The two largest Methodist churches in North Mississippi have decided to leave the United Methodist denomination. Getwell Road United Methodist in Southaven and The Orchard United Methodist in Tupelo both supported the exit; church-wide votes were taken Sunday, February 5th.
Both churches are calling the split “discernment”, which is the first step in splitting with the conference. They have each tried to distance themselves from the real reason they are leaving; however, neither church was able to hide it no matter how hard they tried.
“We want our departure to be as peaceful and God honoring as possible,” said the Rev. Bryan Collier of The Orchard. “We will be in conversation with Bishop James Swanson about the details and timing of this process. We want to act honorably and peacefully.”
“Our staff and lay leadership have had conversations about this move for some time; it’s not something we rushed into,” said the Rev. Bill Beavers of Getwell Road UM Church. “This past October we invited the whole congregation to engage in conversation and prayer over the possibility. Several serious months of discernment preceded our congregational vote.”
Both pastors cited their congregations’ frustration with the denomination’s long and acrimonious debate over the church’s sexual ethics and teachings on marriage. (Layman)
Methodist church doctrine currently prevents the clergy from officiating same sex marriages and from having LGBTQ clergy. However, in recent years, more churches have begun to defy these bans; this has led to major disagreements within the denomination. Last year, the bishops authorized The Commission on a Way Forward in an attempt to bridge the divide. They were hopeful it would prevent a split.
Collier is on the leadership council of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a new evangelical group that has urged the Way Forward Commission to find a way to uphold current church teachings on sexuality or prepare for a denominational split.
The Orchard and at least 77 other United Methodist congregations are affiliated with the association, which doesn’t require member congregations to be United Methodist.
Collier said his church’s vote is in no way a comment on or expression of what’s happening at the association. “This is not even a decision we are encouraging other churches to make,” he said. (UMC)
Despite all of the double-talk, the people here have no question whatsoever why the churches are leaving the UMC. They have made their viewpoint on LGBTQ issues extremely clear. While most people might associate the hardline anti-gay stance with fundamentalists (e.g. Southern Baptists), the surprise here is that it extends to the Methodist churches as well. Rather than wait and participate in open deliberation with the rest of the conference, these churches have chosen to leave because there is a debate.
Bishop James Swanson of the Mississippi Conference said this impasse with the two churches was brought to his attention in a meeting with the head pastors of the two churches.
“The rationale given for this discernment is that within both congregations, there is a deep concern that any legislative or judicial solution to the denomination’s current impasse on human sexuality will sow seeds of deeper division within our Church,” Swanson said. “They see this division as something that continues and will continue to damage the witness of The United Methodist Church of which they are currently connected. This “period of discernment” will help them discover if they are to remain connected to The United Methodist Church or seek to depart.” (DesotoTimes)
To be honest, from an outsider’s point of view, what actually damages their witness is the intolerance of the church and its members. I would much rather see a group with open minds and hearts grapple with an issue than walk away from it. They have accomplished nothing but looking like cowards who have forgotten the most basic teachings of their Bible. Bless their hypocritical, close-minded hearts.