Millions of Methodists will go left – but millions more will be right

Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Steve Jordahl (

UMC splitA new, conservative Methodist denomination is splintering off of the United Methodist Church – and while the painful dividing process will likely spell death for some local congregations, a Methodist activist is expressing hope for conservatives in the church.

Conservative leaders within the United Methodist Church (UMC) unveiled plans Monday to form a new denomination, the Global Methodist Church, with a doctrine that abides by the Bible's definition of marriage. The move could hasten the long-expected breakup of the UMC, America's largest mainline Protestant denomination, over differing approaches to the sin of homosexuality.

The new Global Methodist Church will formally split from the UMC in 2022, the next time the denomination holds its General Conference. Conservative Methodists will then hammer out a new mission statement, vision, and a Transitional Book of Doctrines and Disciplines.

Mark Tooley is president of The Institute on Religion & Democracy and a lifelong Methodist who has been active in United Methodist renewal for more than three decades. He explains that the split – which has been under discussion for years in the denomination, is mostly over biblical sexuality.

"There are over 30,000 congregations [and] 6.5 million United Methodist in the U.S.," he begins. "I think when it all shakes out … perhaps between 2 and 2.5 million will go conservative and the remaining 3.5 and 4 million will go liberal."


The good news, says Tooley, is there will not be an extended legal battle over buildings and other assets. "Whatever choice they make, whether as a statewide conference or as a congregation, the property would follow – and they would have up to four years to make that decision," he adds.

And there will be both winners and losers under the new arrangement, says the IRD president.

"I think it's going to be very difficult and tragic for many local churches, some of which will never recover from the division," he predicts. "But I think, long-term, it's very encouraging for traditional Methodists and traditional Christians, in that there will be a new denomination."

The United Methodist General Conference, which convenes annually, was postponed a year in 2020 due to COVID and was recently put off for another year. But Tooley says there is a remote chance that a vote could be taken online, or a special online convention could occur in early May.

Differences over same-sex "marriage" and the ordination of homosexual clergy have simmered for years in the UMC, and came to a head in 2019 at a conference in St. Louis where delegates voted 438-384 to strengthen bans on homosexual-inclusive practices. Most U.S.-based delegates opposed that plan and favored pro-homosexual 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 UMC split along theological lines.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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