More than 2,000 have left this year alone. This total includes 366 churches leaving the Kentucky Conference, 349 churches leaving the North Alabama Conference, 334 churches leaving the North Georgia Conference, 326 churches leaving the North Carolina Conference and 317 churches leaving the Indiana Annual Conference.
Over the past few decades, the denomination has been embroiled in a divisive debate over whether the country’s second-largest Protestant denomination should amend language from its Book of Discipline that prohibits the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of clergy in same-sex romantic relationships. Although efforts to change the Book of Discipline have failed, liberal leaders within the denomination often have refused to follow or enforce the rules, drawing the ire of many theological conservatives.
At a special session of the General Conference held in 2019, delegates voted to add paragraph 2553 to the Book of Discipline, a measure to allow churches to disaffiliate from the denomination. The measure is set to expire at the end of this year.
While thousands of congregations across the United States have disaffiliated under the parameters of paragraph 2553, some congregations have either had their disaffiliation votes rejected by their regional conferences or have faced other obstacles in their bids to leave. Some of these churches have filed legal action against their respective conferences, accusing them of either not properly following the disaffiliation process or arguing that the process is unfair.
Earlier this month, a court in Montgomery, Ala., ruled against 42 congregations trying to leave the Alabama-West Florida Conference, concluding that, as a secular court, it did not have the authority to intervene in the churches’ complaint “The court is without jurisdiction to rule on such issues, because the relief sought by plaintiffs would require the court to interpret a provision of the Book of Discipline intertwined with church doctrine,” the court ruled.
Thousands of congregations that have disaffiliated from the UMC have joined the Global Methodist Church, a theologically conservative denomination launched as an alternative to UMC last year.
–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice