One of the most prominent Christian communities in the country has been experiencing a serious internal crisis over the past few years. In December of 2023, one-quarter of the United Methodist Church's congregations decided to formally split from the Church. Rooted in theological disputes and disagreements over LGBTQIA+ inclusion, this schism has given rise to the emergence of the Global Methodist Church. As the UMC grapples with its uncertain future, the impending 2024 General Conference looms large, poised to shape the destiny of this once-prominent denomination.

What Is the United Methodist Church?

The United Methodist Church used to be the third-largest Protestant denomination in the United States, with more than 30,500 churches as of 2019 and six million members as of 2021. It grew out of the union of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968 and now has a strong presence internationally as well. Historically, the UMC has not been as progressive as the United Church of Christ or the Episcopal Church, but United Methodists are also not known to be as hardline as other Protestants such as Southern Baptists and Pentecostals.

The United Methodist Church has large communities in West Africa, India, and South Korea. The international congregations tend to lean more conservative than those in the U.S.

What Conflicts Exist Within the Church?

The origins of the UMC's internal crisis lie in long-standing debates over theology and the role of LGBTQIA+ individuals within the church. The UMC traditionally and formally adheres to conservative doctrines, including banning same-sex marriage and openly LGBTQIA+ clergy. However, some congregations openly defy these rules and call for the Church to embrace the LGBTQIA+ community.

Why Did Thousands of Congregations Leave?

In 2019, a special legislative General Conference intensified the Church's internal conflicts by voting to tighten rules against same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQIA+ clergy. This decision triggered a chain of events leading to a significant schism. The conference also provided a five-year window for churches to leave with their property after making specific payments.

Even after the 2019 General Conference, conservative churches felt that the UMC was not enforcing its own rules and began departing in large numbers. 7,658 have split from the Church since 2019, many of which have now decided to join the Global Methodist Church.

What Is the Global Methodist Church?

Amid the schism within the UMC, the Global Methodist Church emerged as a separate denomination. Launched over a year ago, the Global Methodist Church intends to enforce the same-sex marriage ban and will not allow any LGBTIQ+ person to become ordained. This approach has attracted many conservative congregations within the UMC both nationally and internationally.

What Is on the Horizon for the United Methodist Church?

As the crisis unfolds, the UMC faces an uncertain future. The upcoming General Conference in spring 2024 is poised to play a pivotal role in determining the direction of the denomination. Progressive members remaining in the UMC will likely advocate for lifting the bans on same-sex marriage and LGBTQIA+ ordination. The departure of many conservative votes may increase the chances of policy liberalization.

The General Conference will also address proposals for the decentralization of the international church, considering the option for overseas congregations to have the same exit privileges as their U.S. counterparts. This conference represents the first denomination-wide legislative gathering in eight years, and its outcomes will significantly shape the future of the UMC.

The decisions made in the coming year will not only influence the internal dynamics of the UMC but will also shape its relationship with congregations both in the U.S. and overseas. In this time of uncertainty, the UMC will have to forge ahead while grappling with its identity, values, and mission.

Category: Christianity

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