A negotiating team within the United Methodist Church has developed a plan for splitting the denomination, whose members had reached an impasse over whether to allow same-sex marriage and ordination of gay clergy.
The plan, announced Friday through the church's news service, would allow congregations that lean toward the church's "traditionalist" stance to spin off into a new denomination, taking $25 million from the denomination and keeping their local church properties.
The church said the proposal was drafted by a 16-member group of bishops and other church leaders with the help of Kenneth Feinberg, who led negotiations with the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The proposal would have to be approved at the meeting of the church's governing body, called the General Conference, scheduled for May in Minneapolis.
The United Methodist Church claims 13 million members worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the U.S.
In North Carolina, the denomination is divided into two conferences, with more than 650,000 members as of 2010.
The church has argued for decades over whether to allow the marriage of same-sex couples and the ordination of gay clergy. The denomination has barred both, and at a special General Conference last year voted to strengthen sanctions against churches that went against the rules.
Those rules were to go into effect this year, but will be postponed by Friday's announcement.
Bishop Paul L. Leeland of the Western North Carolina Conference issued a statement Friday urging members to "Reflect rather than react. Be prayerful for the church. Remain objective. Since this is a negotiated proposal everyone is not entirely satisfied with the outcome, yet the denomination needs to look for the best solution to address its current impasse. "
The proposal offers a path, Leeland said, that treats others with grace and respect.
"The primary question for me," he wrote, "is how do we Glorify God and love others in our decisions? How can we be open to those who interpret and understand scripture differently as we worship God and serve neighbors while traveling along different paths of faithfulness?"
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