Fifty-eight congregations in Louisiana have officially disaffiliated from The United Methodist Church, as the second-largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States continues to experience schism due to its ongoing debate over homosexuality.
The UMC Louisiana Conference held a special session on Saturday, approving the votes of 58 congregations who decided by at least two-thirds vote to leave the UMC.
The Rev. Todd Rossnagel, the director of communication strategies at the Louisiana Conference, told The Christian Post on Monday that the 58 churches came after nine other congregations had disaffiliation votes approved at the annual conference in June.
Earlier this month, the New Orleans-based CBS affiliate WVUE reported that 47 churches in Louisiana voted to leave the UMC. According to Rossnagel, the additional 11 congregations filed their paperwork for the special session shortly after that report was published.
Rossnagel put the total number of congregations still belonging to the Louisiana conference after Saturday's special session at 379, although that figure doesn't include other ministries.
"There are some new start ministries," Rossnagel said. "They haven't technically been chartered yet. They don't technically have a building yet. So, it's very close to 400 when you include that and Wesley Foundations on college campuses all across Louisiana."
Among Louisiana congregations disaffiliating from the UMC is St. Timothy on the Northshore in Mandeville, which boasts approximately 6,000 members. The congregation held a disaffiliation vote earlier this month.
In recent years, the UMC has been embroiled in a divisive debate over whether to allow the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions.
Although progressives have failed to end the denomination's longstanding ban on the blessing of same-sex marriage and gay ordination, many who hold positions of power within UMC have refused to enforce or follow the rules, prompting many conservatives to leave the denomination.
Over the past few months, scores of congregations have left the UMC and joined the recently launched Global Methodist Church, a theologically conservative alternative.
Last week, the Texas megachurch White's Chapel voted overwhelmingly to leave the UMC, although it has not chosen whether to affiliate with another denomination.
"Today, we are experiencing the UMC as a broken institution. As well, the alternatives we have been given don't seem to align with our context or our theology. These are reasons we are exploring a 'realignment,'" White's Chapel stated in a document about the discernment process.
"We hope to align with other Methodist churches in a cooperative manner in both mission and ministry. We envision a new form of connectionalism, defined by shared ministry, equal accountability, and practical governance."
In June, the UMC North Georgia Conference announced that 70 congregations have disaffiliated. In August, more than 30 North Carolina congregations threatened legal action to disaffiliate from the UMC. In October, an organizer of the Global Methodist Church told The Carolina Journal he believes over 200 congregations will leave the UMC North Carolina Conference.