A United Methodist Church congregation in Texas with approximately 2,800 members has voted to leave the mainline denomination because of its debate over homosexuality.
Grace Fellowship UMC of Katy voted Dec. 15 to leave the UMC due to the divisive debate on whether to amend the Book of Discipline to remove language calling homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Jim Leggett, the founding pastor of Grace Fellowship, told The Christian Post in an interview Monday that his congregation wanted “to remove ourselves from the dysfunctional fighting going on in the United Methodist Church so that we can fully devote our energies to fulfilling the mission and vision that God has given to us.”
“At one point, we looked up and noticed that we were spending easily 30 percent of our leadership meeting time discussing the issues of the UMC, and we realized that this was not good stewardship of our time and resources for the Kingdom of God,” said Leggett.
“In the last year, it has become clear to us that despite having biblical standards of morality on paper in the denomination’s Book of Discipline, the leadership of the United Methodist Church is unable or unwilling to live by those standards.”
Grace Fellowship presently belongs to the Texas Annual Conference. Bishop Scott Jones, head of the conference, told CP that the congregation’s vote to leave “will be considered by the Texas Annual Conference during a special session on August 15.”
Bishop Jones also told CP that as of Monday, he was unaware of any other churches in his conference that were “engaging in official discernment about the possibility of leaving.”
“A task force of our conference is developing proposed policies for disaffiliation which will be considered at our regular session," held May 24-27, 2020, Jones said.
The congregation intends to affiliate with the Free Methodist Church, a smaller theologically conservative denomination that was founded in 1860.
In a statement from the FMC-USA Board of Bishops that was emailed to CP on Monday, the FMC explained that they are “not merely a more conservative version” of the UMC.
“We have a distinct culture with deeply-held values that have been shaped over our 160-year history. We want to ensure that those who consider joining us are truly in agreement not only with our doctrine, but also our values and culture,” they said.
Their affiliation process, while flexible, generally takes between one to three years and includes a “Memorandum of Understanding” between the two parties.
“Now that Grace has officially voted to leave the UMC, we anticipate having an affiliation MOU in place by the beginning of January,” continued the FMC Board.
“Once the affiliation process is completed, the church is recognized as a society, or full member of the denomination, at the next annual gathering of the conference in which it is affiliated.”
FMC observed that the number of UMC congregations that have joined their Church over the past few years have been few in number.
However, they added that they have experienced a substantial increase in communication from United Methodist clergy and churches since the conclusion of the special session in February.
While the special session concluded with a majority of UMC delegates reaffirming the traditional stance on sexual ethics, many progressive members of the UMC responded by promising more resistance to the official position of the denomination.
Such continued resistance has led some conservative congregations in the United States to decide to leave the denomination rather than continue to fight with liberals over the Church’s positions.