Over the weekend, hundreds of churches split from a regional United Methodist Church (UMC) body as the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States continues to lose congregations.
Delegates to a special session of the North Carolina Conference of the UMC voted 957-165 on Saturday to approve the departure of 249 congregations from the mainline denomination. The congregations wanted to be disaffiliated, and the split takes effect on December 31.
According to a statement, the high number of churches leaving is around 32% of the UMC’s conference’s member churches. The churches take about 22% of their membership as well. The departing churches are the latest to leave amid an ongoing dispute over issues of sexuality.
Earlier this month, 58 churches in the Louisiana Conference disaffiliated during a special session, with 70 UMC congregations that disaffiliated during the North Georgia Conference in June. Prominent Methodist churches in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas have also expressed an intention to leave.
In recent years, the United Methodist Church has faced an increasing divide as conservative churches push back against more liberal ones they believe are disobeying the church’s teachings.
General Conference upheld the ban on LGBTQ weddings and clergy in 2019
At a special session in 2019, the UMC General Conference voted 438-384 to uphold the church’s ban on hosting or officiating same-sex marriages and ordaining LGBTQ clergy. The General Conference also drafted a disaffiliation agreement that year to offer a path for churches to leave the denomination through the end of 2023 “for reasons of conscience.” The disaffiliation agreement is related to the ordination or marriage of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” or the practice of homosexuality, which remains forbidden by the denomination’s Book of Discipline.
Several conservative members of the UMC said that instead of settling the issue, the 2019 vote was disregarded by many liberal church leaders, who opted to continue in the denomination, officiating same-sex weddings and commissioning openly gay clergy, despite being forbidden by the UMC.
The vice president of the denomination’s traditionalist Good News caucus, Thomas Lambrecht, said at the time the progressives and centrists in the UMC chose to defy church teachings instead of splitting from the church have made it “essentially ungovernable.”
Many congregations that have left the UMC have chosen to join the Global Methodist Church, which launched on May 1 as a more conservative alternative for churches worldwide that want to break away from the increasingly liberal UMC. The UMC has experienced a divisive debate in the past few years over its official stance that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” in the Book of Discipline.