An Alabama megachurch that has nearly 5,000 members has left the United Methodist Church due to the mainline Protestant denomination’s ongoing debate over homosexuality.
Christ Methodist Church in Mobile, which reportedly has 4,936 members, was one of eight churches granted disaffiliation from the UMC by the Alabama-West Florida Conference at a special session held on Sunday.
The churches departed the UMC under paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline, which outlines the process by which congregations can leave the denomination due to the debate over LGBT issues.
Alabama-West Florida Bishop David Graves said in a statement released Sunday that he considered the disaffiliations as “another somber day in the life of the Alabama-West Florida Conference.”
“We are saddened to say farewell to the eight churches disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church and wish them the best in ministry. We pray for these churches as they navigate ministry in a new season,” said Graves.
“I especially want to thank those churches who have decided to remain United Methodist and those who heard my call to refrain from holding discussions around leaving the denomination until we have more information. I appreciate your faithfulness to your call and covenant all while leading your churches in a most difficult season.”
In May, the Alabama-West Florida Conference held a special session in which they voted to approve the disaffiliations of 193 congregations, representing 38% of the churches in the regional body and 39% of its membership.
At present, the conference has 311 congregations that remain affiliated with the denomination, while the conference has reported that, recently, 11 new church plants have started.
In September, the conference created a reaffiliation policy for those churches that have departed the UMC, but might have second thoughts about their decision.
According to this policy, a church that disaffiliated under Paragraph 2553 can reaffiliate if it brings its church property with it, has at least 50 members, and shows financial sustainability.
The reaffiliating church must have a congregational vote in which either a simple majority or a supermajority approves the measure, depending on the rules that govern the congregation.
Although the UMC currently bans the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions, many theological progressives have refused to enforce or follow these rules.
The ongoing debate over the issue has prompted thousands of congregations to vote to leave the denomination, often joining more theologically conservative denominations like the Global Methodist Church or the Free Methodist Church.
According to numbers compiled by UM News that were accessed Tuesday morning, a little over 6,800 congregations have departed the UMC since 2019, with more than 4,700 of that number leaving this year.