November 19th 2023.
As the deadline for churches to leave the United Methodist Church nears, hundreds are already in the process of doing so. This is due to doctrinal disagreements, mainly on the topic of same-gender marriage and LGBTQ+ clergy.
According to CBS News, the vast majority of the 6,000 congregations that have departed the church are conservative. Kimberly Scott, who is the pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, discussed her motivations for staying with NPR: “My family were Methodists in the South. So we were Methodist when Methodist were OK with slavery, right? And my family never left. And so I was like, I can’t leave over this. If my grandparents stayed, then I can stay through this to see this to the end.”
CNN reports that 261 churches in Georgia will be leaving the denomination ahead of the United Methodist Church’s December 2023 deadline. The National Methodist Church's rule states that congregations have until the end of 2023 to leave if they disagree with any church rules changes “related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
Christianity Today reported that churches are looking at all possible options to leave the Methodist Church amid their doctrinal disagreements. This includes individual congregants leaving on their own, starting new churches, or joining an existing church that fits their political leanings. Money is also an issue, as churches leaving the church are required to pay unfunded pension liabilities and up to half of the value of a church’s assets by a church conference’s board of trustees.
A judge in Georgia’s Cobb County ruled that a church-level vote had to take place before the Methodist Church’s deadline expires. Churches have until December to decide if they will stay or leave the United Methodist Church. In 2024, there will be an opportunity for the church to modernize its laws. Alternatively, those who left may choose to join the Global Methodist Church which was formed in May 2022 and it firmly upholds its rules against LGBTQ+ ordination and marriage. Another option is for the United Methodist Church to split its rules about LGBTQ+ marriage and ordination between regions.
The majority of churches who are leaving are concentrated in Southern states. Keith Boyette, a theological conservative who is overseeing the Global Methodist Church’s transitional period, told CBS News, “We decided that it was better to let the United Methodist Church go than to continue in what I would refer to as a cage fight, in which we would fight each other until we’re a bloody pulp and the church would be destroyed.” He expressed his grief on not being able to find a way for the church to make decisions and abide by them that would be honoring of who the church is.
The number of churches leaving the United Methodist Church continues to grow as the deadline approaches. The reasons for the split vary, with some seeking new churches with political leanings closer to their own, while others are trying to avoid an internal conflict that would destroy the church. Whichever route these churches take, they will be making their decision soon.
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