A large congregation in Arkansas has voted to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church, joining many others who are leaving the mainline Protestant denomination over its ongoing debate over homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
First United Methodist Church of Jonesboro voted Sunday evening to leave the UMC, with a reported 1,300 taking part in the vote and 69% voting in favor while 31% were against.
“We all pray for healing in our congregation,” stated the church in a Facebook post Sunday night that has been shared over 160 times as of Monday afternoon.
Stay UMC Jonesboro, a Facebook group comprised of members who did not want to leave the UMC, posted a statement on its page expressing disappointment over the vote result.
“We are obviously disheartened and saddened that anyone would want to leave the UMC., We worked through a process that was problematic and challenging,” said the group.
“Our goal now is to be a resource to the Annual Conference should they have questions regarding the steps that were and were not followed.”
In advance of the vote, First UMC held an 18-month long discernment process, with the church’s administrative board expressing its support for disaffiliation in a letter dated June 26.
The letter noted that the cost for keeping its property upon leaving the UMC will be approximately $650,000 and that it intends to join the Global Methodist Church, a recently launched conservative alternative to the UMC.
“We affirm that the majority of the congregation opposes changing the belief structure and desires to remain the traditional Methodist Church we have always been,” stated the letter.
“By disaffiliating and joining the Global Methodist Church, Methodists continue to stay in this building and the belief structure remains the same.”
The appeal of the GMC, according to the board, was that by joining the new denomination, it would “remain a traditional Methodist congregation consistent with Wesleyan Theology,” “own all of our property and not be subject to a trust clause,” have “more autonomy in choosing pastoral staff, and have “more accountability at the highest level of leadership because Bishops will not be appointed for a lifetime.”
“Our congregation has been consistently clear that the shifts in theological teaching and the failures of the UMC to enforce the doctrinal discipline do not reflect the beliefs of the strong majority of our membership,” the board continued in its June letter.
“By completing the process as outlined by the Discipline and our conference, we will be released from the United Methodist Denomination and retain full ownership of all of our church property and be free to join the Global Methodist Church.”
In early June, it was reported that 35 of the 634 member churches of the UMC Arkansas Conference were considering disaffiliation from the mainline denomination.
“This is not a battle to be won, it’s not a mixed martial arts cage match. It’s a time of grief and discernment,” said Arkansas Bishop Gary Mueller in a recent video posted online.
“We need to respect the best intentions of others.”