Area churches make bold move: Exodus from United Methodist Church

Published 9:35 am Tuesday, July 11, 2023

In the past four years, there has been a mass exodus of churches from the United Methodist Church. In the North Alabama Conference, 331 United Methodist Churches have exited from the denomination, including at least 15 in Chambers County so far.

Many of these churches, according to Wesleyan Covenant Association President Jay Therrell, have joined the 14-month-old Global Methodist Church, a new denomination with stricter enforcement of the original United Methodist Church’s “Book of Discipline,” which condemns same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ rights. 

“In the United Methodist Church, the Doctrine and discipline is being completely violated across the country,” Therrell said. “So the Book of Discipline may say one thing, but bishops and annual conference leaders are allowing it to be broken wide across the United States.”

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However, Communications Director for the North Alabama UMC Conference Dannette Clifton said less than half of the disaffiliated churches in the conference have chosen to join the Global Methodist Church.

“In North Alabama, we are still very faithful to our doctrine found in the United Methodist Church,” Clifton said. “And I think a lot of the people who felt the need to leave the denomination, their concerns are not what’s happening in Alabama. Their biggest concerns are that in other parts of the country, people aren’t following the doctrine to the level that they expect.”

Langdale in Valley, Fredonia in Five Points, Sandy Ridge in LaFayette, Chapel Hill in LaFayette, Sweet Home in LaFayette and Standing Rock in Five Points have all become affiliated with the Global Methodist Church denomination. Plant City United Methodist Church in Lanett is among the many that have chosen to remain independent.

Therrell said that the Global Methodist Church, which the WCA helped to establish, operates off of the same doctrine that the United Methodist Church must follow.

“But the Global Methodist Church is actually living by it, and the United Methodist Church is not,” Therrell said.

There are still 12 Methodist churches in Chambers County and four in West Point that have not made the decision to disaffiliate. Of those 12 in Chambers County, seven have more than 50 members. Whereas only four of the 15 disaffiliated churches have more than 50 members. 

“So while there has been a significant departure from the United Methodist Church, we still have a good United Methodist presence there in Chambers County,” Clifton said.

Clifton also said that Lanett has a new UMC opening in Lanett called the Church of Jubilee.

West Point First United Methodist Church leaders decided not to enter a discernment process for disaffiliation with the UMC denomination on July 9. West Point First UMC declined further comment. 

To disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church means that the property of an individual church can be purchased from the local UMC conference district. The paragraph allowing disaffiliation made in 2019, and valid for four years, allows the church to be released and become independent for an exit fee.

Therrell claims that around 15 conferences have added additional fees to their trust clause and that the Alabama-West Florida Conference has recently added much stricter requirements for leaving the denomination. 

Clifton said each conference has the right to make its own adjustments to the clause, however, the North Alabama Conference has only added the “discernment period” to ensure churches give the matter serious consideration.

“They made the requirements that you have to specify to leave so hard, I’m not sure that any more churches in Alabama-West Florida will be able to get out,” Therrell said. “It will be very difficult.”

Therrell said the GMC movement believes LGBTQ rights are only “a presenting symptom” of the erosion of the authority of Jesus and the church’s religious scripture. He said they also believe many bishops and seminary professors around the country have condoned heretical speech, including “denying the incarnation of Jesus.”

Therrell also believes that the upcoming UMC General Conference may include the dismantling of the church’s original, restrictive definition of marriage — shifting from a union “between man and woman” to a union “between two people.”

Clifton said the General Conference is a worldwide meeting of members of the United Methodist Church, and though any member can petition a change or shift, there is no way to predict what decision might be made.