Seventy churches in Georgia split from the United Methodist Church (UMC) last week largely over LGBTQ issues, marking the latest in a growing divide within the third-largest Protestant denomination in the United States according to Fox News.
The North Georgia Conference voted last Thursday to allow the churches, most of which were in rural areas, to disaffiliate from the UMC. The process for disaffiliation was laid out by the 2019 General Conference of The United Methodist Church through 2023, according to the North Georgia United Methodist Church Conference website.
In 2021, the Board of Trustees adopted a process and, along with District Superintendents, walked alongside the churches that requested to disaffiliate. The conference established ratification by the Annual Conference as the final step in that process.
During a special session in 2019, the UMC adopted a disaffiliation agreement allowing churches to leave the denomination through the end of 2023 “for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues which follow.”
The 70 churches that chose to disaffiliate represent 9% of the congregations in the Conference and 3% of the membership, according to the denomination. The date of disaffiliation will be effective June 30, 2022.
Some leaders in the UMC, however, have refused to enforce the Book of Discipline’s stance on these issues in their congregations, leading a conservative sect of the denomination to splinter off. A new theologically conservative Methodist denomination, the Global Methodist Church, was launched on May 1.
According to more details of the report, Many churches currently departing from the mainline denomination have joined or are considering joining the GMC. Some progressive-leaning churches are also planning to disaffiliate from the UMC, with many planning to join the Liberation Methodist Connexion, an LGBT-friendly Methodist denomination.
Last month, the high court of the UMC ruled that annual conferences cannot leave the mainline denomination until the decision is first approved at the General Conference in 2024. The General Conference was initially scheduled to take place in 2020 and 2022 but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.