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Disagreement over LGBTQ issues fuels "disaffiliation" in some MI United Methodist churches

Kate Wells
Michigan Radio

Some United Methodist churches in Michigan and elsewhere are debating whether toformally break awayfrom the larger church because of ongoing debates over the role of LGBTQ people in the faith.

Currently, the United Methodist Church bans same-sex marriage. It also forbids the ordination of people in same-gender relationships.

But Bishop David Bard, who heads the Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church, said there’s a growing consensus among church leaders that they should update its Book of Discipline to reflect a more accepting stance toward LGBTQ people.

“If you were to poll delegates from just the United States to our general conference, where changes are made to our Book of Discipline, there's a pretty strong majority who want to move the United Methodist Church in a more liberal or progressive direction,” Bard said.

On the other hand, Bard some said more conservative congregations are resisting that possible move. “I would say it would be a fair statement to say enforcement of that provision [regarding LGBTQ people] in the Book of Discipline is not as strict as some would like it to be,” he said.

That’s led a handful of churches in Michigan so far to choose a process called disaffiliation, where they vote to break away from the larger United Methodist Church. Bard said seven Michigan churches have voted to disaffiliate so far, and more have expressed interest in it.

“I would say the number of churches that have inquired is about 15% of the congregations in the United Methodist Church in Michigan,” Bard said. Congregations must not only vote for disaffiliation, but also meet certain other requirements, and have their disaffiliation vote ratified at the annual UMC conference.

Bard said disaffiliation is a painful process, but he believes it’s also a necessary one. “I think some of the conversation and debates have just gotten to the place where it’s best if we not continue to try to live together with some dramatically different understandings of the scriptures,” he said.

“It's painful for me as a Bishop. I would prefer we find a way we could find a way to live together amidst our differences. It's painful for people in churches, even when churches feel like they need to disaffiliate and are doing the appropriate thing.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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