Church members at First United Methodist Church of Louisville, Mississippi have overwhelmingly voted to withdraw the congregation's membership from the UMC denomination, citing a number of issues including homosexuality and abortion as the reasons.
Members of the over 180-year-old congregation held a "membership affirmation" vote this past Sunday to determine whether they wished to remain affiliated with UMC. In a 175-6 vote, the congregation expressed its desire to remove the church from the denomination.
"This is not a decision based upon dissatisfaction with our fellow churches in the Mississippi Conference. We have great respect for Bishop James Swanson and the leaders of the Mississippi Conference of the UMC," Rev. Mike Childs said in a statement following the vote. "Rather, this is a decision that our consciences forced us to make because the failure of the United Methodist denomination to uphold Scripture and its own Book of Discipline."
The church will technically remain part of the UMC until a settlement can be reached regarding church property. Once a settlement is reached, the church plans to change its name to "First Methodist Church of Louisville."
"While our church will no longer be a member of the United Methodist denomination, it will continue to be a Christ-centered church that is faithful to the Scriptures and the theology of John Wesley," the statement added. "It will forever be a Methodist Church, but not a United Methodist Church."
In an interview with The Christian Post on Thursday, Childs explained that there are ultimately a slew of reasons why the church voted to leave the denomination.
One of the reasons, Childs says, is because the UMC has not strictly enforced its 2016 Book of Discipline, which states that "self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."
"Homosexuality is just one issue where the [Book of] Discipline has not been enforced," Childs said, adding that his church views homosexuality as no different than any other sin.
Childs added that another area of contention was that United Methodist entities have lobbied Congress in support of the nation's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood. Childs objected to the fact that a UMC entity would support a group that performs late-term abortions.
"We believe in value and sacredness of both the life of the mother and the child but the United Methodist Church has supported legalized abortion in all cases, which contradicts that," Childs told CP.
He also expressed disapproval of the fact that the Claremont School of Theology in California, which has UMC roots, established programs to educate Islamic clergy. Childs says that "runs counter to the claims of Christ."
"Even more importantly, we have had leadership and bishops that rejected basic Christian truth on the resurrection of Jesus Christ or the incarnation," Childs said. "There are many reasons leading up to this. It is the whole worldview. There are many good things that the United Methodist Church does and we will continue to support those."
Childs said the church would continue to give to some UMC causes, such as the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
Swanson, the bishop of the Mississippi Conference of the UMC, explained in a statement the church has not been "officially" removed and will remain as part of the Mississippi Annual Conference
Swanson asserted that the church's "membership affirmation" vote only began the "process of discerning the viability of the churches and their future with The United Methodist Church."
Childs said that he is hopeful the denomination will act quickly to come to a settlement.
"They haven't told us when but we expect it to be sooner rather than later because of the margin of the vote," Childs said. "We don't think that it is realistic to believe that six people can be a viable church given our debt and the building utilities and the cost of ministry."
Ultimately, the church hopes that it will not be an independent church for very long.
"We feel like other like-minded churches are coming out of the United Methodist Church. We hope to form a more Christ-centered Methodist community," Childs said. "We are certainly not the only church that has left or plans to leave. We foreshadow this reality that there will be a separation. There needs to be."
The church's decision comes after two other UMC churches in Mississippi took steps to leave the denomination last year.