After Schism, United Methodists Vote to Restructure Denomination

The plan would organize UMC churches in four global regions, with each given more leeway around same-sex marriage and other theological issues.

The top legislative body of the United Methodist Church passed a series of measures Thursday to restructure the worldwide denomination to give each region greater equity in tailoring church life to its own customs and traditions.

The primary measure, voted on as the UMC General Conference met at the Charlotte Convention Center in North Carolina, was an amendment to the church’s constitution to divide the denomination into four equal regions—Africa, Europe, the Philippines, and the United States.

According to the plan, each region would be able to customize part of the denomination’s rulebook, the Book of Discipline, to fit local needs. While church regions in Africa, the Philippines, and Europe have already enjoyed some leeway in customizing church life, the United States has not.

The vote on the constitutional amendment passed 586–164, or by 78 percent, which means it surpassed the two-thirds majority needed for constitutional amendments. It must now go before each smaller church region, called an annual conference, for ratification by the end of 2025.

If ratified by two-thirds of delegates to the annual conferences, the restructuring would allow the four regions to set their own qualifications for ordaining clergy and lay leaders; publish their own hymnal and rituals, including rites for marriage; and establish its own judicial courts. A new Book of Discipline would have one section that could be revised and tailored for each of the four regional conferences.

The two-week worldwide meeting is the first meeting of the General Conference in five years, due mostly to delays associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. It follows a painful schism that has split some 7,600 US-based churches from the denomination—a …

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