Multiple theologically progressive congregations in the United Methodist Church are in the process of leaving the mainline Protestant denomination due to its stance on LGBT issues.
For decades, the UMC has debated whether to change its biblically-based position on homosexuality, labeling it as sinful, its ban on the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals, and defining marriage as only being between one man and one woman.
Although many expect a large number of conservative congregations to eventually leave the UMC because of the debate and form their own denomination, in recent months, some liberal congregations have already decided to exit.
HopeGateWay, a congregation in Portland, Maine, voted to leave the denomination on March 28, with the New England Annual Conference to vote on their disaffiliation in June.
Sara Ewing-Merrill, lead pastor at HopeGateWay, told The Christian Post that the March vote was 68 in favor and one against, with no plans at present to join another denomination.
“We are exploring partnerships. We believe in connectionalism and ecumenical and interfaith work. We are in covenant with our fellow disaffiliating churches here in Maine,” explained Ewing-Merrill.
Because of legislation passed at the special session of General Conference in 2019, HopeGateWay reported being able to keep its property and assets upon leaving the UMC.
“For many, many years as we approached the next General Conferences, we have told our congregation that things would get better and the UMC would become more open and affirming. Every time we have been disappointed,” Ewing-Merrill added.
“Now that an option was created for us to make our own decision and not be dependent on others, we felt compelled to create a church where all are truly welcomed and affirmed.”
Chebeague Island United Methodist Church, located on Chebeague Island, Maine, voted in February to leave the denomination following a discernment process that began in 2019.
As with HopeGateWay, Chebeague Island UMC’s vote to disaffiliate still needs to be confirmed when the New England Annual Conference meets in June.
Chebeague Island Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis told CP that her congregation will be released from their trust clause with the UMC when they fulfill certain payments to various entities.
“Through agreement with the Board of Trustees of the New England Annual Conference, we will be paying our pro-rata share of the unfunded pension liability, as well as an additional year of mission shares, to honor the commitment of the conference to care for clergy in retirement and to leave in a way that respects the ongoing work of the Conference and its budgetary financial commitments,” Yosua-Davis explained.
Yosua-Davis also told CP that while it's expected that many conservative churches will soon leave the UMC, “it is no guarantee that the denomination that will remain will become entirely inclusive and affirming of LGBT individuals and their families.”
“That scenario could be years down the road. Even if the UMC changes its policies, which I hope happens, it will still be a long road for full and true inclusion,” she added.
“By leaving now, it enables the church to be more responsive to God's hopes and dreams for us and our community.”
Bering Church of Houston, Texas, voted to leave the UMC on April 18, deciding to join the more theologically liberal mainline denomination, the United Church of Christ.
The Rev. Diane McGehee of Bering forwarded to CP the responses she gave to questions posed by the UMC Texas Annual Conference regarding her congregation’s plan to leave.
“Bering’s sole reason for departing the UMC is the soul-level harm being done to persons who are LGBTQ+ and their families because of the official stance of the United Methodist Church that living out one’s sexual orientation and gender identity as LGBTQ+ is incompatible with Christian teaching,” said McGehee in the responses.
“The weight of all of those years and the refusal of the denomination to act to end the discrimination deeply informs this decision.”
According to Bering, the church will receive a general warranty deed to their property from the UMC after they pay for two years of apportionments and a future pension obligation.
“Bering’s future is bright,” continued McGehee. “It is a vibrant, missionally active community, committed to bringing the Good News of the Gospel to all people, but especially those who have been pushed to the margins.”
News of the departing progressive congregations comes as many conservatives within the UMC are planning to form their own denomination, known as the Global Methodist Church.
Keith Boyette, spokesman for the Global Methodist Church, told CP in an earlier interview that UMC leadership has shown “an unwillingness to uphold its teachings” on LGBT issues.
“In the United States, particularly, some bishops, clergy, and churches are operating in open defiance to the teachings of the United Methodist Church,” said Boyette. “The Church has become ungovernable as a consequence, such unchecked defiance has destroyed the integrity of the Church.”
“In light of this, theologically conservative leaders have decided to launch a new denomination that will be true to its doctrine and teachings and end this endless conflict within the United Methodist Church.”