6,182 US Churches Have Exited United Methodist Church in LGBT Rift
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More than 6,100 churches in the U.S. have left the United Methodist Church (UMC) over the past four years as the denomination has been accelerating its moves to become more accepting of LGBTQ lifestyles, despite biblical prohibitions, leading to deeper divisions and more departures from the denomination.
As CBN News has reported, the splintering of the UMC, the second-largest denomination in the U.S. with 6.5 million members, is ongoing as thousands of local churches have left their regional conferences.
According to the United Methodist News Service, at this point, 6,182 congregations, or about 20% of its U.S. churches have completed the required steps and withdrawn under paragraph 2553 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline.
But that exit policy only applies to congregations in the U.S. and will expire at the end of the year.
Of the 6,182 churches that have left the denomination, more than 4,000 of those disaffiliations came this year. In 2022, 2,502 churches left the UMC, according to UM News.
The tally comes from a UM News review of U.S. annual conference reports, publicly available journals, and reports of special annual conference sessions held in 2022 and this year, the outlet reported.
The General Council on Finance and Administration, the denomination's finance agency, is collecting official data on disaffiliations and church closures. But the finance agency's count of disaffiliations lags behind UM News' data because it must wait for annual conferences to submit official reports.
As CBN News has reported since May of 2022, conservative congregations in the U.S. have been officially parting ways with the UMC after years of debate on same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay pastors.
The UMC's Book of Discipline, the denomination's law book, bans the officiating of same-sex weddings and the ordination of "self-avowed practicing" gay clergy. However, those bans have faced increasing defiance in some parts of the denomination, and many United Methodists in the U.S. and Western Europe have been working to eliminate those restrictions, according to UM News.
The denomination's website admits those restrictions may be changed at the General Conference scheduled for next year.
"When the next General Conference convenes (April–May 3, 2024) it will address multiple legislative proposals to alter existing church policies on human sexuality and to divide or restructure the denomination as a result of differences on these and other issues," the website states.
Jay Therrell, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and a leader in the "disaffiliation" movement, recently told the Catholic News Agency that "the authority of Scripture and the lordship of Christ" has "deteriorated for many, many years in the United Methodist Church."
Today, he said, that problem is "playing out in the issue of human sexuality."
"We think it is highly likely at the General Conference in 2024 that the definition of marriage will change, that the ordination standards will change and that most of the traditional provisions we've passed in recent years will be repealed," Therrell said.
23 Estonian Congregations Leave UMC to Form Independent Denomination
Meanwhile, 23 Methodist churches in the Baltic country of Estonia are leaving the UMC to form their own denomination known as the Estonia Methodist Church (EMC).
In 2022, Estonian church members supported a resolution expressing their desire to leave the UMC after expressing deep concern with the direction they saw the denomination was headed in regard to homosexuality, according to UM News.
Last month, the Estonia District Conference voted with a 97% majority to confirm the churches' decision to disaffiliate. The district also ordered that all church property and assets be transferred to the EMC on July 1, the outlet reported.
Among the assets the EMC received, were several diaconal institutions and the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary in Tallinn, Estonia's capital, according to UM News.
United Methodist Bishop Christian Alsted, who leads the Nordic-Baltic-Ukraine Episcopal Conference, opposed the disaffiliation.
"Personally, the disaffiliation grieves my heart — I find it unnecessary, and I believe it is a loss to the Methodists in Estonia as well as to the entire UMC," he said in a statement.
"Nevertheless, I respect and honor the decision made by the Estonia Methodist Church, and I stand with my commitment to help all annual conferences, districts, and local churches in the Nordic, Baltic, and Ukraine episcopal area to live into a future, where they believe they can serve with integrity."
Conference leaders of the United Methodists and Estonian Methodists signed an agreement of mutual recognition to collaborate whenever possible in mission and in ministry, according to UM News.
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