‘Flagship congregation’ of Tennessee UMC votes to leave denomination amid LGBT schism

Christ Church of Memphis, Tennessee
Christ Church of Memphis, Tennessee | Christ Church Memphis

A large congregation in Tennessee voted to leave The United Methodist Church amid the ongoing schism over homosexuality that has divided the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States.

Christ Church Memphis, which averages around 600 weekly worship attendees, voted on Sunday to disaffiliate from the UMC, with a final tally of 941 in favor of leaving, 101 opposed and one abstaining.

Christ Church Memphis Senior Pastor Paul Lawler told The Christian Post in emailed comments that the vote was driven by "decades of failed efforts to reconcile firmly held foundational but oppositional beliefs among member churches within the UMC."

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"We believe that disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church is the best path forward for Christ Church as we seek to proliferate the Gospel and make disciples," said Lawler.

Lawler noted that the congregation's next steps, such as whether it will join another Methodist denomination, are "yet to be determined." The church still needs to get final approval of the vote at its regional annual conference gathering in May 2023.

"Until then, we will assemble a team of church leaders to evaluate paths forward, ultimately with the goal of providing a denominational or nondenominational recommendation for Christ Church," he explained.

The Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church headquartered in Nashville, Tenn.
The Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church headquartered in Nashville, Tenn. | TWKUMC/Alice Grunau

Christ Church is part of the UMC Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference, a UMC regional body created at the beginning of the year via a merger of the Tennessee and Memphis conferences.

A conference spokesperson emailed CP a statement from Bishop Bill McAlilly, who referred to Christ Church as "being a flagship congregation in Memphis."

"We are saddened by their decision to depart as we are anytime a congregation willfully chooses to leave the United Methodist Church family," stated McAlilly.

McAlilly added that he believes there are "many misrepresentations of United Methodist Church theology presented to this and other United Methodist congregations by persons who wish to paint a false narrative of who we are."

"The UMC is a biblical, diverse, inclusive and Spirit-filled denomination grounded in Scripture and of teachings of Jesus Christ. We are a global and connectional church committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," the bishop continued.

"During a church's discernment process, we always are available and appreciate the opportunity to share the United Methodist perspective about our current challenge. Sadly, we were never given that chance with Christ United Methodist Church before the congregation made their decision."

Christ Church is not the first congregation to decide to leave the annual conference. Last June, the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference approved the disaffiliation votes of 60 congregations.

Over the past several years, the UMC has been embroiled in an internal debate over its official stance on homosexuality, which prohibits clergy from blessing same-sex unions and ordaining noncelibate homosexuals.

Although theological conservatives have prevented theological liberals from changing the UMC's official stance, many progressive leaders within the UMC have refused to enforce or follow the official rules on marriage and ordination.

In May, a theologically conservative denomination known as the Global Methodist Church was officially launched, with scores of UMC congregations across the U.S. voting to join the new entity in recent months.

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