Friday, December 8, 2023

Hundreds more US United Methodist congregations disaffiliate amid LGBTQ+ tensions

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Another 250-plus United Methodist congregations have broken with the denomination in north Georgia amid a schism over theology and the role of LGBTQ+ people in the church.

The North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church voted Saturday to allow 261 congregations to break away, or disaffiliate, after theological tensions over bans on same-sex marriages and the ordination of clergy who are openly LGBTQ+.

The move has reportedly left about 440 churches remaining in the conference. The denomination said the exit of the congregations marked a “solemn day.”

So far 7,286 of about 30,000 United Methodist congregations – many in the US south and midwest – have received approval to disaffiliate from the denomination since 2019, according to an unofficial tally by the United Methodist News Service. That year, the United Methodist Church strengthened bans on same-sex marriage and clergy members with gay partners.

The denomination forbids the marriage or ordination of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals”. But growing defiance against that exclusion has caused conservative-leaning congregations to leave after the church failed to find a path forward.

“I realize how sad this time is for many, including myself,” said bishop Robin Dease, the leader of the North Georgia Conference. “I just hate that those who are leaving us – I will not have the opportunity to meet or to be with [them].”

The departures will take effect at the end of the year, and the leaving churches will be barred from using the “United Methodist” brand in their new names and logos.

The latest break-away comes four years after a decision by the national United Methodist Church to allow extra time for thousands of congregations to depart after many of their leaders took issue with “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”.

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