Home Christian News United Methodists Are Breaking Up in a Slow-Motion Schism

United Methodists Are Breaking Up in a Slow-Motion Schism

But he said the denomination seeks to find a balance between encouraging churches to stay yet enabling them to go.

“It’s a both/and,” Bickerton said in an interview. “We want people to know straight up front that we don’t want them to leave. We need traditionalists, we need centrists, we need progressives willing to engage in a healthy debate to discern what God’s will is.”

But more departures are expected next year.

In just the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, about 300 of its 800 churches have begun inquiring about the process of leaving by the end of 2023, according to the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Not all may follow through, but some see it as inevitable.

“We feel like to stay the same in our mission and theology, we need to change denominations,” said the Rev. Steve Cordle, lead pastor of Crossroads Church. Based in Oakdale, Pennsylvania, it’s one of the largest congregations in the conference. It’s considering going independent or joining the Global Methodist Church.

A few miles away in Bethel Park, another Pittsburgh suburb, Christ United Methodist Church remains committed to the denomination.

The Rev. Chris Morgan said his church has a “big tent” of liberals and conservatives with most congregants “leaning in toward the center.” The church recently hosted an educational series on hot topics including the schism, guns, abortion and COVID-19.

“Instead of becoming like society, we’re trying to become an example of what it looks like to disagree and still treat people with respect and care and love,” Morgan said.

He was far from the only one to see a parallel between the Methodist debates and broader societal polarization.

“We live in a world of division. Just look at our political front,” said Bishop David Graves, who oversees the South Georgia and Alabama-West Florida conferences. Both conferences have dozens of congregations moving to the exits, though the large majority are staying so far.

Graves said he wants to help enable churches to leave if they want to but has spent long hours urging them to consider all the factors and be sure it is God’s will.

“It’s very taxing,” he said. “Those are intense meetings.”