The United Methodists were supposed to hold their quadrennial general conference in 2020, but COVID derailed that. Leaders had planned to lay out an easy exit for the thousands of congregations that still hold to a biblical view of marriage and sexuality, and they ultimately cobbled together a disaffiliation process that would at least let the departing churches keep their buildings.
Mark Tooley of The Institute on Religion & Democracy (The IRD) notes that plan has a sunset, "taking advantage of a temporary church policy allowing congregations to leave the denomination with their property before the end of 2023 with a one-time payment."
He says congregations are fleeing the denomination by the thousands.
"Possibly as many as 1,000 churches have already voted to exit the denomination," Tooley reports. "We expect by the end of next year, the total will be at least 3,000 and maybe as many as 5,000 churches."
By many measures, he laments that the UMC is "imploding."
"Before the pandemic and the division in 2019, 2020, it was already losing 200,000 members a year," Tooley recalls. "In five years, the United Methodist Church will lose likely at least two million members."
The Presbyterian Church (USA) as well as a number of Episcopalian and evangelical churches join the UMC in abandoning the faith, and Tooley points out that it has not gone well for them.
"All the denominations that have launched upon a specifically theological liberal direction, especially on sexuality, they are all in decline," he observes.
While the UMC Judicial Council's decision has pleased some and disappointed others, every United Methodist has been invited to pray for peace and civility.