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CHURCH BRACES FOR SCHISM VOTE

United Methodists continue to disagree about whether their denomination should lift its bans on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy. The church has existed in this tension for so long that some say the best solution is to divide the global denomination along these opposing theological viewpoints and move forward separately. As a result, groups within the church have drafted plans for how to split the denomination. At least one such proposal has the support of prominent United Methodist leaders from around the world. Representa-

tives from across the church will soon have the chance to decide whether to put any of them into motion.

They are expected to consider these plans for divorce when they gather May 5-15 for their big legislative meeting in Minneapolis.

Nashville meeting prepares delegates, church communicators

In preparation for the 2020 General Conference, more than 400 United Methodists gathered late last week in Nashville for a three-day crash course about the work ahead of them at the upcoming quadrennial meeting.

They were expected to cover a range of topics, including proposals to split the church.

Those in attendance included a portion of the 862 lay and clergy delegates who will be able to vote in May, as well as church communicators who will report on what happens at the big meeting.

The voting delegates need to accomplish a great deal of church business at each General Conference.

But these meetings also have become flashpoints for the denomination's contentious sexuality debate, which has been ongoing for nearly half a century.

An attempt to unify the church failed last year at the General Conference meeting in St. Louis that was specifically called to address the divisive sexuality issues. But many say tensions have only worsened.

Proposed plans for how to structure the church in the future have emerged in the wake of the St. Louis meeting. They are expected to be a focal point of the General Conference in May.

Groups present plans for future of the United Methodist Church

In Nashville, attendees of the Pre-General Conference Briefing spent much of their Thursday in a ballroom at the Omni Nashville Hotel listening to presentations on how to split, dissolve or overhaul the second-largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.

'As leaders of the church, we need to do better than this. We need to do something different than getting together at every General Conference and fighting about this,' the Rev. Kent Millard, president of United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, said while addressing the crowded ballroom.

'I became convinced sitting in St. Louis that we need to find a better way forward. And for me that became: How do we find an amicable separation, because staying together just keeps the fight going?'

Millard gave a presentation Thursday on the Indianapolis Plan, which is one of several structural proposals up for consideration.

It turns the United Methodist Church into a denomination with centrist views on sexuality and spins off other denominations.

But the the authors of the Indianapolis Plan are now backing another newer plan called the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation because it does a better job of untangling issues like finances, Millard said. They were not the only group to present their idea for a path forward on Thursday while also offering support for this fresher measure.

The Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation was brokered with the help of a mediation expert by a theologically diverse group of 16 United Methodist leaders, including bishops. It calls for splitting the church, giving $25 million to a future traditionalist denomination and offering $2 million in seed money to any others that might form.

'This protocol is a result of an amazing collaboration between people who didn’t agree on a whole lot of things, but share a deep love for the church and its mission,' said the Rev. Junius Dotson, who works for the denomination as the CEO of Discipleship Ministries, during his presentation on the plan.

'I feel hope for the first time in a long time because I believe the protocol finally give us a path. A path to turn our focus away from more legislation and more legislation and more legislation and possible litigation back to liturgy.'

The early January announcement of the protocol proposal drew a lot of attention both inside and outside of the church.

But not everyone who presented Thursday agreed the protocol plan was the best path forward. Some continued to push for unity.

Another group, UM-Forward, offered up the New Expressions Worldwide option. It would dissolve the United Methodist Church altogether and form four new denominations.

'The entirety of Methodism is rooted in and riddled by oppression,' said the Rev. Jay Williams, lead pastor of Union United Methodist Church in Boston, as he presented on the plan.

'It's time for us to actually confront our racist, sexist, heterosexist, classist, colonialist history and now dissolve, however painful it is, because our denomination has already caused so much pain, done so much harm.'

Reach Holly Meyer at hmeyer@tennessean. com or 615-259-8241 and on Twitter @HollyAMeyer.

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