CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The senior pastor at a downtown Charleston Methodist church is one of eight clergy delegates who will vote on a proposal to separate the church into two denominations.
The proposal by a group composed of eight bishops and eight representatives from a diverse group of UMC advocacy groups is designed to help resolve differences relating to same-sex marriage and LGBTQ leaders in the church.
The Rev. Susan Leonard, senior pastor of Bethel United Methodist Church in Charleston, says the UMC has been unable to reach an agreement relating to LGBTQ matters for several decades.
“They do not use the word leave, they do not use the word exit, they do not use the word divorce they use the word separate, which I think is an emphasis meant to say this is an attempt to mutually find a way to honor the different theological spectrums, the theological understandings along the spectrum and to offer the church a path to consider,” Leonard said.
The nine-page proposal looks toward a restructuring of the remaining global United Methodist Church into regions, with the flexibility to adapt church policies, including on LGBTQ inclusion. Meanwhile, traditionalists forming a new denomination could continue what they see as Bible-supported restrictions on same-sex marriage and ordination of gay persons as clergy. The plan calls for the separating group to receive $25 million in United Methodist funds and keep its local church properties.
“It was meant as a gift to the church and not something that was antagonistic," Leonard said. "The truth is the non-elected body of 16 people have gathered at their own will. They have not been elected to that and they offered it as an option.”
Leonard and others will vote on the proposal at the church’s general conference in May.
Down the street from Bethel United Methodist Church, there’s a rainbow flag that hangs at Tropical Tan and Spa. The owner, Quyen Nguyen, says its in support of her gay nephew who moved to the U.S. for more acceptance. She supports the proposal.
“I think it’s a good idea, it’s open for everyone,” Nguyen said.
While some people support the proposal, others took to social media to say they'd like the church to stay the way it is.
“I think the United Methodist Church has long been a people who understand personal faith as how do you align your life of Christ and has been an advocate for social justice and social holiness,” Leonard said. “It’s not either-or, it’s but-and for us. For me, I see Bethel Church as a school of love where we’re here to learn the ways of Jesus, and so we will welcome anyone who Jesus would welcome and Jesus would welcome all."