Seventy congregations in Georgia have decided to leave The United Methodist Church due in part to the mainline Protestant denomination’s ongoing debate over homosexuality.
The UMC North Georgia Conference announced last Thursday that 70 congregations representing 9% of its churches and 3% of its members have chosen disaffiliation.
The official date of disaffiliation for the churches will be June 30.
It is expected that many if not all of these departing congregations will join the newly created Global Methodist Church, which was launched as a conservative alternative to the UMC.
“Bless these congregations as they depart,” prayed North Georgia Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, as quoted by the announcement. “I pray that we will be partners in ministry and you will do your mighty work of healing division and overcoming rifts.”
The 70 churches leaving the North Georgia Conference comes as many other congregations in the United States are leaving the UMC over the ongoing debate on LGBT issues.
The UMC Book of Discipline presently labels homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” and prohibits the blessing of same-sex unions or the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.
However, many in the UMC adamantly oppose the Book of Discipline's biblically-based stance and some prominent leaders in the denomination have refused to enforce the rules.
In January 2020, a theologically diverse group of UMC leaders agreed to advance a proposal at the next General Conference that would create a new Methodist denomination for those who oppose changing the Book of Discipline.
Theological conservatives later created the Global Methodist Church, which was going to serve as the new denomination once the separation proposal was passed at General Conference.
Although General Conference had been scheduled for later in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led the UMC to postpone the churchwide legislative gathering multiple times.
After the UMC decided to again delay General Conference to 2024, the GMC announced that it would launch on May 1, rather than wait for any separation proposals to be approved.
“It is anticipated that some theologically conservative local churches will find annual conferences willing to negotiate fair and just exit provisions, while others will, unfortunately, face obstacles placed in their paths,” the GMC said in a statement released in March.
“The Transitional Leadership Council decided it was time to launch the Global Methodist Church, so those who can leave early will have a place to land, to begin building and growing, and making room for others to join later.”
In addition to the 70 churches in North Georgia leaving the UMC, 35 congregations in Arkansas and over 100 congregations in Florida are undergoing a discernment process to consider possibly leaving the UMC.