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HomeGeneralMethodist Congregations Abandon Church Over LGBTQ Issues

Methodist Congregations Abandon Church Over LGBTQ Issues

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A picture of a Methodist church with a pride flag
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The United Methodist Church, one of the largest Protestant denominations in the U.S., is battling internal conflicts as the congregations leave the church. According to reports, the internal strife stems from issues of sexuality and gender identity. Consequently, more than 7,600 United Methodists, approximately 30,000 congregations, voted to leave. 

However, reports suggest the numbers could grow as the Dec. 31 deadline for departures approaches. Ryan Burge, an associate professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, expressed his opinion on the issue. “It’s the biggest schism in any American denomination in the history of our country,” he said.

Among Protestant denominations, the United Methodist Church is second in size only to Southern Baptists. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, there are about 9 million Methodists in the U.S. However, the church’s online directory puts the number of professing members at just 5.7 million.

According to reports, controversies have been brewing within the church for several decades. However, the recent controversy stems from LGBTQ issues. Some factions within the church want to overhaul church teachings to permit same-sex marriages and allow the ordination of gay clergy.

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“They want to essentially remove any reference to what we call ‘traditional marriage and sexuality norms,'” Mathew Wilson said. However, the traditional faction kicks against such beliefs.

“They say those moves are out of step with church teachings,” Wilson said. According to reports, nearly all Protestant denominations have had similar debates. Consequently, it also prompted rifts within Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Episcopal churches.

While Methodist traditionalists have usually won the vote on these issues, progressive churches have tended to ignore those rulings. “The sides within Methodism are deeply sick and tired of each other,” Wilson said. “They’re at an impasse.”

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However, the debate took a new turn in 2016 when several Methodist clergy came out as gay. United Methodist delegates convened to discuss the topic at a special session of the General Conference in 2019. However, they conducted a vote that affirmed the church’s traditional policies.

Despite declining membership, the denomination has expanded globally – particularly in Africa, where adherents are much more conservative. According to Burge, the United Methodist Church has been avoiding the question of same-sex marriage for years. However, they finally understood that they had to face it head-on.

Consequently, church leaders brought mediator Kenneth Feinberg to help the divided church negotiate. From that, the Global Methodist Church’s creation reflected the denomination’s growing African contingent.

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The agreement included an exit plan to allow churches to break away “for reasons of conscience” regarding sexuality issues. Consequently, they gave churches until the end of this year to request release.

Churches wrestling with a denomination likely to embrace same-sex marriage in the future are reportedly conducting two votes. The first is on whether to leave the United Methodist Church. 

However, the second is whether to join the more traditional Global Methodist Church. While some congregations joined, other splintering congregations opted to remain independent. Consequently, the question of same-sex marriage has divided the Methodist community.

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