First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas
Attendees take part in a worship service at First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas on July 3, 2022. |

A regional body of The United Methodist Church has rejected disaffiliation requests from three Arkansas congregations that want to leave the mainline Protestant denomination amid a national schism over the denomination’s stance on homosexuality.

Last Saturday, the UMC Arkansas conference held a special seven-hour session at the Hot Springs Convention Center to vote on demands from 38 congregations that voted to leave the denomination following its ongoing debate on LGBT issues.

According to a Monday statement, the conference reached a majority vote approving the disaffiliation of 35 congregations, but rejected requests for disaffiliation from three churches: First United Methodist Church of Cabot, First United Methodist Church of Jonesboro and First Church Searcy United Methodist.

“Three churches that have not received ratification of disaffiliation have the option of restarting the process or resubmitting to the next convened session, the date of which has yet to be officially announced,” the statement noted. .

The churches had all cleared the requirement for a congregational vote with at least two-thirds in favor of disaffiliation.

For the 35 congregations whose requests for disaffiliation have been approved, the next steps will include creating a new legal church entity, transferring property and other assets to this new entity, and fulfilling payment obligations to the church. ‘UMC.

Once these steps are completed, outgoing congregations can transfer church ownership to the new entity.

The second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States has seen contentious debate in recent years over its official opposition to same-sex marriage and the ordination of unmarried gay men, as noted in the Book of Discipline.

Although theological liberals failed to change the UMC’s position on these issues, many progressive leaders within the denomination refused to enforce the rules.

Amid great dismay from theologically conservative churches over the denomination’s failure to enforce the Book of Discipline, the 2019 General Conference of The United Methodist Church established a disaffiliation process. The process requires the approval of two-thirds of eligible church members in each congregation and a majority vote of annual conference members.

The three Arkansas churches whose requests to disaffiliate were denied crossed the two-thirds threshold but were unable to obtain a majority vote from the conference.

“What happened was people voted, and this is going to sound trite, but they voted their hearts out on whether they felt a church should disaffiliate,” the Bishop of Arkansas Conference Gary Mueller to UM News.

Mueller suggested those churches have the right to resubmit the disaffiliation agreement, calling disaffiliation rejections “uncharted territory.”

The Reverend John Miles, the pastor of the First United Methodist of Jonesboro, shared a video on Facebook informing members of his church that the conference had denied their request to disaffiliate.

“It’s very disheartening. But it’s not the end of the line,” Miles said. “There’s a lot more we can do. We’ll regroup and think about it. … When we come back from Thanksgiving, we’ll meet with our board, we’ll get your input, and we’ll start looking at our options moving forward. But well, no matter what, let’s keep putting jesus first in our lives.

In May, the World Methodist Church, which grew out of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, was officially launched as a theologically conservative alternative to the UMC, with many UMC congregations voting to join the fledgling denomination.

Several UMC conferences in the United States have scheduled special sessions to vote on requests to disaffiliate from the church, with most being approved.

Responding to disaffiliation rejections in Arkansas, the Reverend Jay Therrell, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, and Lonnie D. Brooks, reserve general conference delegate to the UMC Alaska conference, said in a joint statement that the ” only reason to reject a disaffiliation agreement is if there is credible evidence provided by the annual conference that the church conference vote was rendered illegitimate by a violation of prescribed process.

“Otherwise, we should trust the church and its people to discern what is best for them,” they wrote. “This is the spirit in which ¶2553 was adopted by The United Methodist Church. The 66.7% votes represent two-thirds of the church – a large margin. to “get out of the vote. Let’s be honest about that. Two-thirds is a big hurdle and must be respected. We’re using that number to amend the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. If it’s good enough for that, it should be good enough in this case.

Last week, a special session of the UMC North Carolina Conference approved votes from 249 congregations seeking to leave the denomination. This represented nearly one-third of all member congregations in the North Carolina-based regional body.

“The future is bright, especially because God has something to do with it,” North Carolina Bishop Leonard E. Fairley said in a statement released by the conference.

“We know the end of this story because of who Jesus Christ is. May you hold on to each other no matter what we voted on here. Hold on to each other in your prayers.”

The North Carolina church disaffiliation will be effective Dec. 31 for churches that have completed all parts of the disaffiliation agreement.

In early November, 58 churches disaffiliated from the UMC Louisiana Conference during a special session. In June, 70 congregations disaffiliated from the UMC North Georgia Conference.

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