Amicable breakup of UMC needed, pastor group says

By Sam Hodges*

Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

DALLAS (UMNS) — A group of United Methodist pastors and theologians is calling for an amicable split of the denomination, saying differences over homosexuality and other issues are irreconcilable.

The group describes itself as traditionalist and says its ranks include more than 80 members, including pastors of some of the larger United Methodist congregations.

“Are we not at a point where we can acknowledge, after years of dialogue and debate, the depth of our differences and together, progressives and traditionalists, give each other the freedom to pursue our understanding of God’s will?” the group said in its statement.

The group makes clear its support for the church’s current official positions on homosexuality, including that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, but says its disagreements with “progressives” go farther, including to whether the Bible is the infallible word of God.

“I don’t think we will ever agree on the issues that deeply divide us,” said the Rev. Chuck Savage, president of the Georgia United Methodist Foundation, in a press release accompanying the statement. “However, it is my hope that we will agree on a plan of separation that will serve both traditionalists and progressives well. My opinion is that if we can reach agreement on such a plan both progressives and traditionalists will emerge stronger.”

Talk of a breakup of the United Methodist Church is not new, and discussions at the 2004 General Conference led to passage of a unity resolution.

But the Rev. Tom Harrison, part of the group releasing the new statement, said recent clergy defiance of church law by performing same-sex unions convinced him that going forward as one denomination isn’t realistic.

“You can’t play that way,” said Harrison, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Okla., in a phone interview. “It’s chaos. My argument really is rooted in the violation of our covenant together, the Book of Discipline.”

Initial reaction to statement

The group’s statement has just begun to circulate, but was met with dismay by the Rev. James Howell, pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C.

“We manage to disagree on a great many things, as we do within our very own families, and we can still love and stay together,” said Howell, who offered an unsuccessful “agree to disagree” measure at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla. “No such division will be a win-win. The fissures will be within congregations, and we will thus be irreparably weaker.”

The Rev. Scott Campbell, an outspoken advocate of changing the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality, also expressed reservations.

“While I appreciate the tone of their statement, I am saddened that we have not tried every alternative that is available to us,” said Campbell, pastor of Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church in Cambridge, Mass. “Several proposals to restructure the church to allow greater autonomy within differing ministry contexts will be coming before General Conference in 2016. I believe these are worth seriously considering and perhaps even attempting to implement before we take the drastic step of separation.”

The group calling for a split has had conference call talks, but has chosen no name and elected no leaders. Some members of the group are currently unwilling to be identified, but one who is, the Rev. Larry Baird, said he hopes a list of participants will be published this summer.

Baird thinks the next step is for the group to meet in person to begin to talk about how an amicable split might happen. He said he hoped that would lead to discussions with the other side.

“I, for one, would like to avoid the kind of situation that some of our other sister denominations have gone through — the bitter splits,” said Baird, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Island, N.Y. “We’ve got to be able to do better than that, in my opinion. At least, I pray so.”

But the Rev. Bonnie Beckonchrist, board chair of Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial caucus which favors full inclusion of LGBT persons in the United Methodist Church, said even an amicable breakup would be costly.

“I believe people, individuals and congregations, will be hurt by such a split,” said Beckonchrist, a retired United Methodist pastor. “The differences we are talking about are located not only in our denomination, but within individual families and congregations. Sitting in the same pew are folks who differ on many things, but in healthy families and congregations grace abounds and love is what ultimately unites them.”

The group advocating a split has turned to Good News, an unofficial caucus that supports the church’s current stance on homosexuality, for help with communications.

But the group is not part of Good News and does not carry its endorsement, said the Rev. Tom Lambrecht, Good News’ vice president and general manager.

“We are definitely intrigued by the whole process,” Lambrecht said. “We’ve heard from various sectors of the church express the sentiment that separation may be the only way to resolve the deep division that’s in the church today.”

The group’s statement notes that division over homosexuality extends to the Council of Bishops.

San Francisco Area Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., president of the Council of Bishops, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the group’s statement.

Bishop Mike Lowry of the Central Texas Annual (regional) Conference, said, “We are struggling with transformation into a new form of connectionalism. All of us would do well to remember the promise of Jeremiah 29:11. I respect the integrity of those who have issued the statement as well as those who disagree. I call on all of us to prayerfully seek God’s guidance in matters of deep division.”

*Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or

This story can be originally found at

United Methodist News Service

United Methodist News Service is the official news gathering agency of the United Methodist Church, and a division of United Methodist Communications. Mandated by the United Methodist Book of Discipline, UMNS provides news stories to communicators throughout the world.

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46 Comments on "Amicable breakup of UMC needed, pastor group says"

The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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A new denomination of an Evangelical Methodist Church would be extremely exciting. Continued repression by a church run by a liberal hierarchy intent on aligning the UMC with popular culture rather than holy scripture is not.

Gregory Peterson

“There are many more things than homosexuality that have been issues for the orthodox.”

And no doubt there were more things than about slavery that had been issues for the orthodox with the 1844 schism , right theenemyhatesclarity ?

Wes Andrews

Again, the problem is that organizations, educational institutions, “professors”, Bishops, and a very small but powerful minority of clergy are taking faithfully offered tithes and offerings to support their salaries from people who have values these entities despise. Amazing…..

Ed Moore
The National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers are no doubt delighted to observe what ought to be one of the most prophetically engaged denominations in America aim straight for the iceberg as it mimics — under cover of theological language — the secular cultural divides in the nation, just as we did in 1844 when we split into two denominations over the issue of slavery. We knew then that John Wesley was adamantly opposed to slavery, his last letter before dying being an eloquent denunciation of the practice and addressed to William Wilberforce. We know now that Wesley was… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Ed, both the conservatives and liberals offer “Kool-aid” to any who will drink. For every “conservative” you list who conspires to control there are “liberals” who also seek to control. Ultimately they care more about power than about the people, or justice, etc. It’s an illusion that the “bad buys” fit in either/or OR us vs. them categories. I agree with you that there are big issues that are missed when the church debates marriage and sexuality. A couple of thoughts: The UMC has debated this openly and every four years the issue is SETTLED. It is the PROGRESSIVES (not… Read more »

Wes, exactly.

But please don’t forget the role of the media/Hollywood/academic and theological elites in all of this. They—who told us years ago that marriage was an outdated social institution—have been on board with marriage redefinition from the get-go. They have conditioned the thinking of Americans into believing that if you agree with the Bible and 99 percent of human history you are a bigot. Also, never forget that the media—being reliably liberal—will always be more prone to report on the Koch Brothers than atheist left-wing billionaire/felon George Soros.

Gregory Peterson
“They have conditioned the thinking of Americans into believing that if you agree with the Bible and 99 percent of human history you are a bigot.” Way to remind me of what the proslavery apologists were writing, though less succinctly, back when my great grandfather was growing up. By Thornton Stringfellow in his 1856 “Scriptural and statistical views in favor of slavery.” [Slavery] is branded by one portion of the people, who take their rule of moral rectitude from the Scriptures, as a great sin; nay the greatest of sins that exist in the nation. And they hold the obligation… Read more »

Yet again this specious argument is presented. The Bible is equivocal at best on slavery, and an intelligent, informed reading of it (the book of Philemon can be viewed as an argument against slavery), in my opinion, argues against it (that’s what John Newton thought!)

In contrast, the Bible is unequivocal in its condemnation of homosexual behavior. It is not a debatable point.


I am not as kind as Wes. Seems to me Ed you are a liberal/progressive’s dream!! And that is ok. And you are correct–there are MANY things that are not right in the umc and the USofA. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on the “things” that are wrong.


Amen, enemyhatesclarity! The current cultural ethos of sexuality-as-identity is terribly unbalanced and unrealistic. And how about approving only seminaries where 90+ percent of the faculty are Christians themselves!


What a great post!!! There are SO many things that would/could change in the establishing of a new denomination.

First on the list would be a people who bow in reverence and awe to Father/Son/Holy Spirit!! Perhaps Iliff would be left of the approved list as well!!

Thank you, TEHC, for a positive start to this Lord’s Day–and the celebration of the memory of all those who have served this country in The Armed Forces………………..

Wes Andrews
Iliff has been one of the most “progressive” of seminaries. My guess is the students and faculty would be very, very proud of this. In reality, Iliff was started by a family that loved Jesus and wished to promote the spread of the Kingdom of God. Yet, it has been taken over and dominated by progressives who are uninterested in the Kingdom, as defined by Scripture. The founders are rolling over in their grave. Of course, this is one of many UM seminaries that despise the church that supports them. And yes, I know this from personal experience.
Stephen Burkhart
Schism exists right now. The College of Bishops has lost credibility as it cannot even manage accountability among Bishops. The credibility of the polity is collapsing as folks look for ways to dance around the covenant, instead of upholding the covenant, and the leadership of the church uses “unity at any cost” as the excuse of the day to do nothing. Radical progressives ( not all progressives) have chosen to abandon their Vows for their own agenda, and now try to package anyone who dares to disagree as “schismatics”, instead of honestly separating in the “schism” they have seeded and… Read more »
Gregory Peterson
Vows which uphold the language of oppression …complete with obsolete, long discredited and now pejorative words like “homosexual” must be broken. What conservatives want is to deny for other adults what they allow for themselves like ordination and marriage. I’m old enough to have heard it all before from people who claimed to be faithful to scripture, only about the “sexuality” of a different minority group. I’ve even been accused of the “unnatural sin of miscegenation.” I’m proudly unrepentant. Gay is a declaration of a certain sort of personal integrity, which conservatives who are defending privilege generally seem to lack,… Read more »
Velma Hampson
“While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. ” Note please that in most responses the terms Liberal and Progressive are here are appearing to be used as curse words. As one who seeks to be both liberal in my sharing of my limited income and in my sharing of my time and talents, and progressive in my perspective on the 21st century church, I do find that disconcerting. I am also curious as to why on earth… Read more »
Lisa Keenan
This is a good question, Velma. It has haunted me, also. I’m just a simple kind of woman who finds solace and community within the church. After engaging in these discussions, so far, I have learned this: There is no marriage ceremony in the Bible. Marriage happens behind “the tent flap”. Our biological chemistry not only creates a desire and tender bonding very similar to that of a mother to her child, but also analogous of our Creator to his children. It brings an empathy to us that is beyond definition. From this miracle, this marriage of the tiniest essence… Read more »
Harry Whitsell

God’s Word is all we need to look to.
Philippians 2:15 NASB-“…so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,…”

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