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| 3 min read | by Doug Marrin, dmarrin@thesuntimesnews.com |

Dexter United Methodist Church | Photo: Doug Marrin

Area United Methodist Church (UMC) congregations may be facing some tough decisions in the coming months over possible, maybe even probable separations from the denomination. The driving factor is the issue of how to be in ministry to and for the LGBTQ community in such church practices as ordination and marriage.

The denomination has internally struggled over the nature and practice of LGBTQ ministry for decades. While this is not exactly a new issue, what has stirred the waters recently is an unofficial document released last week that outlines the terms of a proposed denominational separation. The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation is signed by 16 UMC leaders who represent all spectrums of the church seeking a way to resolve the long-standing disagreement and allow the denomination to move forward.

“I’ve been watching this for my entire ministry career,” wrote Dexter United Methodist Church Senior Pastor, Dr. Matt Hook, in a letter to his congregation. “This debate has been happening every 4 years at every General Conference for the last 48 years. This is simply the next step in trying to find a way forward for the church. This latest attempt at amicable separation, first discussed at the General Conference in 2004, is an attempt for each side to bless the other, send them with resources, and give them the freedom to move forward in their mission.”

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The Protocol

The Protocol proposes the church separating into two groups. The first group is the “Traditional Methodist Church” for those who are committed to maintaining the church’s current Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ practice. In short, all persons are of infinite worth but homosexual behavior is incompatible with historic Christian belief.

The second group is the “post-separation United Methodist Church” for those who believe the precepts in the Book of Discipline should evolve. Most notably it would mean official inclusion of the LGTBQ community in such Methodist sacraments as marriage and ordination.

“It is an opportunity to give a good hard look at a 50-year-old system of doing church,” Pastor Hook told me over a cup of coffee at Joe and Rosie’s. “Whatever the outcome, this is an opportunity for a fresh look and perhaps a fresh start.”

The Protocol is just a little confusing and is written to favor the “post-separation United Methodist Church,” those favoring more expansive ministry with and for the LGBTQ community. Under the Protocol, it is those churches wishing to remain traditional United Methodists who must break away from the denomination and adopt a new Methodist name for their group.

DUMC Senior Pastor, Dr. Matt Hook | Photo: Doug Marrin

How the process boils down to the local church

UMC terminology

  • General Conference – the denomination’s top legislative body comprised of UMC leaders from around the world.
  • Annual Conference – the term for the body of leaders that govern much of church life within a specific U.S. region. Michigan UMCs are in the ‘Michigan Conference.’
  • Central Conference – the body of leaders that govern much of church life in a region outside of the U.S.

Sequence of events

The General Conference meets in May and will vote as to whether or not to accept The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.

IF the Protocol passes (and there seems to be strong speculation that it will), then Annual Conferences have a decision to make. The body can do nothing and remain the “post-separation United Methodist Church.” Or, the Annual Conference can take a vote to separate. Under the Protocol, it will take a 57% majority to separate and remain a traditional Methodist Church. The decision of the Annual Conference will determine the direction for the local churches within that conference.

IF a local congregation wishes to align themselves differently than their Annual Conference, then and only then would a church vote by members be taken. The church’s council would decide whether a simple majority or a 2/3rd majority of those present and voting is needed. Under the Protocol, local churches have until Dec. 31, 2024, to make their decisions regarding affiliation.

Looking ahead

If the UMC votes to adopt the Protocol at its General Conference in May, Pastor Hook writes “Our congregation may face a choice: Do we remain in the United Methodist Church as it will be (which will change greatly when the traditionalists leave), or do we vote to become a congregation connected with the emerging new Methodist Church in the tradition of the Wesley’s (name to be determined)?”

“Talk of division has become necessary because of significant differences of opinion about the role of Scripture in the life of the Church,” explains Pastor Hook in his letter. “One branch of our church believes we should offer same-sex weddings and appoint non-celibate gay clergy and bishops. The other side believes this to be contrary to Scripture, affirming human sexuality expressed within the context of marriage, defined as an enduring union between a man and a woman. Both sides agree that we should love, protect, and minister to ALL people – all people are of infinite worth to God and to us.”

One might think that years of infighting and fierce disagreement coming to a head would weigh heavy on a Pastor’s shoulders.

“Believe it or not, I’m not as worried as you might think,” says Pastor Hook. “Concerned, yes, that this could splinter friendships and relationships and people missing out on God’s message for their lives. I have complete faith that God is God, and we are not, and that God has an amazing future for a faith-filled church for everyone.”

For more information, you can read the actual Protocol Proposal and FAQs by clicking on this link: The Protocol Proposal & FAQs.

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