Over 200 congregations in North Carolina have announced their departure from the United Methodist Church over the denomination's ongoing debate over homosexuality.
On Saturday, during a special session of the UMC North Carolina Conference, delegates voted 957-165 in favor of the disaffiliation of 249 churches from the mainline denomination.
The number of departing congregations represents about 32 percent of the regional body's churches and about 22 percent of its membership, The North Carolina Conference reports.
"The future is bright, especially because God has something to do with it," North Carolina Bishop Leonard E. Fairley said, according to The Christian Post.
"We know the end of this story because of who Jesus Christ is. May you hold each other dear regardless of what we voted on here. Hold each other dear in your prayers."
If members of departing churches still want to continue in the UMC – the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States – they are given the option to join The United Methodist Collective of North Carolina, "a hybrid mission congregation created to provide connection and resources related to worship, discipleship, mission, sacraments, and pastoral care for people living in areas where there may no longer be a United Methodist church after the disaffiliation process is complete."
Earlier this year, 41 of 990 congregations in the Western North Carolina Conference voted to leave the UMC. Seven other churches are also in the process of discernment for disaffiliation.
The UMC has been divided in recent years due to an ongoing debate on homosexuality, such as blessing same-sex marriages and ordaining gay clergy.
The denomination's manual, the Book of Discipline, prohibits any ordination of bishops or clergy living a homosexual lifestyle.
As Christian Headlines previously reported, one UMC pastor filed a complaint against a regional body for electing openly gay bishops.
In May of this year, theologically conservative Methodists launched the new denomination, The Global Methodist Church, in response to the schism in the UMC.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Ehrlif
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.