More than 500 churches across Texas are no longer affiliated with the United Methodist denomination. Many of them are in the Houston area. While pastors admit the decision to leave has not been easy, they felt it necessary for moving forward
"It's been brutal – that's the word – brutal," Pastor Burt Palmer of Kingwood Methodist Church told CBN News. "It was not an easy decision."
Palmer has been a part of the UMC for most of his life.
"It was the United Methodist church in which I heard the call to ministry, was nurtured in the faith, was educated, went to United Methodist seminary, United Methodist college. It was a beloved church to me, that nurtured and fed my soul," he explained.
That history made it all the more difficult when Kingwood members voted to leave the UMC over the denomination's adoption of an LGBTQ friendly ideology.
"The culture we're in, it seems as if a lot of clergy feel as if they should be able to practice their sexuality whatever way they desire and the church should have no bearing on that," Palmer said. "We just don't believe in that."
Last November, the move to be more accepting of LGBTQ lifestyles included the election of a second openly gay bishop in the UMC.
Pastors who spoke with CBN News say the action forced them to accelerate their exit from one of the nation's largest Protestant denominations.
"It was both easy and the hardest thing I've ever done," said Howard Huhn, executive pastor at Houston's Friendswood Methodist Church. "Looking at what is going to be the future of the United Methodist church, I didn't really see a place for me in the United Methodist Church."
Pastor Huhn said his embrace of scripture helped him make the decision to leave the UMC.
"I believe what scripture very clearly teaches that human sexuality is a gift from God, reserved for a husband and wife, a man and a woman in a monogamous marriage. That belief is not really being upheld," he explained.
According to the denomination's General Council on Finance and Administration, more than 1,800 churches in the U.S. have left the UMC since 2019.
More than 1,200 congregations have joined the new theologically conservative Global Methodist denomination which launched May of 2022.
Rev. Keith Boyette is in charge of leading the group through this important transition.
"It came into existence because it became clear that the conflict in the United Methodist church was not going to be resolved," Boyette said in an interview with CBN News. "The energy of the church was increasingly dominated by dealing with this conflict. That impacted the message of the church, the witness of the church. That witness became very confused."
It is a confusion that many churches, including some outside the U.S. hope to avoid.
"Methodist churches in Bulgaria, all of the Methodist churches in Slovakia voted to unanimously to withdraw," said Boyette. "There are four annual conferences in Russia. They all voted to begin the process of departure from the United Methodist Church and their ultimate intention is to align with the Global Methodist Church. We've already formed and begun operations of an annual conference in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the nation of the Philippines."
Boyette said the recent decision surrounding human sexuality is just one of several troubling doctrinal issues in the UMC.
"We believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, that no one comes to the Father except through Him, and there's salvation only in the name of Jesus," Boyette explained. "The United Methodist church likes to call itself a big tent so it would permit other beliefs about Jesus and would permit its pastors to proclaim other viewpoints of Jesus, that He might not be the only way of salvation."
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Pastor Jason Smith of Katy, Texas points to other viewpoints.
"I sat there two years ago – now two and a half – and watched as a young man came forward. He had been commissioned in the United Methodist church and was up for ordination," Smith said. "This young man was held back from ordination for no other reason than he used He to describe his God, which is the way the scriptures describe God. And so that was not gender neutral and therefore he did not meet the standards of the United Methodist Church ordination. And from that point on I knew that we were on a slippery slope."
It was a slippery slope that led Smith's church to vote on whether to depart the denomination.
According to the UMC's Book of Discipline, any decision to disaffiliate from the mainline denomination must be approved by a two-thirds or 66.7 percent majority vote of the professing members of the local church present at the church conference.
The vote at Smith's church fell short as only 60.7 of his congregation voted to leave.
Smith was devastated.
"We were convinced that this was going to pass. So, we sat there before we came and told the congregation just in tears. What were we going to do," he said.
After a time of soul-searching and prayer Smith said he felt led to pastor the newly formed Resurrection Methodist church, where more than 300 members, many of whom are former United Methodists, joined the very first service.
"I see a church here in Katy that is just on fire for Jesus," Smith commented. "I see God moving in ways that I never thought possible until this past month."
Pastor Huhn feels a revival taking place at his church which has seen a 70 percent increase in attendance.
"We are experiencing new life in a way that we never have before in the United Methodist movement in my lifetime," explained Pastor Huhn.
It is a movement Boyette sees spreading globally as the split from the UMC's progressive views continues.
"I believe that we are on the cusp of great spiritual awakening around the world, and I believe God has chosen to raise up the Global Methodist church to be part of that for such a time as this," said Boyette.
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