Washington church considers disaffiliation from UMC

Published 2:23 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2022

First United Methodist Church in Washington could be one of a growing number of Methodist churches disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church (UMC) over beliefs on homosexuality. 

The UMC’s official stance on human sexuality states they “affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God.” 

While also stating “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.  We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.” 

This belief was upheld by a vote taken by church officials in February of 2019 to place a ban on gay and lesbian clierics and the officiating of same-sex marriages. Fifty-three percent of officials voted in favor of the traditional point of view instead of either voting to allow local churches to choose their stance on homosexuality or have UMC split into separate denominations, according to the Washington Post. Which means a large portion of UMC officials would like to see the stance amended to allow gay members of clergy and to perform same-sex weddings thus creating a chasm between conservative leaning and progressive leaning congregants. 

Seeing tension grow within the denomination in 2019, the UMC added to its Book of Discipline (a rulebook for Methodist churches) a provision that permits churches to disaffiliate by Dec. 30, 2023. To disaffiliate, a church needs a two-thirds majority vote. 

“Because of the current deep conflict within The United Methodist Church around issues of human sexuality, a local church shall have a limited right, under the provisions of this paragraph, to disaffiliate from the denomination for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues which follow,” per the Book of Discipline. 

(So far, at least 18 churches in North Carolina voted to disaffiliate as of this year, according to the Western North Carolina Conference of the UMC)

On May 1, a new Methodist denomination formed called the Global Methodist Church. It is conservative and traditionalist with strict bans on gay members of clergy and same-sex marriages. 

Some congregants at First United Methodist Church are concerned their church could be next in line to disaffiliate and be part of the Global Methodist Church. 

In late August, First United church leaders announced to congregants proposed a disaffiliation and that they hoped to have a decision by early October. 

Charles Michael Smith, a retired Methodist preacher and lifetime member of First United said he is most concerned with the “fundamentalist” approach to Scripture he believes is being presented by the Global Methodist Church. Smith said church leaders at First United mentioned joining the Global Methodist Church. He believes the church is rushing into a decision without taking proper time to discuss what disaffiliation could mean for First United. 

He is also concerned about how the UMC’s current “anti-inclusion” stance turns away many young people who could have become members and even leaders of the Methodist church. 

Deb Ryals has been a member of First United for the last 16 years. She echoed Smith in saying it is a rushed decision to disaffiliate. For her, disaffiliation highlights a core issue on how to treat the LGBTQ community. “They are people just like us,” she said. 

“I think that what we are called on to do is to not harm other people so I believe everybody has a right to be who they are and be their authentic selves as long as they don’t hurt other people,” Ryals said. 

Curtis Brookshire is a longtime member of First United whose son, Matthew, is gay. His son has been married for 19 years. Matthew was raised in the Methodist Church, but his partner was raised in the Epsicopalian Church. When Matthew and his partner visit Curtis, they attend First United with him and go to the Christmas Eve service.

Brooksire said First United is a “great church” because its congregants have come together to work on many projects within the church and community. However, he feels the church leadership has spent more time focusing on how to disaffiliate rather than explaining clearly why they are considering disaffiliation. 

Washington Daily News reached out to church leaders for comment; however they declined.