By Elizabeth Rawlins, WSB-TV
It was a historic day and an unprecedented moment for the United Methodist Church.
Leaders of the north Georgia conference voted Thursday to allow more than 70 churches, mostly in rural Georgia, to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church over their stance on LGBTQ inclusivity.
Rev. Glenn Hannigan of Ebenezer United Methodist Church was in Athens for the vote and spoke with Channel 2′s Elizabeth Rawlins.
“We weren’t willing to lose anybody. We are called to stand together and be united,” Hannigan said. “That’s what is so heartbreaking with us, is that we are perceived as being anti-gay or anti-LGBT. That’s just disingenuous.”
The United Methodist Church is known for being more progressive and less traditional than others, but many congregations disagreed with changing the doctrine to become more LGBTQ inclusive.
The churches requesting disaffiliation made up approximately 9% of the churches in the North Georgia Conference and represent about 3% of the membership of the United Methodist Conference as a whole.
The churches voted were allowed to disaffiliate through the end of 2023 “for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues which follow.”
“We have LGBT members – multiple — and when our church voted to make this decision, it was unanimous,” Hannigan said.
The formality of Thursday’s vote represents the unwanted reality of a divide that now unites these now-independent congregations.
“It’s our goal to hold onto the Methodist doctrine. As far as we are concerned, nothing is going to change,” Hannigan said.
Some churches will dissolve. Others will remain independent, which means they are not obligated to follow any type of doctrine.
“Our denomination has a clear process for disaffiliation and we are walking alongside the churches that want to take this path,” Conference communications director Sybil Davidson said. “While we do not wish to see any church disaffiliate, we are committed to a clear and healthy process. Our hearts are with those who desire for their congregation to remain a part of the denomination, and also with those who choose to leave. It is painful when we have division in the church. We pray that, above all, the ministry of all churches will be fruitful and serve God well. The United Methodist Church will continue working to be agents of reconciliation in a divided world.”
Hannigan said Sunday’s church service will be the same United Methodist Church that it’s always been.