In following the developments over the past four years, one thing has been clear: The name United Methodist is not enough to hold together groups that no longer see one another as united. For a movement which once boasted of a church in every county in America, the splintering of this denomination is a time to mourn. Time to mourn the loss of biblical fidelity within the liberal strains of the movement. Time to mourn that conservatives must come out of the church rather than be party to the hypocrisy that says one thing about sexuality while ignoring flagrant violations.
There is no longer a First United Methodist Church in my hometown. The day after the vote taken to leave the denomination, the church pastor was outside scraping the flame from behind the cross logo painted on the glass doors and covering the church sign with a garbage bag. As of yet, there is no word on what the new name of the church will be.
The picture of black plastic covering church signs, logos scaped off, and contested debates about whether the church or denomination gets to keep the hymnals is one I imagine is fairly common across the country now. According to estimates, one-fourth of the churches within the United Methodist Church—the nation’s second largest Protestant body—have chosen to disaffiliate because the denomination has failed to be faithful to Christian teaching on sexuality and marriage.
The past four years have seen a flurry of attempts by Methodists to reckon with their own inconsistency on the topic of sexuality and biblical fidelity. The 2019 General Conference (the gathering of representatives from the United Methodist Church) passed the Traditional Plan, which would have affirmed the Book of Discipline’s statement that no “self-avowed practicing homosexual” could be ordained to the clergy and that homosexuality was incompatible with the Christian life. It also created a process for bringing charges against churches, individuals, and conferences that were breaking the rules. There was also a provision included that allowed churches to leave the denomination with their property, provided they did so by the end of 2023. Initially this would have allowed liberal denominations to leave, but following the announcement that some groups would refuse to enforce the Traditional Plan, it was conservatives who began to exit.