Seven churches from the Mississippi Conference have voted to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church (UMC). The churches’ actions are based on recent UMC legislation allowing churches to leave the denomination if they disagree with policies regarding LGBT individuals.
“The people of these congregations believe deep in their hearts that The United Methodist Church no longer cares for them,” Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr., told United Methodist News. Swanson is the resident bishop of the Mississippi Conference and says “this is the culmination of a long history of dissatisfaction with the general direction of our connection.”
Mississippi Annual Conference Approves Decision
The UMC recently voted at a special session of its General Conference to uphold traditional marriage. At the time, the UMC also made it possible for churches to leave the denomination if they disagreed with the church’s stance on LGBT issues. What’s interesting, however, is that the disaffiliating churches are not necessarily leaving because they have a problem with marriage being between one man and one woman.
Rev. Nathan Hodum, pastor of Dennis United Methodist Church (one the churches that is leaving), told UM News that the reason his church has chosen to leave is because members believe the UMC has gotten sidetracked by an issue that should not even be subject to debate.
Hodum says the Bible clearly prohibits same-sex activity: “We just don’t think it’s a debate because the Bible’s already stated what it says.” He also said, “For us, (the debate about sexuality) was like a thing that kind of made us lose focus because I think the conference had become consumed with it and lost what the church is really supposed to be there for. … We felt like we needed to focus on getting out in our community and doing evangelism and missions instead of continuing the argument.”
UM News did not report on the reasons why the other six churches chose to leave the UMC. For his part, Hodum says his church bears no ill will toward the denomination.
For a local church to separate from the United Methodist Church, at least two-thirds of those who are full members must vote to disaffiliate. Then that vote must be ratified by the church’s annual conference. If the annual conference upholds the initial vote, the church will be officially disaffiliated on June 30th, the end of the conference year.
The seven churches in question voted to disaffiliate by significant majorities.
General Conference Fallout
When the General Conference recently voted against same-sex weddings and the ordination of gay clergy, the decision prompted much speculation about what the consequences for the UMC would be. Would people leave the denomination in protest or pursue other courses of action? In the months that have followed, quite a few progressive members of the UMC have opted to stay and try to reform the denomination from within.
Some churches have simply gone against the UMC. UM News reports that since the decison, at least eight annual conferences have defied the bans against gay clergy. And of course, some churches are leaving the denomination altogether.
The seven churches that just officially left the UMC are not the only ones in the Mississippi Conference that have pursued disaffiliation. UM News reports there are at least three other churches in the process of attempting to leave.
Swanson believes that despite the fact some churches are choosing to disaffiliate, there is hope for the UMC’s future: “While we grieve the loss of these churches, we have been busy planning and planting new congregations and revitalizing existing congregations. It is our belief that we can grieve and build toward a greater future.”