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Schism In United Methodist Church

by | Thu, Feb 22 2024

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One quarter of American United Methodist Church (UMC) congregations have left the denomination over the past five years, because of a disagreement over same sex relationships. More than 7,600 out of a total in excess of 30,000 churches have already cut ties, and thousands more could do so this year.

The exodus of mostly conservative churches is over the failure of Methodist leaders to enforce current bans on same sex relationships among both the congregation and the clergy. A general conference later this year could lift the ban altogether, and most likely widen the split.

Following its 2019 general conference, the church strengthened bans on same sex marriages and clergy in same sex relationships. It reaffirmed its definition of marriage as the “union of one man and one woman” and barred the ordination of anyone in same sex relationships. But many ‘progressive’ UMC churches have openly defied those edicts.

Thousands of departing congregations have joined the more conservative Global Methodist Church which has declared its intention to enforce such rules as they mobilise like-minded congregations to exit the UMC.

This year is expected to bring more changes. The UMC’s next general conference is due to convene in April and is expected to address legislative proposals to restructure the church and change its policies on human sexuality based on the current divisions. The first denomination-wide legislative gathering in eight years will consider calls to liberalise policies on marriage and ordination.

The conference is also expected to debate whether to decentralise the international church or provide overseas congregations with the same exit option their US counterparts had. Its seven million overseas members, mostly in Africa, generally oppose same sex relationships.

The Associated Press writes: “The schism marks a historic shift in a denomination that was until recently the third largest in the United States, and perhaps the closest to the mainstream of American religious culture — its steeples prominent in rural crossroads and urban squares, scenes of countless potluck suppers, earnest social outreach, and warm yet decorous worship.”

“There’s no immediate estimate on how many individual members are leaving the UMC, since some members of departing congregations are joining other UMC churches, but the departing churches include some of the largest in their states. UMC officials are already preparing historic budget cuts to denominational agencies in anticipation of lower revenue from fewer churches,” the news agency reported.

In reaction to the giant split in the church, New York Bishop Thomas Bickerton who’s president of the UMC Council of Bishops said: “We are sad about losing anybody. This whole disaffiliation process has in large measure not been about human sexuality. It’s been about power, control and money. That’s surprising and disappointing.”