Gay Marriage: Churches Are Leaving Universal Methodist Church (UMC) After Disaffiliation Provision Expires


Gay Marriage: Churches Are Leaving Universal Methodist Church (UMC) After Disaffiliation Provision Expires

Congregations within the United Methodist Church are currently leaving the mainline Protestant denomination, even after an official disaffiliation process expired last year.

Article 2553, which established a procedure for disaffiliation from the denomination owing to its protracted discussion over whether to bless same-sex marriage and ordain non-celibate homosexuals, was added to the UMC Book of Discipline for the years 2019 to 2023.

Paragraph 2553 expired at the end of 2023, with more than 7,500 congregations successfully disaffiliating from the UMC through the process, according to numbers compiled by News from UM.

Nevertheless, some churches, such as Pawley’s Island, South Carolina’s St. Paul’s Waccamaw United Methodist Church, have voted to leave the UMC as of the end of 2023.

By a vote of 110 to 38, or around 74%, the priest of St. Paul JR Virgin informed The Christian Post that his congregation had chosen to sever ties with the UMC on January 21.

“The church has decided to leave the UMC because of a perception that the Book of Discipline is being openly violated in some areas,” Virgin said. “There was also concern that there were little or no consequences for these perceived violations.”

According to Virgin, the UMC South Carolina Conference allowed congregations to disaffiliate through the Book of Discipline. Paragraph 2549 which centers on the disposal of closed church property.

Many of the churches that left under Article 2553 have now chosen to become members of the Worldwide Methodist Church, which was established in 2022 as a theologically conservative rival to the United Methodist Church.

As of last week, Virgin informed CP, “no decision has been made on whether or not St. Paul’s Waccamaw will join the GMC.”

The United Methodist Church of St. John of Aiken, South Carolina, took a similar wait-and-see stance when they voted earlier this month to disaffiliate from the UMC, with 788 votes, or 87.8%, in favor.

John’s UMC Senior Pastor Tim McClendon told CP that his congregation “will wait until the dust settles on our church decision, and consider how best we can connect with others.”

“We are in touch with many across the GMC, the Foundry Network and others. We will be thinking about this for quite some time. It is simply too early to make this decision,” he said.

McClendon informed CP that the procedure for disaffiliation requires a two-thirds majority vote of church members to approve, much like with the expired Article 2553. Additionally, people wishing to quit the church must pay 10% of the assessed value of all church property, liquid assets, and other assets costs.

Similar to St. Paul’s UMC, McClendon’s church made the decision to sever ties because the denominational leadership frequently disregarded or failed to uphold the Book of Discipline’s regulations.

Several theologically progressive UMC clergy members have performed same-sex marriages or endorsed the ordination of people in same-sex marriages in recent years.

For instance, despite being married to a man, the UMC Western Jurisdiction decided in 2022 to ordain Reverend Cedrick D. Bridgeforth of the California-Pacific Conference as a bishop.

These instances persist even after the UMC General Conference’s 2019 special session, where the majority of delegates adopted the “Traditional Plan,” an effort that restated the denomination’s biblical position on LGBT matters.

“’Discipline’ is a very important word for Wesleyans. It underscores our distinctive emphasis on sanctification,” McClendon told CP. “Since 2019, when the General Conference adopted the Traditional Plan, there have been many denominational leaders who have been and continue to be in open defiance of that decision.”

“We’re not even close to being connected anymore; there is no ‘Big Tent Methodism’ that has room for liberals and conservatives. The tent has collapsed, and we want to come out and hold fast to long-standing doctrinal and Disciplinary standards.”

The churches in South Carolina that decided to break away from the United Methodist Church will still need to wait until the June annual conference meeting before the regional body decides whether or not to accept their choices.

The South Carolina Conference’s director of communications, Dan O’Mara, told CP that the “Local Church Discernment Process” was a policy that regional leadership enacted in 2022.

“Although similar to the disaffiliation process found in Paragraph 2553, the Local Church Discernment Process is based on Paragraph 2549 of the Discipline, which is usually used when a local church is closed because it no longer serves the purpose for which it was organized,” said O ‘Sea.

According to O’Mara, even when Section 2553 was in effect, churches that disaffiliated last year did so under the Local Church Discernment Process instead because “they did not profess to disagree with the human sexuality language in the Book of Discipline or like the South. Carolina Conference interpreted it.”

“On June 6, 2023, members of the 2023 South Carolina Annual Conference approved the closing of 113 local churches whose members voted to secede,” he added.

“These churches have completed the Local Church Discernment Process, having determined that they could no longer function as a United Methodist Church because they firmly believe that the denomination has not consistently upheld its stated doctrine on matters of human sexuality.”

Citing confidentiality and a desire to “protect the integrity” of the process, O’Mara declined to disclose on the number of congregations within the South Carolina Conference that sought disaffiliation under the procedure.



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