UK Methodist Church Votes to Allow Same-Sex Marriages, While US Methodists Anticipate Split

By Josh Shepherd
marriage split
In 2019, LGBT advocates at the United Methodist General Conference lamented the Traditional Plan being adopted which did not sanction same-sex marriage. (RNS photo: Kit Doyle)

Britain’s Methodist Church announced Wednesday that same-sex couples will be allowed to get married on church premises. Meanwhile, the Methodist Church based in the U.S. anticipates a denominational split over the same issues.

After debates on the topic at the Methodist Conference in the U.K., proposals to allow same-sex marriages were passed with 254 votes in favor and 46 against.

Dignity & Worth, a campaign group among Britain’s Methodists said the vote was a “momentous step on the road to justice and inclusion” after many years of sometimes painful conversations. Rev. Sam McBratney, who chairs the group, praised the “courageous step” taken by the church.

However, Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), a U.S.-based ecumenical group that seeks to uphold historic Christian creeds, countered that this change departs from 230 years of teaching in the denomination begun by John Wesley.

“Historic Methodism stresses conversion, transformation, sanctification, and holiness,” stated Tooley via e-mail. “The Methodist Church of Great Britain is abandoning those themes in favor of affirmation and self-celebration.”

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Mark Tooley

Tooley added, “Male-female marriage is central to social order and justice especially for protection of children,” he said. “Overturning it only leads to harmed lives and fractured societies.”

While the Protestant Christian denomination operates autonomously, the Methodist Church in Britain is regarded as the “mother church” to all Methodists. As a movement, Methodism has its roots in the “Holy Club” started by brothers John and Charles Wesley and evangelist George Whitefield at Oxford University in Britain in the 1720’s.

The church has a current membership of 164,000, making it the fourth-largest Christian denomination in the U.K. In 1980, Methodists in Britain had an estimated membership of 606,000 people—a steep decline over the past 40 years.

Britain’s Methodist Church said ministers who oppose the changes will not be forced to carry out same-sex marriages. Same-sex marriage is not allowed in the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, though smaller religious groups like the Quakers in Britain back the practice.

US Methodists prepare to split over marriage and sexuality

Today, the much larger U.S.-based United Methodist Church, which includes churches from over 130 countries, faces a split over these same issues of marriage and sexuality.

In August 2022, the church’s governing General Conference plans to meet to divide the church into at least three separate denominations: progressive, traditionalist, and radical, the IRD reports. (The church’s 2021 meeting was cancelled due to COVID.)

At the last United Methodist General Conference in February 2019, which Tooley and his team attended, delegates passed the so-called Traditional Plan by a close vote of 438 to 384.

The plan reaffirmed historic Christian teachings on marriage and sexuality. It also ended the denomination’s affiliation with pro-abortion lobby group Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

A key factor in the defense of traditional views was a contingent of United Methodist leaders based in African nations. About half of the denomination’s membership of 13 million worship in churches across Africa, and their votes at the General Conference turned the tide.

“We are committed to traditional biblical beliefs because that is what we know as the unchanging, infallible Word of God since the birth of the Christian Church in Africa,” stated Dr. Jerry Kulah, dean of the United Methodist seminary in Monrovia, Liberia. “Despite numerous cultural beliefs and practices across Africa, the Bible remains our primary authority for faith and practice.”

Reflecting these realities, the traditional Methodist denomination will likely be named the Global Methodist Church. Tooley says he believes this traditional denomination may initially have a small footprint in America. “The United Methodist Church is . . .  now preparing to split, and two-thirds of United Methodists in the U.S. likely will go with the liberal branch.”

In December 2020, the most progressive factions within Methodism announced the formation of Liberation Methodist Connexion.

Reporting from the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area with their two children.



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11 thoughts on “UK Methodist Church Votes to Allow Same-Sex Marriages, While US Methodists Anticipate Split”

  1. Seems very strange to me that the Protestant denominations of today do not look directly into God’s holy word to see what He declares to be acceptable/unacceptable human sexual behavior. As professing Christians, we simply cannot and should not cherry pick God’s word, keeping what we like and throwing out we don’t like. If I remember my history correctly, Thomas Jefferson took a pair of scissors and cut out many parts of the Bible. He did not like. And what really confuses me is those who espouse these un-biblical sexual ideologies actually believe and are fully convinced that this is normal sexual behavior. Scary, very very scary.

  2. I guess it doesn’t matter to these people what God says. Rewrite the word of God to fit there agenda.

  3. I grew up in 1950, 60’s Wesleyan-Holiness church—my how things have changed! We still used hymnals and Bibles (KJV) back then. We lost the hymnals first to contemporary big-screen “hymns”, and now we don’t need Bibles anymore!

  4. How can “Christians” claim any moral authority about marriage as the divorce rate among evangelicals is higher than the average divorce rates. Do evangelical churches preach and emphasize Mathew 5:32– “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving. for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and. … and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

    1. The late Phillip E Johnson wrote a book called The Right Questions. He discusses “the logic train” where he describes gay marriage as the logical conclusion of accepting no-fault divorce. Once marriage becomes a human institution rather than a divine one, gay marriage is the inevitable outcome.

      1. Frannie Christensen

        Loren, I feel cancel culture began way back with no fault divorce. We can get out of marriage easier than a cell phone contract. One spouse can get up in the morning and never come back without any input from the other side. It is the worse thing to happen to humans.

    2. This is just 1 reference that refutes your claim that the divorce rate is higher among evangelical than the general public. There are numerous others I could have pasted.

      Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, explains from his analysis of people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, that 60 percent of these have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced.[1]

      Other data from additional sociologists of family and religion suggest a substantial marital stability divide between those who take their faith seriously and those who do not.

      W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, finds from his own analysis that “active conservative Protestants” who regularly attend church are 35 percent less likely to divorce compared to those who have no affiliation. Nominally attending conservative Protestants are 20 percent more likely to divorce, compared to secular Americans.[2]

    3. Frannie Christensen

      Tom, churches preach it and Christians don’t obey it. Western Christians are not about being doers of God’s Word these days. It started with small stuff and now the Bible is merely suggestions. They think they can slide by but we all will be accountable for our actions some day.

  5. Warren M. Roy

    I remember reading in a newspaper about a Presbyterian pastor who was retiring from a local Presbyterian church. One of the reasons he was delaying his retirement. Was over the issue of homosexual “marriage.” He told how they needed to “discern the Will of God” concerning that issue!
    I can tell you just to read the Bible(Josh.1:8; Psa.1; Ps.119; Psa.138:2; Isa.8:20; Matt.4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13;
    Acts 17:10&11; 2 Tim.2:15; 2 Tim.3:15-17; 2 Pet.1:18-20; Rev.22:18&19) they can discern the Will of God fast on that issue! Marriage is between one man and one lady(Gen.2:18-25; Matt.19:1-12; Mark 10:2-12).
    Concerning homosexuality. God absolutely forbids it. Read such portions of scriptures as Genesis 19, Lev.18:22; Lev.20:13; 1 Kings 14:22-24; 1 Kings 15:11-13; 1 Kings 22:46; Matt.11:232&24; Luke 17:26-33;
    Rom.1:18-32; 1 Cor.6:9-11; 2 Pet.2:4-9; Jude 1:1-8 and I could give some more!
    Just read the Bible and apply it! It is simple as that. God is against so-called homosexual marriage! No waiting for any fancy dancy “discerning the Will of God!” Read the Bible and apply it(Matt.7:24-29; Luke 6:46-49; James 1:22-25)! If you really love the Lord Jesus like you should you will
    know what to God’s Will is on that issue and obey it(John 15:14,21, 23; 1 John 5:3)!

  6. I’m tempted to suggest (and have chosen to yield) that what is currently playing out for so many Christian Churches and faith groups, lends itself to the argument for evolution. Everything evolves, nothing stands still.
    The differences here flagged as traditional/progressive, conservative/liberal, all have to be addressed holistically. There is no fixed datum or ground beneath these differences. Each grouping involves different interpretations on all the fundamentals of Christianity. We read the Bible differently, we interpret it differently, we relate it to the moving present differently. We view and understand history and society and evolution/creation differently. We view sexuality and one-one-commitments differently. We experience spirit and truth differently. We understand God and grace and transgression differently. We understand redemption and forgiveness differently. We view religion and the secular differently. And these are just the simpler differences.
    Some of the more complex differences have to do with the “word”, with how we use language, with how our Biblical understandings attach to particular language usage. We took a big step when we translated the Bible from Latin into our respective languages. Since that big step however, we have rather slipped behind the moving curve of understanding of language processes. Understanding of what language is and does has moved on apace, but very few of those advances have been incorporated into active Christianity (with exceptions).

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