Almost 250 North Carolina churches have left the United Methodist Church (UMC) amid its ongoing debate over homosexuality.
At a special called session of the UMC North Carolina Conference Saturday, delegates voted 957-165 to approve the disaffiliation votes of 249 congregations seeking to leave the denomination.
A statement from the North Carolina Conference said that the number of departing congregations represented 32%—nearly one-third—of its member churches and about 22% of its membership.
The UMC, the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States, has experienced a divisive debate in recent years over its official stance, labeling homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching, in the Book of Discipline.”
While theological liberals have failed to change the UMC’s official position on the issue of homosexuality, many progressive leaders have refused to enforce the rules against blessing same-sex unions or ordaining noncelibate homosexuals. In 2019, the General Conference of the UMC established a process for disaffiliation, and Satuday’s special session was called for the sole purpose of ratifying requests from churches that have met the qualifiations for disaffiliation.
Meanwhile, over the past few weeks and months, scores of conservative congregations who are tired of the ongoing debate have left the UMC and joined the recently established Global Methodist Church (GMC), a conservative alternative launched in May.
The Reverend Jerry Lewis, the North Carolina organizer for GMC, told The Carolina Journal in October that he believed at least 226 congregations would leave the North Carolina Conference. He said at the time that 180 churches had already voted to leave by October, while around 80 more might also leave the UMC by next year. He called this massive exit of churches mind-boggling.
“We’re delighted at the sheer amount in what we called the ‘first wave,’” Lewis said. “To have 180 in this first phase is kind of mind-boggling in regard to everything they had to accomplish to reach this state in such a short time.”
Earlier this month, 58 churches disaffiliated with the UMC Louisiana Conference during a special session, among them St. Timothy on the Northshore in Mandeville, which claims sover 6,000 members.
Other prominent churches in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas have also announced intentions to leave the UMC.
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