261 Georgia congregations leave the United Methodist Church over a divide on LGBTQ issues

The North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church voted Saturday to accept the decision of 261 congregations to leave the denomination over a divide on LGBTQ issues.

“I realize how sad this time is for many, including myself,” said Bishop Robin Dease, the leader of the conference. “I just hate that those who are leaving us, I will not have the opportunity to meet or to be with.”

The churches are breaking from the UMC after a 2019 decision by the national United Methodist Church to allow congregations to leave by the end of 2023, “for 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 of early August 2023, over 6,000 congregations of just over 30,000 in the United States have been approved for disaffiliation since 2019, according to the UMC’s website.

The 261 churches now leaving the North Georgia Conference of the UMC account for a sizable percentage of its nearly 700 churches, according to the conference’s website.

Their exit marked a “solemn day,” the North Georgia Conference of the UMC said in a news release.

More than 100 congregations had sued the North Georgia Conference for the right to have their disaffiliation requests heard, and a Cobb County judge agreed “a church-level vote” must take place before the deadline.

Factions have fought for decades about sexuality and Scripture at the General Conference, the church’s top legislative body. After the church strengthened its bans on partnered LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage in 2019, many Methodists argued a split was likely inevitable in the second-largest Protestant denomination in the US.

In recent decades, several of the traditional mainline Protestant denominations have split up over homosexuality or related issues, including the American Baptist Churches USA, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church USA.

On Saturday, the requests of four of the Georgia congregations seeking to be disaffiliated were not ratified, “following discussion by the members of the Annual Conference,” according to a news release.

The exits of the 261 other churches will go into effect at the end of November.

“In December, approximately 440 North Georgia Conference churches will continue the work of fulfilling the mission of the United Methodist church in our communities and beyond,” the conference said.

Under the terms of the disaffiliation agreement, churches leaving the conference can no longer use the “United Methodist” name nor use the denomination’s logo. They also must fulfill financial obligations and are prohibited from pursuing further litigation against the conference, according to the news release.

The church disaffiliations in north Georgia come after 193 congregations once belonging to the UMC South Georgia Conference left the denomination in May, also over the ongoing debate over LGBTQ issues.

CNN’s Daniel Burke and Nouran Salahieh contributed to this story.

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