conservatives teamed with most of the delegates from Methodist strongholds in Africa and the Philippines.

In the aftermath of that meeting, many moderate and liberal clergy made clear they would not abide by the bans, and various groups worked on proposals to let the United Methodist Church split along theological lines.

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