The largest congregation of the United Methodist Church in North Georgia is leaving the denomination over questions on leftist political and theological leanings.
On April 5, Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson informed Dr. Jody Ray, senior pastor of Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church (UMC), that he will be reassigned. Ray will be taken out of the ministry and take a new role involving racial reconciliation at the North Georgia Conference in Atlanta, East Cobb News reported.
But Ray opposed the plan, saying that the proposal lacks the "intentional and substantive consultation."
Lindsay Hill, head of Mt. Bethel's Staff/Parish Relations Committee, also contradicted Ray's reassignment.
In a letter, Hill told Rev. Dr. Jessica Terrell, Haupert-Johnson's cabinet member, that the sudden change in leadership "will have detrimental effects to the many faithful that are employed by the church, the academy, the recreation fields, and [their] mission partners."
Ray also wrote Haupert-Johnson that it would be best for him to remain at Mt. Bethel while they are completing their "pandemic recovery and continue to build a strong and vital congregation dedicated to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."
But Haupert-Johnson ignored their arguments and decided to proceed with Ray's reassignment.
After the service on April 18, the church's lay leadership sent a petition statement to its members, to register their opposition of Haupert-Johnson's decision. By Tuesday morning, the petition reportedly got more than 4,000 signatures from Mt. Bethel members, more than half of its 8,000 congregants.
On Monday, lay leader Rustin Parsons revealed the disaffiliation of Mt. Bethel from UMC in a press conference.
"We have begun the process to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church. It's time for us to part ways with the denomination," Parsons said, reading the church's statement.
Ray also said in the press conference that he is surrendering his credentials as UMC's ordained minister, continuing as Mt. Bethel's CEO and lead pastor.
According to Faithwire, the decision came after the UMC moved to favor leftist leanings in politics and theology. The denomination is reportedly arguing over some controversial issues such as ordaining LGBT clergies.
Ray addressed the said concern in his sermon last Sunday.
"To my family ... remember this day. We are a family who lives by our faith and our values. God is Lord of our life; Jesus Christ is Lord of our life. And it's Him and Him alone who determines our future. We don't back up or back down," he said.
"And I want you also to remember this day, that your daddy didn't bow the knee or kiss the ring of progressive theology that is, in fact, no theology at all," Ray told his children.
"Be careful of secular ideologies and thoughts that often come described as biblical truth. Know and understand the Scripture in such a way that you can determine through the Holy Spirit what is right," the pastor warned his congregation.
Next year, in a process called "Protocol for Reconciliation Through Grace and Separation," the UMC reportedly plans to establish two separate denominations, the UMC and the Global Methodist Church.
Faithwire noted that Mt. Bethel has already removed references to the UMC from its website.