EXCELLENT: Christ Church Memphis leaves United Methodist Church amid ongoing LGBTQ debate – My Comments

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A large Memphis-area church voted to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church, the latest to leave in a decades-long debate about policy and the role of LGBTQ people in the church.

Of those voting Sunday at Christ Church Memphis, 90.22% were in favor of disaffiliation, a total of 1,042 votes, the Rev. Paul Lawler, the church’s senior pastor, posted on Twitter. Just 101 voted to stay in the denomination, which is currently splitting over the issues of ordination of LGBTQ clergy and gay marriage.

“Ultimately, decades of failed efforts to reconcile firmly held foundational, but oppositional, beliefs among member churches within the UMC drove our decision to pursue this vote, Lawler told The Commercial Appeal in a written statement. “We believe that disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church is the best path forward for Christ Church as we seek to proliferate the Gospel and make disciples.”

Whether Christ Church Memphis will join a new denomination, such as the more conservative Global Methodist Church, is yet to be determined.

Lawler said the formal disaffiliation will not be final until the United Methodist Church approves the congregational vote next summer.

“Until then, we will assemble a team of church leaders to evaluate paths forward, ultimately with the goal of providing a denominational or non-denominational recommendation for Christ Church,” Lawler said.

The UMC, with more than 6.2 million members in the U.S., according to 2020 data, is the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the nation. As of 2018, the denomination had more than 12 million members worldwide.

More than 500 churches have left the United Methodist Church in the first major wave since the launch of the Global Methodist Church this spring.

The UMC General Conference, when delegates from around the world gather for denomination business, approved at a 2019 special session a mechanism for churches to leave, called disaffiliation.

But regional conferences are responsible for authorizing and implementing a disaffiliation process, creating geographic differences.

There were a total of 167 disaffiliations between 2019-2021, according to the United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration.

The drawn-out way in which the UMC is splintering is largely due to a delay in the General Conference regular session, originally scheduled for 2020. Delegates were expected to vote on a plan that would split the denomination, called the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.

After the General Conference was postponed yet again earlier this year for 2024, the Global Methodist Church preemptively launched. The new denomination would receive $25 million from the UMC if the Protocol is approved. It would also establish an easier process for churches to leave.

The Rev. Maxie Dunnam, Christ Church’s minister at large, has been a leader in the conservative movement of the United Methodist Church. Dunnam is also retired president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

In May, Dunnam and another member of Christ Church were representatives of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, the organization behind the Global Methodist Church.

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