TYLER, Texas (KETK) — A group that represents the Methodist Church meets every four years for the General Conference to vote and rule on what is added or subtracted from the Book of Discipline, which is the law and doctrine the church follows.
However, there are certain issues that the church is torn on, that even a vote can’t seem to fix.
Jeff Gage is the Senior Pastor at Lane’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Tyler. Gage grew up in the United Methodist Church, which was formed the same year he was born.
“There’s no easy short answer to any of this, and it is sad,” said Jeff Gage.
Everything happening within the church hits close to home for Gage.
Although, the pastor at Bethesda United Methodist Church in Weatherford Shea Reyenga shares that this is not a new problem.
“It goes back many many many years,” said Shea Reyenga. “I mean some would argue that this was a little bit of a problem that was baked into the denomination when it started in 1968.”
The Methodist Church is conflicted about how its congregation will move forward. The politics of everyday life are present in the church, separating members on their religious beliefs.
“There began a push to include individuals who practice homosexuality, to ordain them as clergy,” said Gage.
A divided issue the United Methodist Church voted on at the general conference a few years ago.
But when it came down to the vote…
“It came down that we were going to keep the Book of Discipline the same and still not ordain those who practice homosexuality and not celebrate homosexual unions with marriages in our churches,” said Gage.
“In 2019 there was a special session of general conference that would hopefully settle the matter for once and for all,” said Gage.
The members who are supportive of the LGBTQ+ community felt that something needed to change; so there was a call for a revote in 2020. But then the pandemic hit, delaying the general conference again and again until 2024.
“The presenting issue is the homosexuality issue and the homosexual marriage issue but that’s determined by our view of scripture and the authority of scripture and to me, that’s determined by our view of God,” said Gage.
However, this disagreement goes beyond views of sexual orientation.
“You can pick any number of issues, that being one or two, that there’s just going to be a wide divergence of belief within the church on that,” said Reyenga. “And that divergence has just gotten to a degree where we’re not united anymore.”
In these individual churches, like Lane’s Chapel, for example, the people do not own the property, the denomination does. So if members decide to stop being United Methodist, they have to vacate the premises; this is one of the many issues that make a clean split difficult.
“There’s people talking and planning how can we part ways and allow churches to keep their facilities without dragging it through the court systems because if you look at the Episcopal the Lutheran church, they went through that and it has cost un-tolled dollars,” said Gage.
Amid the conflict, a conservative and traditionalist group was forming behind the scenes.
“The Global Methodist Church went online and said we’re going to start May first and anyone pastor or church who wants to align with the Global Methodist Church is welcome to align,” said Gage.
Members have several options. They might align with the Global Methodist Church, choose a new denomination, become independent, or stay with the United Methodist Church.
“So there would be a traditionalist church form, and then there would be a post-separation, United Methodist Church, that would become more progressive,” said Reyenga.
But separate is the only way members feel they can move forward peacefully.
“There are going to be conferences across the U.S. where there will be a resolution or a vote, ‘OK can we as a church or we as a conference join the Global Methodist church without a long drawn out church fight?’” said Gage.
Reyenga says churches on both sides are trying to proceed with caution and avoid a legal battle.
“But it’s really something that historically has evolved and changed over time and built up and it’s an accumulation of a lot of things that have led us to this point, in addition to a lot of delays and not addressing in resolving some of the differences,” said Reyenga.
There are additional problems that emerge from this split including exit costs, property rights, pensions and missions.
“Nobody’s going to win in this, and it’s sad,” said Gage.
The judicial council– which is a version of the Supreme Court for the Methodist Church– met this week. They ruled that the annual conference in the U.S. cannot disaffiliate from the UMC as a single entity.
Churches will still be leaving the UMC in the future. This decision only changes the path and timeline of those exits.