Regionalization plans in global churches reflecting fragmentation or potential schism?

Global churches such as the United Methodist Church, the Anglican communion, and even Roman Catholicism are increasingly taking a regional approach to address serious divisions and fragmentation, writes Elizabeth Russell in the Christian news magazine World (May 4). African members and leaders of the United Methodist Church (UMC), which has already split in the U.S. over issues of gender and sexuality, are proposing to restructure the worldwide denomination along regional lines, giving churches in different parts of the world the freedom to set their own doctrinal standards. This push for regionalization is an effort by members in the conservative global South to keep the denomination united in the face of growing conflicts over theological and sexual concerns. Russell writes that there are two different regionalization plans circulating through the UMC, but both would restructure the church body into seven or eight conferences (such as the U.S., the Philippines, Central and Southern Europe, Northern Europe, Congo, and West Africa), which would have their own rules for ordination, marriage rites, and church courts. Each region would in effect be allowed to revise the UMC’s Book of Discipline according to its own teachings and traditions, a move that some church conservatives have criticized.


In the U.S., the UMC has lost about 30,000 members under an official disaffiliation plan that allows these conservative congregations to retain their property. A similar split may be in the wings for conservative United Methodists in the global South after liberal leaders and delegates in the U.S. successfully overturned the Book of Discipline to allow for same-sex marriage and gay clergy at their late-April general conference. But advocates of regionalization believe that conservative members outside of the U.S. maintain enough loyalty to the UMC for such a plan to become a reality. Other forms of regionalization are already present among Anglicans. Long divided between conservative churches in the global South and more liberal member churches in the North, the Anglican communion (representing national churches from around the world) moved further in the direction of regionalization in 2023, when the Church of England approved same-sex unions, resulting in conservative Anglicans releasing the statement known as the Kigali Commitment that rejected the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. While stating that the dissenting churches did not want to be in fellowship with the C of E, “because no individual denomination in the Anglican Communion has the authority to remove another, the Anglicans maintain a fragile global unity. Even Catholicism is showing signs of regionalization under Pope Francis,” Russell writes. This could be seen in the way bishops in Africa united in opposition to the pope’s document on blessing individuals in same-sex unions, stating they would not engage in such a practice; even Francis backed down in the face of such opposition.