A theological storm is raging within the United Methodist Church (UMC), the second-largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. Over 5,000 congregations have departed due to disagreements mainly over human sexuality.
The Exodus Continues
Just last week, the number of churches approved to disaffiliate by their annual conferences rose from approximately 4,600 to 5,321. The surge in disaffiliations has been dramatic over the years, with nearly 2,000 congregations leaving in 2022 and over 3,000 so far this year.
Why the Split?
Many are asking, “why?” Well, it all started in 2019 when the General Conference approved Paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline. This church law allows UMC churches to leave with their property if they can garner approval from two-thirds of their congregation and their regional governing body. But it doesn’t end there. Departing churches are also required to pay their share of clergy pension liabilities and two years of “apportionments” for the larger denomination.
The Controversial Vote
What sparked this rift? It was the 2019 General Conference’s vote to uphold the church’s ban on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating at or hosting same-sex weddings. The vote passed with a slim majority (438-384), and it seems this decision was the last straw for many.
Traditionalists vs. Liberals
Several traditionalist members of the Methodist clergy claim conservative churches are leaving because liberal leaders within the UMC have chosen to ignore the 2019 vote by commissioning gay clergy and officiating same-sex weddings.
Where Are They Going?
Where are all these departing churches heading? Many are joining the newly formed Global Methodist Church, while others choose to remain non-denominational.
However, the process isn’t always smooth. Hundreds of the churches attempting to disaffiliate have faced legal or financial challenges as the UMC demands large sums to maintain their property, leading to legal battles in some states.
This story brings up critical discussions on religious freedom, individual congregation autonomy, and acceptance of diverse sexual orientations. It is a crucial moment for the Methodist Church, one that could redefine its path forward.