Utah pastors at LGBTQ-friendly churches see Methodist split as ‘best solution’

(Leah Hogsten | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) The Rev. Rusty Butler and the congregation at Christ United Methodist Church were awash in rainbows during Sunday services, March 3, 2019, in a show of solidarity for its LGBTQ members.

The proposal to allow opponents of LGBTQ marriage and ordination to split from the United Methodist denomination and form their own group is “probably the best solution at this point,” Utah’s Rev. Rusty Butler said Friday.

Powerful representatives of traditional and progressive wings of the church have been meeting for several months and concluded it would be best to divide into separate denominations, said Butler, pastor at the 600-member Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City, and “made a unanimous decision.”

If the proposal is approved at the faith’s General Conference in May, local congregations can choose to remain with the United Methodist denomination, which would include same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy. Those who oppose the positions can leave, taking their congregations, pastors and buildings with them to form a new group.

“For me, it is a happy day because the issue is semi-settled,” Butler said. “It is the best thing for churches like Christ United.”

His LGBTQ-friendly congregation is expected to stay with the United Methodists. Still, the pastor has empathy for colleagues who are “personally progressive but whose churches want to be conservative.”

The system going forward, he said, is “going to be messy.”

The Rev. Elizabeth McVicker — who pastors at two other LGBTQ-welcoming congregations, historic First United Methodist Church in downtown Salt Lake City and tiny Centenary United Methodist Church a few miles away — also applauds the move.

“I am in favor of the proposed agreement because it is supported by a large cross section of various stakeholders and allows a way forward from the intractable division within the United Methodist Church,” McVickers wrote in an email. “The protocol would enable the churches and pastors, who do not support same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ pastors, to leave the United Methodist Church and form a new denomination.”

At the same time, she said, it “would allow those who remain to rebuild and restore the core ethos of the Methodist approach to theology, which stems from gracious inclusion.”

McVickers is “hopeful,” she said, “that the General Conference delegates, who are the primary decision-makers in this matter, will approve the proposal.”

If it passes, the Rev. Marv Vose, the faith’s district superintendent over Utah and parts of Colorado, doesn’t expect any of the Beehive State’s 21 United Methodist congregations to withdraw.

“I think they would all stay,” Vose said. “They’re pretty solid.”

It is not a done deal, though.

“There is still a great deal of uncertainty,” he said. “Even if this were to pass at General Conference in May, it would still have to pass constitutional muster. If constitutional amendments are required, a two-thirds majority must approve at General Conference and across the entire church. That is a very high standard.”

Yet, Vose sees the agreement as “a valiant attempt to separate in a graceful and orderly fashion.”

He is “thankful” for that, he said, “but there is much to be done before it can be successful.”