Sep 12, 2023 - News

Inside the Methodist Church divide in Texas

A black and white photo of the Methodist church in downtown Dallas

First United Methodist Church in Downtown Dallas. Photo: Barbara Laing/Getty Images

A new Texas Monthly story explores how the United Methodist Church fell apart because of disagreements over LGBTQ+ inclusion.

Why it matters: Methodism is older than the U.S., but decades of discord have bubbled up to a tipping point for congregations that believe the UMC doesn't match their ideals.

The big picture: Over 6,200 churches have left UMC over the past four years, the Texas Monthly article says.

  • 711 churches in Texas have voted to leave the United Methodist Church. That's almost 40% of the roughly 1,800 UMC congregations in the state.

Flashback: The Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church at a 1968 conference in Dallas, forming the United Methodist Church of roughly 11 million members.

State of play: UMC, which now has over 13 million members around the world, doesn't allow "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" to be ordained and bans clergy from conducting same-sex weddings.

  • Church leaders met in 2019 at a General Conference, where members from the U.S. who support LGBTQ+ issues were hoping the church would adopt a One Church Plan allowing different regions to have different policies based on what's culturally accepted. The church decided to go with the Traditional Plan, which kept the bans intact.
  • UMC planned to meet again in 2020 to create a plan for the disagreeing parts of the church to separate — but then COVID-19 happened.
  • That led to some U.S. clergy refusing to implement the Traditional Plan's bans, which led to the creation of the Global Methodist Church by more conservative members of the church.

Zoom in: Many of the churches that chose to leave UMC decided unanimously, but the vote was so close at the First Methodist Church of Mabank in Kaufman County last November that it stirred debate at "Sunday school classes, friendships, and even families," Ross writes.

  • Mindy Sutton, SMU's dean of students, whose family has been part of the Mabank church for 75 years, was among those who voted to stay in the UMC.

Yes, but: The Mabank congregation voted to disassociate from the UMC and is now part of the Global Methodist Church. Church members like Sutton who wanted to stay part of UMC now attend Market Street UMC.

What they're saying: "Somebody used the analogy of, 'When you go through a divorce, somebody wins, and it's usually the lawyer,'" Dan Gurley, the Mabank church's pastor, told Texas Monthly. "But in the divorce of a congregation — a church family — there are no winners."


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