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Plan to split United Methodist Church over LGTBQ clash missed deadline

Proposal 'created in secret,' left-leaning United Methodist Church leaders say

The Rev. Anna Blaedel is seen in September 2019 at the Wesley Center, 120 N. Dubuque St., in Iowa City. Blaedel was char
The Rev. Anna Blaedel is seen in September 2019 at the Wesley Center, 120 N. Dubuque St., in Iowa City. Blaedel was charged with being “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” clergy member in violation of United Methodist Church law. Blaedel took an indefinite leave of absence in November under a settlement with the church. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

A group of United Methodist Church members condemned a proposal “created in secret” that would split the church in two over same-sex marriage, saying the plan may not ensure a pro-LGBTQ church.

UM-Forward, a left-leaning movement within the nation’s third-largest religious denomination, said in a statement Monday the proposal to split “lacks theological integrity,” is unjust and undermines the General Conference, which is the decision-making body for the church. The critics also noted the proposal missed the deadline to be considered for a vote at the General Conference.

Leaders of the church announced Friday a plan that would create a “traditionalist Methodist” denomination — which would continue to oppose same-sex marriage and lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender clergy — and a United Methodist Church that would permit same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy for the first time.

The plan would need to be approved in May at the General Conference, a worldwide gathering of voting members of the church. It pledges $25 million to the new traditionalist denomination.

The Rev. Jay Williams, lead writer of the UM-Forward statement and pastor of Union United Methodist Church in Boston, said the proposal was created in secret by a group with no authority.

The proposal was negotiated by 16 bishops, only a handful of whom are voting members in the General Conference, Williams said.

The General Conference meets every four years and has 862 voting members.

There are other plans submitted by the deadline for General Conference consideration that seek to resolve the division over same-sex marriage, Williams noted.

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A plan from UM-Forward calls for a transitional council that would develop a plan for churches wishing to leave the denomination.

The fight over LGBTQ issues in the church has been playing out in Iowa for years.

The Rev. Anna Blaedel of Iowa City was charged three times in three years with being “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” clergy member in violation of church law.

In November, Blaedel took an indefinite leave of absence under a settlement agreement with the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Blaedel was director of the Wesley Center campus ministry in Iowa City, but stepped down in May. Under the settlement, Blaedel retained pastoral credentials and continued as leader of the Wesley Center’s Table Tuesday conversation program.

Tyler Schwaller, Blaedel’s legal counsel, is a founding member of UM-Forward. Schwaller said the people responsible for the process that ousted Blaedel are the same people who created this “secret, back door” proposal.

While Schwaller condemns the process that created the proposal, he says a split is inevitable.

“There has just been harm upon harm upon harm. Maybe it will happen through this, but the despair for me is what remains of the United Methodist Church is built on a lack of trust and transparency,” he said.

Schwaller, who is an alternate at the General Conference and can vote if a voting member is unable to attend, said even if this proposal passed at General Conference, it does not ensure a pro-LGBTQ denomination. With more conservative global members in the United Methodist Church, “anti-queer” policies may persist, he said.

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“What we’re being sold is that with this split the conservatives will leave, and we’ll be able to vote in more inclusive policies,” Schwaller said. “Actually, what that would take is a constitutional amendment to reconfigure the church, multiple years, and future General Conferences voting to change policies.”

The Rev. Sarah Rohert, pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Iowa City, had a more favorable view of the proposal.

“I’m sad there’s a part of the church that refuses to see LGBTQ people and their love as beautiful and God-given,” Rohert said. “I’m sad they’ll have children and grandchildren that will be LGBTQ, and those children will be raised in a place that doesn’t accept them. However, I’m glad we will have a fully accepting United Methodist Church that can reach out to them and be a safe place.”

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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