Today I’m sharing about why Rob and I are leaving our church after 26 years of being faithful, active members.
If you are unfamiliar with the issues in the Methodist church, I’ve taken pieces of an article from The Coastland Times, which is not local to me but did a good job of explaining what’s going on.
The United Methodist Church (UMC) is experiencing a major transition across the nation and the globe, resulting in a significant number of churches disaffiliating from the denomination.
The central issue causing division revolves around human sexuality.
The Book of Discipline, or rule book that guides the denomination on everything from issues of doctrine to rules for clergy, holds the position that every person is of sacred worth however the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.
While celibate homosexuals may be ordained as ministers, practicing homosexuals may not. Additionally, UMC ministers may not perform same-sex marriages inside the church or in other locations.
At the 2016 General Conference, over 100 clergy came out as gay, and later that year the Western Jurisdictional Conference elected Karen Oliveto, who is openly lesbian, to serve as bishop in the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences, bringing mixed reactions. In 2019, a Special Conference was held to attempt to settle the debates within the denomination about human sexuality, with 53% of global voting members opting to keep the traditional wording in the UMC Book of Discipline, which states that the “practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidate, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
Though American churches seem to be divided on the issues on human sexuality, UMC churches in Africa are decidedly more conservative. It is believed by many that the African vote was influential in keeping the traditional wording.
Marc O’Neal, pastor at Mt. Olivet UMC in Manteo, explained that the Special Conference, which was supposed to have been the final answer, was “anything but.”
“It was supposed to make things better it only added fuel to the fire,” he added.
So while the rule states that clergy cannot be living an actively gay lifestyle, it is left up to the local conferences to enforce. When it became clear that the UMC would not pursue action against the local conferences that were not following the Book of Discipline, some congregations throughout the country and the world started making plans to disaffiliate.
Likewise, “progressive” congregations or church members who felt that the denomination was not supportive of LGBTQ persons were equally hurt and confused.
Understanding that the disunity should not continue, the current disaffiliation process or “exit plan” as determined at the 2019 conference under paragraph 2553, allows congregations to leave and keep their building for “reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline relating 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 paragraph was developed with traditionalists, centrists, and progressives all speaking into the way that that paragraph needed to be written. And again, I think that’s evidence of the desire of General Conference to try to be helpful for all,” said David Blackman, Beacon District superintendent, who provides leadership to 53 congregations in the northeastern part of the state.
So, understanding that there were people with strong feelings on all sides of the discussion, the UMC laid out a clear plan for exiting the denomination.
Disaffiliation is allowed under certain stipulations. The time limit to process a disaffiliation must be completed by December 31, 2023. Before the deadline, a church must request a local conference to discuss the issue, and be approved by the conference. There must be a two-thirds majority vote of members present at the church conference. The terms of disaffiliation would be established by the board of trustees of the applicable annual conference. The exiting church must make payments for retired clergy pensions and pay two year’s worth of apportionments, which is an amount or tithe each congregation pays to support things like global missions, other churches and their local bishop.
This can add up depending on the size of the church. Some disaffiliating churches can expect to pay several hundreds of thousands of dollars to the UMC before they will be allowed to disaffiliate under the stated provisions.
United Methodist church buildings are not owned by the individual congregations; they are held in a trust. Disaffiliation under paragraph 2553 allows the congregations to keep their buildings once fees have been paid and legal proceedings have been completed.
The pandemic has delayed the next General Conference until April 23 – May 3, 2024, when it will be held at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Between 5,500 and 7,500 delegates will be traveling in from Africa, Europe, Asia and around the United States for the 11-day gathering.
Though the exit plan laid out in the past conference expires at the end of this year, it is unknown if the UMC will extend the disaffiliation plan in the 2024 General Conference and under what terms. Additional unknowns include whether the denomination will make further determinations or changes to the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality, particularly since many of the more traditional U.S. churches have left, thereby removing their voice and vote in the matter.
Over 2,300 congregations have left the denomination since the 2019 General Conference. The UMC is the largest mainline protestant denomination in the United States, with over 30,000 churches.
The General Conference meets every four years, and the issue of human sexuality was a topic of conversation at the very first conference in 1972. There have been debates and conversations about sexuality at every General Conference since.
Many disaffiliated churches are looking into joining the Global Methodist denomination, while others are remaining independent.
I know that was long, but it was the best way to give the quickest understanding of what is going on with the United Methodist denomination.
Actually after I found the info above to share a local news station did a story, you can watch: https://www.wsfa.com/2023/05/09/pastors-react-local-congregations-leaving-united-methodist-church/
Fundamentally, I feel as though the United Methodist Church has left me. They are the ones choosing to not enforce the book of discipline. This scares me, because that could just be a starting point. What else are they going to allow?
Let me talk about what happened with my church specifically is that our pastors did not allow there to be open communication about this issue. They just kept telling us to hold off. That they didn’t want to vote because it would divide our church. Meanwhile, people began to get antsy and started to do their own research.
People had already started leaving our church after COVID because our church was so very conservative and didn’t open our church for services like others in the area.
And with the leadership being very vague and not laying out all the information and allowing us to decide what we wanted to do, lines were drawn. Facebook groups and websites made from the two sides and over the last year, and what the pastors didn’t want to happen, happened. We were very divided.
The Administrative board met a couple times this year. There were some ‘facts’ laid out by a task force at an open meeting for the church and a survey was conducted. About 500 people did the survey and out of that group about 60% said they wanted to go into Discernment, which allows a formal discussion to occur to help us understand and decide if we want to Disaffiliate. However, before official Discernment could occur our pastor said the Administrative board had to vote to say that is what they wanted. When that vote occurred a few weeks ago it didn’t pass. In fact the motion that was given and voted from the other side, said all discussions of Discernment would cease forever and there would be no more chances at this. That we would stay United Methodist.
What hurts Rob and I most about this, is that that board shut down what so many people wanted. Just the chance to have discussions. Its like if you are in a marriage where one spouse is unhappy and the other spouse is perfectly happy and says “oh well, I’m happy, so no I don’t want to go marriage counseling.” What kind of marriage lasts when that happens? The other spouse is likely to be like “ok, well I’m divorcing you then, if you don’t love me enough to have those discussions.” That night many people left saying they would not be returning to that church.
Many people logged in that night and stopped their electronic tithes. They resigned any positions they had with the church.
About 400 people (that all wanted to go into Discernment and have the opportunity to Disaffiliate) have started attending a new church. This church is now meeting at a local Christian private school on Sunday evenings. We went to that, but will also be visiting more churches during regular Sunday mornings.
We have been members of AUMC for 26+ years, which has become part of our identity. Not being part of that church has sent us into a tailspin. It doesn’t feel good. or right. It down right hurts.
When you hear me talking about visiting churches, this is the reason. Its because we don’t feel loved or cared for by our church and the fact they didn’t care enough about our side to even give us a chance. That’s enough to make anyone want to leave, don’t you agree?
That must have been such a hard decision but I understand your feelings. It’s frustrating when your voice isn’t allowed to be heard. I hope you find a wonderful new church home!
That is so frustrating how the whole discernment process was shut down. I can see why you feel that your voice wasn’t heard. It will be really hard to start over finding a church after so long. The church we attended for the last 7 years was originally UMC and then left a few years ago. I’m glad you were able to have that beautiful wedding in your church before all this happened!
Ooof. I can’t even imagine (or maybe I sort of can) the amount of emotional turmoil that comes with this. Our family is LDS – a church consistently embroiled in the heart of the human sexuality debate. While we obviously err on the side of more conservative, it can be so difficult to find your own footing in a world that seems entirely disrupted. Our bishop said something a few weeks ago that stuck with me, and I’ve prayerfully clung to that…he said that every few decades, society and religion experiences a massive swing of the pendulum. Then, over time, there’s a self-correction that comes with better self- and religious realization, leading revivals and a greater sense of faith overall. Praying for you guys in this time, my friend <3
My sister and brother-in-law have experienced this same situation. They have been Methodist all their married life together – about the same length as you guys. They recently moved from Houston to Clarksville, Tennessee, so they had to leave their Methodist church which was in the midst of determining where it stood on this issue. They have struggled to find a new church home in Tennessee. Have joined a church but they aren’t clear where this new church stands on the whole business. It has been hard on them. And I can tell how difficult it has been for you guys.
When PC and I were going to be married, we were attending a Baptist church. He was raised Baptist. I was raised nothing. Because we had both been married before, our church would not marry us. In fact, they wouldn’t let us be married in the church, by the pastor and the pastor wouldn’t marry us elsewhere either. We were very sad. It turned out the pastor was having an affair at the time and the church founding fathers knew of it and helped cover it up. That was when I decided I needed to find another church.
Praying for your search for a new church home. Praying that you find some place that feeds you spiritually and embraces you and Rob.