Last week, at least 70 churches in the state of Georgia announced their intentions to split from the United Methodist Church (UMC) over the church’s stance on the LGBTQ community.
Fox News reports that the split marks one of the biggest fractures in recent memory for the UMC, which is the third-largest Protestant denomination in the country. Last Thursday, the North Georgia Conference voted to allow the churches in question to disaffiliate from the broader church. The departing churches will be following the disaffiliation process that was first laid out in 2019 by the UMC’s General Conference, rules that are in effect until the next conference in 2023.
The UMC released a statement acknowledging that the churches that are departing are doing so due to “reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues which follow.”
The majority of the 70 churches that are leaving are located in mostly rural areas, and make up at least 9 percent of the congregations in the North Georgia Conference, and 3 percent of total membership. The disaffiliation will be made official on June 30th of this year.
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson offered prayers for the departing churches, acknowledging that the end goal was a peaceful split.
“Bless these congregations as they depart,” said Haupert-Johnson. “I pray that we will be partners in ministry and you will do your mighty work of healing division and overcoming rifts.”
“While we do not wish to see any church disaffiliate, we are committed to a clear and healthy process,” said Sybil Davidson, communications director for the North Georgia Conference. “Our hearts are with those who desire for their congregation to remain a part of the denomination, and also with those who choose to leave.”
“It is painful when we have division in the church. We pray that, above all, the ministry of all churches will be fruitful and serve God well,” Davidson continued. “The United Methodist Church will continue working to be agents of reconciliation in a divided world.”