Dozens of churches in Arkansas contemplate on splitting from the United Methodist Church over the homosexuality debate.
The United Methodist Church Arkansas Conference will hold its official annual meeting this week and ahead of the coming together of various church leaders, many are contemplating on disaffiliation from the mainline Protestant denomination. Up to 35 of 634 Arkansas churches are undergoing processes of discernment to depart from the denomination over continued debate on homosexuality.
According to the Christian Post, a UMC Arkansas Conference spokesperson confirmed the number of churches in the state that are looking to undergo the process of discernment to possibly depart from the denomination. The spokesperson added however, that she was uncertain as to how many more are looking to split from UMC in the near future, saying it is just "pure speculation."
UMC Provides Guidelines on Churches That Want to Disaffiliate Over LGBT Issues
In April, Arkansas Bishop Gary Mueller published a video titled "2022 April Bishop Current Landscape" in which he explained the options for congregations who were unsure about their future with UMC. In it, he cited the UMC Book of Discipline, which maintains a traditional stance on the homosexuality debate, including prohibiting same-sex marriage and banning ordination of noncelibate persons.
According to Bishop Mueller, churches have three options, which includes staying with the UMC denomination indefinitely, waiting for the results of the 2024 General Conference, or departing under the current standards for disaffiliation, which involves a congregational vote, communication with leaders of the conference, and some financial payments due to the denomination.
Bishop Mueller remarked, "This is not a battle to be won, it's not a mixed martial arts cage match. It's a time of grief and discernment. We need to respect the best intentions of others."
Conservative Arm Departs UMC
On May 1, a new theologically conservative denomination called Global Methodist Church splintered from the UMC, the Washington Post reported. The departure and launch of a new denomination came after decades of homosexuality debate dating back to 1972, when the denomination's Book of Discipline was revised to include the statement, "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."
In 2016, bishops announced a special session of the UMC General Conference over the homosexuality debate. Three years later, a special session approved the Traditional Plan, which strengthened the enforcement of the Book of Discipline, specifically its stance on ordination and marriage of its LGBT members. Progressive members of UMC pledged to ignore the results of the special session, while conservative threatened to leave. A group that represented all theological viewpoints within UMC then came to an agreement to establish a separate "traditionalist" UMC denomination that will be funded up to $25 million over the next four years.
The COVID pandemic postponed the vote for that proposal called the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation which was scheduled in 2020. It was again cancelled three more times and is now set for 2024. Conservatives could no longer wait two more years, sparking a move to establish the Global Methodist Church as a new denomination.