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The theological fracture within the country’s largest mainline Methodist denomination has grown more contentious as a church conference in Georgia has temporarily blocked churches from disaffiliating.
The United Methodist Church North Georgia Conference last week cited “misinformation” for its decision to “pause” any further disaffiliation efforts from congregations attempting to leave the denomination, according to a Dec. 28 email sent to member churches.
The email claimed “many local churches have been misled about the disaffiliation process and have been presented with information about the process” and about denominational leadership “that is factually incorrect and defamatory.”
“We have significant concerns about this misinformation and are well aware that it has the potential to do irreparable harm,” the email said. “We do not have confidence in the validity of upcoming church conference disaffiliation votes.”
METHODIST LEADERS SAY ‘REBELLION AND DYSFUNCTION’ OVER LGBT ISSUES SPLITTING DENOMINATION
The First United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, displays a rainbow decoration.
(dlewis33 via Getty Images)
The North Georgia Conference, which has more 700 member churches, said disaffiliation will not take place until the next session of the United Methodist General Conference, which is not slated to occur until late April 2024 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“This pause will allow churches to gain more information about the real, rather than the false or hypothetical, future of our church,” the announcement said.
In June, the North Georgia Conference approved the disaffiliation of 70 congregations, which represents approximately 9% of the denomination’s churches and 3% of its members.
The United Methodist Church (UMC), which is the second-largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., has faced a growing divide in recent years over issues of sexuality as conservative Methodist congregations push back against liberal ones they claim are being disobedient to the global church.
An LGBTQ+ flag flies over Union United Methodist Church in the South End of Boston on Jan. 5, 2020.
(Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
At a special session of the General Conference in 2019, the UMC voted 438-384 to uphold the church’s ban on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating at or hosting same-sex marriages.
The General Conference also adopted a disaffiliation agreement that year that offered a path for churches to leave the denomination through the end of 2023 “for reasons of conscience” related to homosexuality or the ordination and marriage of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” which is forbidden by the church’s Book of Discipline.
NEARLY ONE-THIRD OF CHURCHES SPLIT FROM REGIONAL METHODIST CHURCH BODY AMID ONGOING SCHISM ABOUT SEXUALITY
Several conservative members of the Methodist clergy told Fox News Digital in June that far from settling the issue, however, conservative churches are splitting off as liberal leaders within the UMC have simply chosen to disregard the 2019 vote by commissioning gay clergy and officiating same-sex weddings anyway.
Thomas Lambrecht, the vice president of the denomination’s traditionalist Good News caucus, said at the time that the centrists and progressives in the UMC who chose to defy the church instead of leaving have rendered it “essentially ungovernable.”
Rev. Cynthia Good, pastor at Calvary United Methodist Church in Arlington, Massachusetts, speaks to her church during Sunday services on Jan. 5, 2020.
(Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
During a special session in November, the UMC North Carolina Conference held a vote in which delegates approved the disaffiliation of 249 congregations seeking to leave the denomination by a margin of 957-165.
This represents approximately 32% of the conference’s member churches and 22% of its membership, according to the conference.
Additionally, 41 out of 990 congregations in the Western North Carolina Conference voted to disaffiliate earlier this year, with at least seven others currently considering the option.
CONSERVATIVE PRESBYTERIANS LAY OUT WHY MAINLINE COUSINS ARE LOSING MEMBERS: ‘SUPERNATURAL BATTLE’
In this April 19, 2019, file photo, a gay pride rainbow flag flies along with the U.S. flag in front of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kansas.
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
In November, 58 churches in the UMC Louisiana Conference also disaffiliated.
Some churches seeking to leave have faced pushback from their regional bodies. In June, more than 100 churches in Florida filed a lawsuit against the UMC Florida Annual Conference, claiming they were not given fair terms for leaving.
Similarly, the First United Methodist Church of Jonesboro in Arkansas filed a lawsuit against the UMC Arkansas Conference after its vote to disaffiliate was rejected and its pastor was suspended in November.
Protesters chant during the United Methodist Church’s special session of the general conference in St. Louis, Missouri, on Feb. 26, 2019.
(AP Photo/Sid Hastings)
Twelve judges in Arkansas have since recused themselves from the lawsuit regarding the Jonesboro church property, prompting the Craighead Circuit Clerk’s Office to request the Arkansas State Supreme Court for a special judge to preside over the case, according to local KAIT.
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Many of the congregations that left the UMC have joined the conservative Global Methodist Church, which launched May 1 as a traditionalist alternative for Methodist churches around the world.
Jon Brown is a writer for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to [email protected].