Yet the "incompatible" language has been challenged at every General Conference ever since it was introduced. (A deliberative meeting of Methodist leaders from around the world, General Conferences are ordinarily held every four years.) The language has survived. At a special conference last year called to address LGBTQ issues, the progressives lost again, in part due to opposition from conservative leaders from Africa, the Philippines and Korea.
"There is irony in all this," said Benefiel, the Point Loma Nazarene professor. "The progressives are the ones that are making the argument for diversity, yet it is the diversity of the church that is making it more traditional."
Another wrinkle: while the traditionalists marshaled the General Conference votes, they've been unable to enforce bans against same-sex marriage or the ordination of LGBTQ ministers. That's because most U.S. bishops are aligned with the progressives. And that's why many traditionalists, despite their strength in church-wide assemblies, are preparing to leave.
"We realize that even if we continue -- and we could continue because the numbers from Africa are growing -- if the bishops are not willing to enforce this, there's no point," said the Wesleyan Covenant Association's Haworth.
While a formal vote on separation will not be taken until May, Haworth, Park and Rhodes all predict it will be approved. One potential sticking point has already been resolved: while individual churches and their properties are held in trust by the denomination, the measure before the General Conference allows departing churches to keep their real estate and physical structures.
Still, will this be an amicable divorce?
"How can we do this in the most Christian way possible, with the least amount of anger and hurt feelings?" Park said. "Can we do this and bless one another?"
While Park plans to minister to a congregation devoted to traditional Methodism, he's not willing to condemn others who are called to a more progressive form of this faith.
"This is who we are," he said. "If this is not who you are, I have this great friend, Bob. And if that is where you are, I could heartily recommend him."
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