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62 Michigan churches leave UMC amid schism over homosexuality

Attendees participate in a special session of the Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church, held Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. From left to right: Michigan Bishop David Bard, the Rev. Carolin Spragg and Brad Bartelmay.
Attendees participate in a special session of the Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church, held Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. From left to right: Michigan Bishop David Bard, the Rev. Carolin Spragg and Brad Bartelmay. | Screengrab: Facebook/Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church

A regional body of the United Methodist Church has voted to allow 62 congregations in Michigan to leave the denomination over its debate over homosexuality, joining thousands of other churches who have done the same.

The UMC Michigan Conference held a virtual special session on Thursday evening to approve the disaffiliation votes of 62 congregations, with delegates accepting the departures in a vote of 739 in favor to 21 opposed.

With the 62 churches set to leave the UMC, the Michigan Conference has seen 120 congregations disaffiliate this year, with 630 congregations still affiliated with the regional body.

In remarks made after the vote, Bishop David Bard said that “there is grief” and “there is parting,” comparing the departing congregations and the remaining congregations to Isaac and Ishmael, the sons of Abraham who went their separate ways.

Bishop David Bard of the Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church speaks at a special session held Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023.
Bishop David Bard of the Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church speaks at a special session held Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. | Screengrab: Facebook/Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church

“The dim glimmer of new horizons is perhaps growing less dim. Perhaps even a little brighter,” said Bard. “Isaac and Ishmael standing at the grave of their father Abraham. They cannot stand there forever.”

“They must move on, each in his own way, each with his own people. Move toward a new horizon. Move forward on a rather mapless shore. We’ve never been here before. We move on.”

Bard noted that, as they move on, they will go “with profound faith in Jesus Christ our risen Lord, trusting in the deep love of God, and trusting in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.”

“We move on, giving each other to God,” he continued.

Delegates at the special session also approved the closure of Charlevoix United Methodist Church due to other factors by a vote of 726 in favor to 13 opposed.

Over the past few decades, the UMC has experienced a divisive debate over whether the mainline Protestant denomination should remove language from its Book of Discipline banning same-sex unions and the ordination of clergy in same-sex romantic relationships.

Although efforts to change the Book of Discipline at the UMC General Conference have failed, liberal leaders within the denomination have often refused to follow or enforce the rules, drawing the ire of many theological conservatives.

In 2019, at a special session of General Conference, delegates voted to add Paragraph 2553 to the Book of Discipline, creating a disaffiliation process for congregations who want to leave due to the debate over LGBT issues. The measure is slated to expire at the end of this year.

As of last month, more than 7,200 churches have left the UMC under the provisions laid out in Paragraph 2553, with over 5,000 congregations departing the denomination in 2023 alone.

Over 3,000 departing congregations have affiliated with the Global Methodist Church, a theologically conservative denomination launched last year. 

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