NEW ORLEANS, La. (AP) – The United Methodist Church, a mainstay of the American religious landscape, has cut ties with 58 churches at its Louisiana conference amid a nationwide split within the Protestant denomination.
The resignations, approved in a virtual conference session on Saturday, were the latest in a series of decisions many Louisiana churches have made in recent weeks to leave the national congregation. Internal tensions over sexuality and theology have rocked the church.
Municipality delegates voted 487 to 35 to leave. The resignations required the support of two-thirds of the delegates.
Six churches leaving the conference are from the New Orleans area. Another seven churches are from the Baton Rouge area. St. Timothy, which is one of the largest Methodist congregations in Louisiana with 6,000 members, voted to leave Nov. 1, The Advocate reported.
The United Methodist Church is the latest of several major Protestant denominations in the US to begin to break up amid debates about sexuality and theology. The flashpoints are the denomination’s bans on same-sex marriage and the ordination of open LGBTQ ministers — although many see these as symptoms of deeper disagreements about justice, theology and biblical authority.
The denomination has repeatedly upheld these bans at general legislative conferences, but some US churches and ministers have opposed them. This spring, the conservative wing of the church formed a new Global Methodist Church determined to uphold and enforce such bans.
A proposal presented in early 2020 for an amicable division of the denomination and its assets has lost its once broad support to the Legislative General Conference, whose vote was required to ratify it, after years of pandemic-related delays. Now the separation and negotiations are taking place piece by piece, one regional conference at a time.
At annual regional meetings across the US earlier this year, United Methodists approved motions from about 300 churches to leave the denomination, according to the United Methodist News Service. According to the conservative advocacy group Wesleyan Covenant Association, up to 1,000 more are to be voted on at special meetings in the second half of the year.
Those leaving are still a fraction of the estimated 30,000 congregations in the United States alone, with nearly 13,000 more overseas, according to the latest UMC statistics.
The Louisiana exits will take effect after December 31, church officials said. The Louisiana Conference will also see a new bishop in the new year, Delores Williamston. She is the first black bishop of the conference.
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