A Tale of a New Church

By Thomas Lambrecht

The story of the 2024 General Conference meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, is the story of a new church being born. Two years ago this month, the Global Methodist Church was born, and it is growing and maturing quickly. This month a new United Methodist Church was born, one that is wedded to a more progressive understanding of the Bible and theology. As the conference ends today, it is appropriate to assess how that took place.

In years past, the UM Church was deeply divided between traditionalists and progressives. The 2019 General Conference in St. Louis demonstrated this divide by approving the traditional understanding of marriage and human sexuality by only 53 to 46 percent. By contrast, the new definition of marriage passed by the 2024 General Conference received 78 percent support.

What caused the shift?

First, in the aftermath of the St. Louis conference, many U.S. annual conferences made a concerted effort to elect progressive delegates to the next General Conference. This was a reaction to, and rejection of, the traditional direction chosen in St. Louis. It was accompanied by widespread avowals of disobedience to what the General Conference had decided and fostered the realization that the UM Church was in an untenable impasse.

Second, the General Conference was postponed, not once or twice, but three times. The third postponement was widely seen by traditionalists as a ploy to avoid the adoption of a plan of amicable separation. It led directly to the formation of the Global Methodist Church in 2022. In response, over 7,600 U.S. churches disaffiliated, leading to a dramatic decline in the remaining number of traditionalist delegates to General Conference, as many strong leaders exited the denomination.

Third, the General Conference staff did not do the work necessary to gather the information on delegate elections from annual conferences in Africa. Due to a variety of challenges, including the illness of key persons and slowness (or lack of understanding) in responding to requests for forms, the staff did not have the necessary information to send out letters of invitation soon enough to enable delegates to secure visas to travel to the U.S. for the conference. The staff could have done more to gain the needed information, including trips to Africa to meet with leaders there, but declined to do so. As a result, between 70 and 100 African delegates (most of whom would have been traditionalist voices and votes) were not able to obtain visas to attend the conference.

As a result, instead of the previous 53 to 46 percent majority, traditionalists at this General Conference were outnumbered, 78 to 22 percent. This gave the progressive-centrist coalition the votes they needed to run the table on their LGBTQ-affirming agenda.

What changed?

The General Conference has changed the denomination’s definition of marriage. Previously, we “affirmed the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman.” Now, our Discipline “affirm[s] marriage as a sacred lifelong covenant that brings two people of faith (adult man and woman of consenting age; and or two adult persons of consenting age) into union with one another.”

This new, confused definition of marriage allows for multiple options. It preserves the ability of some to say marriage is the union of one man and one woman, while at the same time opening the door to say marriage is between any two people, including those of the same gender. This second definition is a direct contradiction of Scripture (Genesis 2:23-24; Matthew 19:4-6). It puts the UM Church in the situation of having conflicting, incoherent definitions of marriage.

The conference made further changes to our understanding of human sexuality and its proper role. Previously, we stated that “Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.” This language was taken out of the Discipline at this conference, and it now reads, “We affirm human sexuality as a sacred gift and acknowledge that sexual intimacy contributes to … nurturing healthy sexual relationships that are grounded in love, care, and respect. … We further honor the diversity of choices and vocations in relation to sexuality such as celibacy, marriage, and singleness. We support the rights of all people to exercise personal consent in sexual relationships, to make decisions about their own bodies.”

It seems the new moral guidelines for sexual relationships are love, care, respect, and consent. Gone is any understanding of the moral purpose of human sexuality to cement the marriage bond and enhance the relationship between husband and wife.

In addition, the qualifications for clergy previously required “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.” This has now been changed to “faithful sexual intimacy expressed through fidelity, monogamy, commitment, mutual affection and respect, careful and honest communication, mutual consent, and growth in grace and in the knowledge and love of God.” While all these qualities are good, this removes the requirement for sexual abstinence before marriage and further dilutes the church’s moral standards. It is unclear how “fidelity” or “monogamy” applies to single persons or what the sexual ethic for single clergy persons is.

The chargeable offenses for immorality and not being celibate in singleness or faithful in a heterosexual marriage were removed. There is therefore no formal way to hold clergy persons accountable for committing immorality.


Previously, our Discipline stated, “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all.”

That language has now been removed, and the church takes no formal position on the morality of homosexual relationships. However, in other changes, the church now allows for “the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in church life,” as reported by UM News Service.

  • Married or partnered gays and lesbians may now be ordained as clergy, appointed as pastors, and consecrated as bishops.
  • Pastors may perform same-sex weddings and churches may host such services.
  • Pastors may not be penalized for performing same-sex weddings, nor may they be penalized for refusing to perform them.
  • Church funds may now be spent to promote the acceptance of homosexuality. However, funds may NOT be spent in a way that “rejects LGBTQIA persons” or in dialogues where the traditional perspective is presented. This provision seems to exclude church participation in ministry that seeks to help persons deal with unwanted same-sex attractions, and it certainly inhibits the traditional perspective from being perceived as a viable alternative in understanding Scripture.
  • LGBTQ persons must be included in the membership of all general church boards and agencies.

The cumulative effect of all these changes is to change the UM Church from a denomination that stood on the scriptural position that sex is for marriage between one man and one woman to a denomination that affirms sexual relations between persons of the same gender and also outside of marriage.


There is a definite disconnect between the understanding of sexual morality by the progressive-centrist United States and the traditionalist understanding of Africa and the Philippines. Progressives and centrists believe that the way around this is to adopt a regionalized form of church governance. This would allow each region of the church to adopt its own rules and policies, including those related to marriage, sexuality, and clergy qualifications.

In conjunction with our African partners, Good News has argued that this approach is misguided and could lead to the weakening of the United Methodist connection. It certainly imposes a burden on Africans and Filipinos to develop their own Discipline, while still being tainted by being part of a libertine denomination.

However, these arguments were rejected by the delegates in Charlotte. They passed the regionalization proposal by a 78 percent margin. It still needs ratification by two-thirds of the annual conference members, which may or may not happen. If ratified, it would go into effect in 2026.


The primary goal of Good News at the General Conference was to advocate for an exit path for local churches. Churches outside the U.S. were not given the same opportunity to disaffiliate that we had in the U.S. At the same time, about a dozen annual conferences in the U.S. imposed very high costs for disaffiliation that prevented most churches from leaving. There was also a proposal for a streamlined process for annual conferences outside the U.S. to disaffiliate as a whole annual conference.

Unfortunately, all attempts to include a formal disaffiliation pathway failed. The removal of Par. 2553, the local church disaffiliation pathway, prevailed with 72 percent in favor. We had hoped that some fair-minded centrists or progressives would be willing to support some form of disaffiliation. In that hope we were disappointed.

There is no question that the UM Church is a new and different denomination today than it was in 2019. The General Conference actions have formalized an evolving consensus among the progressive and centrist parts of the church, and reveals they are completely in control of the denomination. Pastors and church members will need to decide if the new direction of the denomination reflects the church they want to belong to and support. Unfortunately, avenues for disaffiliation that allow churches to keep their property (especially in the U.S.) are limited. Some congregations may need to be willing to walk away from their buildings in order to pursue ministry in the way they feel called by God to do so. The fight may be over in the UM Church, but the struggle to carry on biblically faithful ministry is just beginning.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News. Photo:Over 700 delegates to the 2024 United Methodist General Conference work on church business in Charlotte, N.C. Friday May 3, 2024.  Photo by Larry McCormack, UM News.




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