The Methodist Church, which has the world’s highest number of members attending it, is split wide open over recognising the marital rights of homosexuals.
A traditional Protestant church founded by John Wesley and Charles Wesley in 19th century, the Methodists, with presence in 187 countries, are on the verge of a split worldwide over the issue of same-sex marriages. On January 3, 2020, the denomination’s leadership announced a plan to split the church over what is being officially described as “fundamental differences”.
The church’s general conference is expected to vote on the plan in May later this year in the United States. Though the debate, and the split, is currently confined only to the United Methodist Church in the USA, it is reported that there is a lot of opposition from churches in Africa.
The New Zealand Methodist Conference decided around 1999 to bless same-sex relationships and allow gay preachers, and Rev David Bush said 10 to 15 percent of the congregation left at that time.
“Personally I think it’s very sad that it’s come to this, that they haven’t been able to find some way of working together, but I can fully understand why they’ve decided to in a sense put this argument to one side and allow each group to continue with the viewpoint that they’ve come to,” Rev Bush explained to RNZ.
“A number of our leaders are people who are in same-gender relationships, and the Methodist Church of New Zealand is totally independent of methodist churches in other countries.”
He said the Tongan, Samoan, Fijian and Korean Methodist conferences also had churches in New Zealand and took a less liberal stance.
“Probably most of them would not be in agreement, however that doesn’t stop them working with us. Having said that we have a lot of Tongan, Samoa, Korean, Fijian members who are part of the Methodist Church of New Zealand. It’s a very diverse church.”
The plans in the US would create a ‘Traditionalist Methodist’ denomination, where those opposed to the acceptance of same-sex marriages would migrate, with the existing Methodist Church set to accept homosexual union, including marriage.
While some of the Anglican churches have reformed with changing times to accept, recognise and even perform same-sex marriages in their churches, the Methodist has remained a traditional church which is not accepting of the marital union of homosexuals.
In Australia, there is a huge divide between Anglican congregations, some allowing same-sex marriages and others openly dismissing them.
Americans make up a diminishing share of the United Methodist Church’s global membership and are projected to soon be a minority if they are not already.
While they are leaving the church, congregations overseas are growing rapidly, particularly in Africa; there are nearly 3 million members in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These groups tend to be more conservative than the typical American Methodist, which in part explains the vote in St. Louis, where more than 40 per cent of delegates were from outside the United States.