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United Methodists set for showdown

Church threatening to break over LGBTQ inclusion

YOUNGSTOWN — Change is on the horizon for the United Methodist Church, but its direction remains to be seen, according to one local church leader.

The Rev. Abby Auman, district superintendent of the Mahoning Valley District of East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, explained that a possible split within the church is not set in stone.

Her comments regard the church’s proposal “A Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation,” in which church leaders from around the globe unveiled a plan last week that includes a split within the denomination over gay marriage and gay clergy.

“This is something that matters very much to a lot of people,” Auman said, adding that for some churches, the upcoming May decision won’t have an impact. For other churches, the separation would “enable” a relationship between the LGBTQ community and the church.

In December, the proposal was signed by a 16-member panel that worked with a mediator. The panel began meeting in October.

After it was discovered that there is an impasse within the United Methodist Church regarding LGBTQ issues, the panel was formed.

The proposal envisions an amicable separation in which conservative churches form a new denomination and retain their assets. The new denomination also would receive $25 million.

An additional $2 million will be escrowed for potential denominations that would form based on the outcome of the decision.

There are 60 United Methodist churches in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. Ten districts make up the church’s East Ohio Conference, Auman explained.

COMING MAY

The next step could happen in May at the church’s General Conference, which will be held May 5 to 15 in Minneapolis.

Every four years, the General Conference, which is the policymaking body of the worldwide United Methodist Church, meets to determine the denomination’s future direction.

If the proposal were to pass, churches could decide if they want to be part of the new conservative denomination, Auman explained. Otherwise, the default is to remain with what is the United Methodist Church.

The conference also has the opportunity to decide whether to join a conservative culture or remain as UMC. Should a church disagree, it can still make its own decision, she added.

On the whole, the district has varying opinions on human sexuality as well as politics and theology, Auman said.

Some local churches are uniformly conservative while others are inclusive.

“We have to wait and see what actually passes,” Auman said. “Change is for sure. What the change is will be unknown.”

Other Valley Methodist clergy contacted for comments on the issue last week did not return calls to the newspaper.

HISTORY

Last February, the General Conference voted to strengthen bans against same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy.

The General Conference voted for rules affirming a long-held policy that the practice of homosexuality conflicts with church teachings.

At the time, the Rev. Vicky Kelley of Girard First United Methodist Church said she was “heartbroken” by the decision not to end restrictions that prohibit Methodist ministers from performing same-sex marriages or allowing gay or lesbian individuals from being ministers.

“I feel it is time for the church to take a stand to open up. I understand people disagree on issues, but with the recent decision, it allows for harsher punishments for a pastor who would conduct a wedding for a same-sex couple,” she said at the time.

Those penalties, which are supported by the General Conference, include a one-year suspension without pay for a first offense of pastors who officiate same-sex marriage, and termination on the second offense.

Since 1968, Auman said human sexuality has been a discussion within the United Methodist Church when it merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church.

In 1972, the first set of principles were adopted and “have been in discussion since,” she added.

According to the church’s website, “The United Methodist Church has struggled unsuccessfully to achieve consensus and compliance with regard to matters of human sexuality.”

It wasn’t until the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision when same-sex marriage was legalized that a shift was noticed, Auman said. Until then, many people didn’t see gay marriage as legally binding. “It was a tipping point within the church and society as a whole,” she said.

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