Every four years for the past four decades, America’s second-largest Protestant denomination officially debates homosexuality. And each time, the United Methodist Church (UMC) affirms the position that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

Contrary to other mainline groups, the UMC’s stance is increasingly unlikely to change. Approximately 5 million UMC members are in Africa, compared to 7 million in the United States. The socially conservative African contingent gains 200,000 members each year as American churches lose 100,000. And attempts to let Americans set policies without African input were soundly defeated at the denomination’s two most recent conferences.

Yet this year, 80 evangelical Methodist pastors and theologians proposed that traditionalists and progressives, like Paul and Barnabas in Acts, "part amicably."

Decades of fighting over the issue have been "emotionally draining" and "spiritually nullifying," said Maxie Dunnam, a former Asbury Theological Seminary president who organized the public letter. A tipping point came when some bishops refused to discipline pastors who married gay couples. Dunnam believes ministry by both sides would be more effective without the distracting debate.

Pastors have suggested multiple models for parting ways. Kansas megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton favors allowing each of the five regional US conferences to handle same-sex unions and LGBT clergy as they deem best. Illinois pastor Chris Ritter proposes that two ideological jurisdictions—one progressive and one traditionalist—replace geographical ones.

Finding a way to exist both separately and together would be ...

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