Iowa City religious leaders help launch progressive new branch of United Methodist Church

After the global United Methodist Church’s announced it would not allow LGBTQ members to take leadership positions, religious figures in Iowa City led the formation of a new branch of the church — the Liberation Methodist Connexion.



Photo of Reverend and Liberation Methodist Connexion Collaborator Sean McRoberts.

Claire Benson, News Reporter

Progressive religious leaders within the United Methodist Church in Iowa City helped launch a new denomination after the denomination voted to keep bans on same-sex weddings and LGBTQ clergy.

Leaders of the new group, which launched in late November, aim to focus on inclusivity among marginalized groups within the faith community.

Reverend and Liberation Methodist Connexion Collaborator Sean McRoberts said this branch is focused on affirming the identities of queer and trans people and BIPOC community members and aims to center its leadership around marginalized community members.

“We know that there’s folks who need a space and a spiritual community to connect with,” McRoberts said. “The Liberation Methodist Connexion is committed to be in ministry with…all people living out God given identities and expressions, including gender expressions and sexual identity, various religious backgrounds races and ethnicities, and so many of the other ways that we tend to be categorized or limited in other spaces in the world.”

In February 2019, the United Methodist Church announced its intention to reinforce its stance against homosexuality and the LGBTQ community, causing the University of Iowa’s Wesley Center’s openly queer ordained minister to resign. She served in the role five years.

The United Methodist Church’s 2019 general conference voted to uphold the “Traditionalist plan,” which reinforced its decades-long anti-LGBTQ stance that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

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This plan also added regulations prohibiting LGBTQ clergy and banned same-sex weddings. The changes took effect in January.

The church planned in May to formalize a split that would separate the denomination in two — one denomination that would continue to ban same-sex marriage and the other would embrace it. That vote was derailed by the pandemic, and hasn’t been rescheduled.

UMC is a Protestant denomination with about 13 million members globally.

A 2014 Pew Research Center Poll found 60 percent of U.S. UMC members believed homosexuality should be acceptable in society, up from 51 percent in 2007.

McRoberts said the new denomination church has been in the works for a year and a half, starting before the 2019 general conference. It came from a project from United Methodist Forward, an advocacy group for more progressive religious policies within the United Methodist Church.

Reverend and Liberation Methodist Connexion Collaborator Wil Ranney, who is from Waverly, Iowa, said he has been with the United Methodist Church since 2000, and has been an ordained reverend since 2011.

Ranney said he chose to join the Liberation Methodist Connexion because of his passion for social justice and wanted to create a positive space for the LGBTQ community, which he said he has not seen within the United Methodist Church.

“During my time with the United Methodist Church, I saw these great movements to try to get justice for LGBTQ equality just fail over and over, and I saw so many people get hurt in the process,” Ranney said. “I thought that a church that was more holy would be more just, and I felt like staying in the current system was just enabling more harm to happen and didn’t see that harm ending anytime soon.”

RELATED: Former Wesley Center director taking ‘indefinite’ leave of absence from United Methodist Church

Ranney said with the focus of the Liberation Methodist Connexion centering around building collaborative relationships and working together, they will be uplifting voices that have long been silenced.

“We’re a collaborative group and so we’re trying to use a horizontal leadership structure where we all cooperate together,” Ranney said. “One of the great things about that is you have all these underrepresented voices suddenly have a stronger voice, which is great since we really believe in centering BIPOC and queer voices.”

Bishop Laurie Haller, resident bishop of the Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that the recent launch of the Liberation Methodist Connexion supports her hope of all people having the opportunity to be involved in a religious space that adequately fits them, their identity, and their religious beliefs.

“I know this is a challenging time in the life of The United Methodist Church,” Haller said. “I am grateful for committed United Methodists who have participated in amazing ministries over many years. I hope and pray that as we move into a time when we may not be able to stay together, there may be a place for every person to find their place to worship and serve God in the ministries of local churches.”

McRoberts said the collaborators making up the Interim Wisdom Council within the Liberation Methodist Connexion are located throughout the U.S., as well as some even from outside the country who are invested in the new denomination.

“The people who have been collaborating to create the Liberation Methodist Connexion are a geographically diverse group of people spread out all across the country and have some partners even outside of the United States,” McRoberts said.

RELATED: Wesley Center’s openly queer pastor to resign amid church tensions

As of right now, the Liberation Methodist Connexion does not have any physical worship spaces, given the risk of transmitting COVID-19 with in-person gatherings. The new denomination, Liberation Methodist Connexion, held its launch event via Zoom on Nov. 29.

McRoberts said the new denomination has hosted more online events and is looking forward to hosting an online New Year’s Eve service.

“We got a great response for our launch event,” McRoberts said. “We had hundreds of people interested in participating and it was a great launch…it was wonderful to see the people who were excited to show up, who were celebrating the love and grace that they were experiencing in that space, and to see the comments of folks who were really hopeful to see what this new expression is all about.”

McRoberts said they are most looking forward to the connections and bonds formed within this new grassroots denomination.

“I think what we’re really excited about at this point is to build those relationships,” McRoberts said. “The Liberation Methodist Connexion is all about the people who make it up, and the gifts that we bring as we shape our community together.”