In 2020, the United Methodist Church will formally divorce over gay marriage

Our First Amendment means that, even though the Supreme Court found a constitutional right to same sex marriage, that new right applies only to the government's relationship with citizens. From Obergefell forward, to the extent states and the federal government recognize traditional marriage, they must also recognize same sex marriage. Thanks to the First  Amendment, though, religious institutions cannot be forced to change their doctrines to conform to the Supreme Court’s holding.

In the case of the United Methodist Church, the church opted not to recognize (or officiate at) same sex marriages. It also has refused to ordain openly gay people to the clergy. Many within the church objected to this stance, a position that led to continued debate. That debate has now resulted in a formal agreement in principle to divide the church in 2020:

The plan, if approved at the church's worldwide conference in Minneapolis in May, would divide the third-largest U.S. Christian denomination into two branches: A traditionalist side opposed to gay marriage and the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clergy, and a progressive wing that will allow same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy.

The split would affect the denomination globally, church leaders said. The United Methodist Church lists more than 13 million members in the United States and 80 million worldwide.

In their Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation, a 16-member group of church bishops acknowledged that there was no way to reconcile the church’s differing factions, citing “fundamental differences regarding their understanding and interpretation of Scripture, theology and practice;” a failure at a February 2019 conference to resolve the differences; and the fact that the church and “its members are at an impasse, the Church’s witness and mission is being impeded, and the Church itself as well as its members have been injured.” Based upon these findings, the bishops concluded the only thing to do would be to separate.

This formal move will address what’s already proven to be an informal exodus from the Church. The Reuters article quoted above notes that, in Katy, Texas, outside of Houston, Grace Fellowship UMC, which has almost 3,000 members, voted to leave the United Methodist Church to ensure that their more traditional views about marriage would be honored.

As with the best divorces, the parties promise an amicable separation. The Protocol of Reconciliation sees the bishops representing the different factions agreeing that neither side will try to undermine the other but, instead, both will make their best efforts towards a smooth division of the church as a whole, including assets, according to the desires of local parishes.  

This agreement constitutes a triumph of American religious liberty. In the past here in the West, people did not have peaceful splits over doctrinal differences. Instead, those differences led to religious wars that bloodied nations for centuries. And of course, in the case of the thousands of religious dissenters who came to America’s shores, the differences led to the founding of a new nation, conceived in a type of liberty no one had previously imagined.

The United Methodist Church deserves congratulations for gracefully achieving something that was once impossible to imagine: a bloodless religious schism.

Our First Amendment means that, even though the Supreme Court found a constitutional right to same sex marriage, that new right applies only to the government's relationship with citizens. From Obergefell forward, to the extent states and the federal government recognize traditional marriage, they must also recognize same sex marriage. Thanks to the First  Amendment, though, religious institutions cannot be forced to change their doctrines to conform to the Supreme Court’s holding.

In the case of the United Methodist Church, the church opted not to recognize (or officiate at) same sex marriages. It also has refused to ordain openly gay people to the clergy. Many within the church objected to this stance, a position that led to continued debate. That debate has now resulted in a formal agreement in principle to divide the church in 2020:

The plan, if approved at the church's worldwide conference in Minneapolis in May, would divide the third-largest U.S. Christian denomination into two branches: A traditionalist side opposed to gay marriage and the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clergy, and a progressive wing that will allow same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy.

The split would affect the denomination globally, church leaders said. The United Methodist Church lists more than 13 million members in the United States and 80 million worldwide.

In their Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation, a 16-member group of church bishops acknowledged that there was no way to reconcile the church’s differing factions, citing “fundamental differences regarding their understanding and interpretation of Scripture, theology and practice;” a failure at a February 2019 conference to resolve the differences; and the fact that the church and “its members are at an impasse, the Church’s witness and mission is being impeded, and the Church itself as well as its members have been injured.” Based upon these findings, the bishops concluded the only thing to do would be to separate.

This formal move will address what’s already proven to be an informal exodus from the Church. The Reuters article quoted above notes that, in Katy, Texas, outside of Houston, Grace Fellowship UMC, which has almost 3,000 members, voted to leave the United Methodist Church to ensure that their more traditional views about marriage would be honored.

As with the best divorces, the parties promise an amicable separation. The Protocol of Reconciliation sees the bishops representing the different factions agreeing that neither side will try to undermine the other but, instead, both will make their best efforts towards a smooth division of the church as a whole, including assets, according to the desires of local parishes.  

This agreement constitutes a triumph of American religious liberty. In the past here in the West, people did not have peaceful splits over doctrinal differences. Instead, those differences led to religious wars that bloodied nations for centuries. And of course, in the case of the thousands of religious dissenters who came to America’s shores, the differences led to the founding of a new nation, conceived in a type of liberty no one had previously imagined.

The United Methodist Church deserves congratulations for gracefully achieving something that was once impossible to imagine: a bloodless religious schism.