Another 41 congregations in Texas have officially left The United Methodist Church in response to the mainline Protestant denomination's ongoing debate over its stance on homosexuality.
The UMC North Texas Annual Conference held a special called session on Saturday in which clergy and lay members voted to approve the disaffiliation votes of 41 congregations that formerly belonged to the regional body.
According to a statement emailed to The Christian Post by a conference spokesperson, the regional body "releases these churches with its full blessing," adding that no churches seeking to leave the UMC were denied dismissal.
"Following the day's vote, more than 230 churches in the North Texas Conference remain committed to the mission and values of The United Methodist Church and will continue to help people grow in their love for God; proclaim new life in Christ; serve others — especially the poor; and pursue mercy and justice so people can live whole lives," the statement reads.
According to the UMC Book of Discipline, the denomination considers homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching" and prohibits the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of noncelibate homosexual clergy.
Over the past several years, the UMC has been embroiled in a divisive debate over whether to change this official stance, with many progressive leaders in the church outright refusing to enforce the rules.
In January 2020, a theologically diverse group of United Methodists came together to propose a compromise in which the UMC would allocate funds to create a new denomination that congregations who supported the current standards could join while the remaining member congregations would be free to change the Book of Discipline.
A proposal to implement this compromise was originally slated to take place at the UMC General Conference in May 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the event to be postponed.
After the UMC announced the postponement of the General Conference to 2024 in response to ongoing pandemic concerns in March 2022, conservatives within the UMC launched the Global Methodist Church in May.
"It is anticipated that some theologically conservative local churches will find annual conferences willing to negotiate fair and just exit provisions, while others will, unfortunately, face obstacles placed in their paths," the GMC said in a statement at the time.
"The Transitional Leadership Council decided it was time to launch the Global Methodist Church, so those who can leave early will have a place to land, to begin building and growing, and making room for others to join later."
More than 1,800 churches successfully disaffiliated from the UMC last year, according to a report by UM News, with hundreds of those departing congregations being located in the Lone State State.
For example, the Texas Conference lost 294 congregations via special session vote, while the Northwest Texas Conference lost 145 congregations and the Central Texas Conference lost 81.
Some congregations have faced hurdles. Last November, the UMC Arkansas Conference rejected the disaffiliation votes of three churches while approving the disaffiliation of 35 others.
Several churches, including dozens in North Carolina and Florida, filed lawsuits against their regional bodies. Thirty-eight churches have accused the United Methodist Church's Western North Carolina Conference of "holding their church buildings and property hostage" by enforcing a trust on their properties that they consider "a financial ransom."
Bishop Ken Carter issued a letter contending that the litigation was unnecessary, saying 41 other churches have followed the disaffiliation process.
Last June, over 100 congregations filed a lawsuit against the UMC Florida Annual Conference for requiring them to pay a "sum of money" to retain control of their properties. The total, the lawsuit claims, "is determined in the discretion of the aforementioned parties, and is always substantial and often prohibitive, yet nonnegotiable and unappealable."
Bishop Carter, who also served as bishop of the Florida Conference from 2012-2022, wrote in an open letter that he was grieved by the lawsuit and claimed that the conference tried to "engage those churches in that process but they have refused to follow that process choosing to file this lawsuit instead." He warned that abrupt separation could "damage benefits and pensions for retired pastors and their spouses who devoted their lives to service."