After Disagreements Over LGBTQ Clergy, U.S. Methodists Move Closer To Split Methodists around the U.S. have been engaged in tense discussions over the future of their church. "We are in an untenable situation," Bishop Thomas Bickerton told delegates at a recent meeting.
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After Disagreements Over LGBTQ Clergy, U.S. Methodists Move Closer To Split

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After Disagreements Over LGBTQ Clergy, U.S. Methodists Move Closer To Split

After Disagreements Over LGBTQ Clergy, U.S. Methodists Move Closer To Split

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The United Methodist Church, the largest mainline Protestant group in the U.S., is on its way to becoming the divided Methodist Church. It's breaking apart over recently tightened church rules that bar LGBT clergy and same-sex weddings worldwide. This summer, U.S. Methodists have been meeting to consider what comes next. Most but not all opposed the new rules. NPR's Tom Gjelten says the prospect of a Methodist divorce now seems to be less a matter of if than how.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The United Methodists have long been proud of how they handle diverse views. One example from the annual meeting of the Baltimore-Washington Methodist Conference this month - Bishop LaTrelle Easterling invited seven attendees on stage to share their thoughts on the most divisive issues facing the church. And she pleaded with her delegates to withhold judgment.

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LATRELLE EASTERLING: So I ask you, beloved. I beg of you, listen with open minds. Listen.

GJELTEN: But the deep church division over LGBT issues soon became clear. Pastor Kevin Baker cited the Bible on homosexuality and sin and how he thought the church should respond.

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KEVIN BAKER: That we want all people here but that we see that God calls us out of behaviors that are not in line with his word.

GJELTEN: A few feet away, Reverend Michele Johns, who identifies as queer, was clearly upset by the suggestion that God does not approve of her behavior.

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MICHELE JOHNS: I don't know how much more I can bear listening to hate. I don't believe God hates me. I believe there are those in the Methodist church who do, and I feel it. Right now, I feel it.

GJELTEN: Alongside her, another Methodist minister, Rebecca Iannicelli, dismayed in her own way by what's happening in her church.

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REBECCA IANNICELLI: I am a child of broken covenant, a child of divorce. And sometimes I feel like I am 8 years old again pulled from two sides and trying to hold everything and people together but yet still not knowing where I belong.

GJELTEN: This is where things stand in the United Methodist Church four months after conservative delegates from outside the U.S. joined forces with conservatives in the U.S. to approve punishment for clergy who ordain LGBT candidates or perform same-sex weddings. That vote deepened a division between conservatives and progressives and now has ministers like Pastor Baker from Olney, Md., thinking a split in the church is now inevitable.

BAKER: The level of harm and hurt is so great, and the inability for us to talk in healthy ways with one another is at the place where I don't see any other option.

GJELTEN: At the Baltimore conference, Bishop Easterling ordained two openly LGBT people in clear defiance of church rules. It's things like that, Baker says, that explain why he's ready to give up on dialogue.

BAKER: We've been discussing this since 1972. The only reason that we're at this place is we've gone from discussion and disagreement to disobedience.

GJELTEN: It's true many progressives at this point just won't accept church rules that marginalize LGBT Methodists. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, the senior pastor at Foundry United Methodist in Washington, D.C., is a leader of the movement to resist the official church position on LGBT issues.

GINGER GAINES-CIRELLI: There are bad human-created rules that are contrary to the primary commandment to love God and love neighbor. This is one of them.

GJELTEN: In truth, there's some intransigence on both sides. Gaines-Cirelli notes that the conservative side at the global Methodist conference in February rejected a compromise plan that would have let individual churches decide on their own whether to allow gay clergy or same-sex weddings.

GAINES-CIRELLI: We tried to stay in connection with those folk. They have clearly said we're not interested.

GJELTEN: There will be another global Methodist conference next year. The rules on LGBT clergy and weddings could be reversed at that time. But the more conservative churches from outside the U.S. are the ones with growing membership. By next year, they'll probably have even more representation, so the prospect of reconciliation is likely to be even more remote. Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

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