The United Methodist Church has said it has settled on a date and place for a long-delayed business meeting on dividing up property among the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination.
Church leaders and delegates will attend the General Conference on April 23-May 3, 2024, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Attendees are expected to settle on a plan the split the 12.8-million-member worldwide church, whose liberal and conservative wings have been roiled over questions of sexuality and marriage.
Americans account for 6.3 million members, and the rest are based overseas, according to church statistics.
The meeting, originally planned for Minneapolis, has been repeatedly delayed since 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and concern over foreign delegates not being able to get travel visas.
Figuring out an exit path for congregations that do not support the ordination of gay clergy has been a major concern in recent years. Dozens of U.S. congregations already have left the United Methodist Church (UMC). By 2020, tensions between the traditionalist and progressive camps led church leaders to declare “fundamental differences” that could be resolved by voting for an exit plan.
It’s unclear whether the UMC document known as the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” will come up for a vote in 2024. Traditionalists and departing congregations have organized the Global Methodist Church, whose transitional president, the Rev. Keith Boyette, said in March that they would see other UMC groups joining “in waves over the next few years.”
Friday’s announcement for the General Conference did not mention church governance or separation issues, only that “appropriate protocols related to COVID-19” will be followed. The church said it expects between 5,500 and 7,500 delegates at the 11-day gathering, with Africa, Europe and Asia represented alongside the U.S.
One conservative UMC observer, John Lomperis of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), a D.C.-based advocacy group, said the announcement may not be the final word, given past performance of the UMC body responsible for meeting planning.
“The liberal majority of the heavy-handed Commission on the General Conference has shown it is perfectly willing to abruptly change the schedule, costing our churches lots of money in canceled contracts, in order to gain some short-sighted advantage for their own ideological faction,” Mr. Lomperis said. “If at some point, these same people see a chance to gain some financial or political advantage by canceling or rescheduling once again, don’t think that they are above doing so,” he added.
IRD President Mark Tooley said the business meeting will hold less significance than it might have four years ago.
General Conference meetings have “become almost irrelevant because thousands of USA traditional congregations will have exited before then,” Mr. Tooley said. “Its only major significance is perhaps that African [congregations] are waiting for formal liberalization before exiting.”
The Washington Times has contacted UMC headquarters seeking comment.
The United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 by the merger of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church.
The Southern Baptist Convention, with its 13.68 million members, is the largest Protestant congregation in the U.S.
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