In a special session Saturday in San Antonio, delegates from the Rio Texas Conference approved the departure of 33 churches from the United Methodist Church. The vote comes as thousands of other churches across the country disaffiliated from the denomination, after years of internal disagreements over LGBTQ participation and ministry.
“Today several congregations have decided to leave the United Methodist Church. While we don’t want anyone to leave, I wish nothing but God’s best for them,” Bishop Robert Schnase of the Rio Texas conference said in a press release.
After a stance against same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy was confirmed by a slim majority in 2019, conservative congregations across the country believe the decision has not been enforced and many are seeking to disaffiliate from the denomination .
Some, however, deny the abandonment of LGBTQ inclusion and point to a number of conflicts with the broader denomination, from finances to theology.
Saturday’s special session vote, held at the University of Texas San Antonio, followed a lengthy process for the 33 churches, including a six-month discernment period and approval by the Conference’s board of directors, according to the press release. The Rio Texas Conference, one of six that covers Texas, is part of UMC’s south central jurisdiction. The conference spans south and parts of west and central Texas, and includes San Antonio, Austin and Corpus Christi.
The Conference, which numbered 350 churches before the vote, will meet for its regular annual conference on June 8 in Corpus Christi. Then another disaffiliation vote is planned for additional churches.
The UMC allows churches to leave while retaining their property and assets provided certain steps are taken by the end of 2023, under a ruling established in 2019 called Section 2553 of the Book of Discipline.
Local churches may separate from the denomination for “reasons of conscience” regarding LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage, “or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues,” according to the guide.
Congregations must first achieve a two-thirds majority vote in favor of quitting before being approved by their annual conference. Churches must also pay two years of apportionments to the UMC, as well as any unfunded pension liabilities.
“I am grateful that these congregations have followed the process outlined by our conference trustees,” Schnase said. “We have reached the point in our spiritual journeys where we separate to go down different paths.”
After disaffiliation from the UMC, local churches could join other denominations or remain independent. For example, the First Methodist Church of Irving recently merged with the Global Methodist Church, a theologically conservative denomination that seceded from the UMC in May 2022.
What’s next for the CMU?
Every four years, the UMC hosts a gathering of its delegates from around the world at its General Conference. In 2019, a special session of general conference met in St. Louis to address the denomination’s position on LGBTQ inclusion in the church.
Ultimately, according to UM News, a stand against same-sex marriages and the ordination of LGBTQ+ clergy was confirmed in a 53 percent vote.
The next regularly scheduled General Conference in 2020 was highly anticipated due to division over LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage, but has been postponed multiple times due to the pandemic and won’t take place until 2024.
The North Texas Conference ratified the disaffiliation of 41 local churches in March. Of any U.S. state, Texas has the most churches seceding from the UMC, according to data maintained by Tennessee. Two other Texas regional conferences lost about half their churches in December.
About 2,500 of UMC’s U.S. churches, or 8 percent, have disaffiliated, according to UM News. Including Saturday’s vote, nearly 600 are from Texas.