In a move reflecting the ongoing schism within the United Methodist Church (UMC) over theological differences and LGBTQ+ inclusion, the North Georgia Conference has ratified disaffiliation requests from 261 congregations during a special session.
The theological divide centers around the UMC’s efforts to embrace LGBTQ+ lifestyles, despite biblical prohibitions, leading to deeper divisions and an increasing number of departures from the denomination.
On a solemn day, the North Georgia Conference approved the exit of more than one-third of its 700 churches. The departing congregations now have 30 days to fulfill the terms of their disaffiliation agreements with the UMC, which include financial and other obligations.
However, the conference revealed that the disaffiliation requests of four other churches were not approved, without specifying when these requests would be reconsidered.
The legal battle surrounding disaffiliation has been ongoing, with 186 congregations suing the conference for the right to have their requests heard. A Cobb County judge ruled in April that a church-level vote must occur before the deadline, aligning with The UMC Book of Discipline paragraph 2553, stating that any “decision to disaffiliate” must be approved by a two-thirds majority vote of the professing members present at the church conference.
The departing churches will officially sever ties with the UMC at the end of the month.
The schism within the UMC stems from its prohibition on the marriage or ordination of practicing homosexuals. Some congregations and clergy have chosen to defy these bans, prompting conservative congregations to leave the denomination.
Notably, several congregations have joined the Global Methodist Church (GMC), which began operations in May and reported a membership of nearly 3,000 congregations in July.
Earlier this month, one of the largest UMC congregations in Mobile, Alabama, along with seven other UMC churches in the Alabama-West Florida Conference, officially disaffiliated from the UMC.
The ongoing splintering of the UMC, the second-largest denomination in the U.S. with 6.5 million members, is marked by thousands of local churches leaving their regional conferences.
According to an unofficial tally by the United Methodist News Service, 7,285 congregations have received approval to disaffiliate from the UMC since 2019. Most notably, more than 5,000 of these dis-affiliations occurred in the current year.
It’s essential to note that the exit policy under paragraph 2553 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, facilitating disaffiliation, applies exclusively to congregations in the U.S. and is set to expire at the end of the year.