Why Are People Leaving the United Methodist Church?

By Milo Jones | Posted June 10, 2024

Experts are saying it’s the largest denominational split since the Civil War.

Since 2019, more than 7,600 congregations in the United Methodist Church (UMC) have received approval to leave the denomination. That’s about a quarter of all Methodist churches in the nation. And in West Africa, the Ivory Coast Conference, one of the largest regional conferences with about 1 million members, has just voted to leave the UMC. 

Many departing congregations have joined the Global Methodist Church (GMC), a more conservative body launched in 2022.

So why the schism? In the words of the Ivory Coast Conference’s departing declaration, “The new United Methodist Church has preferred to sacrifice its honorability and integrity to honor the LGBT [agenda].”

A Divisive History

According to a PBS NewsHour correspondent, “We’re basically seeing the conclusion of what’s been decades’ worth of debate and discussion in the United Methodist Church over sexuality.”

In 1972, a clause against homosexuality was added to the church’s Book of Discipline, which stated, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”

Yet in the decades that followed, many church leaders, yielding to the growing liberal activism, refused to uphold the Book of Discipline. This led to a special legislative gathering in 2019 in which “a coalition of conservatives in the U.S. and overseas, particularly from fast-growing African churches,” “voted to strengthen longstanding bans on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ ordination.” American churches that were unwilling to follow the Book of Discipline were given five years to exit the UMC under reasonable terms. However, in a strange reversal, it was the conservatives who ended up leaving because of “the denomination’s failure to discipline those defying church law.”

Fast forward to May 2, 2024. In a vote of 523 to 161, the UMC General Conference opted to remove the clause against homosexuality from their Book of Discipline. Delegates also approved the statement that “marriage [is] a sacred, lifelong covenant that brings two people of faith (… two adult persons of consenting age) into a union of one another and into deeper relationship with God and the religious community” (emphasis added).

The United Methodist Church can now—officially—conduct same-sex weddings, ordinate noncelibate homosexuals, and fund LGBTQ+ advocacy groups. 

The Wesleyan Tradition?

Around the year 1740, an Anglican preacher named John Wesley began forming Methodist societies—called such because of their “methodical” approach to holy living. Wesley’s original goal for Methodism was to reform the Church of England, but theological differences eventually led to a separate denomination. 

Wesley confronted the antinomianism of his day, which taught that Christ’s death had abolished not only the sacrificial laws but the Ten Commandments, freeing believers from the bondage of obedience. In a sermon on Matthew 5:17–20, the preacher explained that “the moral law, contained in the Ten Commandments, and enforced by the prophets, He did not take away. … Every part of this law must remain in force, upon all mankind, and in all ages.” 

Despite the UMC’s support for gay marriage, the denomination still claims to be carrying Wesley’s torch. Here’s what their Book of Discipline says about the laws in the Old Testament: “The Old Testament is not contrary to the New. … Although the law given from God by Moses as touching ceremonies and rites doth not bind Christians, … no Christian whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral” (Article VI). 

So, is the law addressing homosexual relations (Leviticus 20:13) no longer “moral” or connected to the seventh commandment? Those leaving the UMC disagree with this new interpretation—and so would John Wesley!

Leaving Babylon

The mass exodus from a church that has a “Queer Clergy Caucus” has caused many Christians to think about the angel’s cry in Revelation 18, “Babylon the great is fallen” (v. 2.), followed by another cry, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (v. 4). 

God’s people came out of literal Babylon after it was conquered by Cyrus the Great in 539 BC. But in Revelation, Babylon is not literal but symbolic of a religious power whose fall is announced in the last days.

In chapter 17, Babylon coincides with “THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS” (v. 5). Just as a pure woman symbolizes a faithful church (12:1–6), so a harlot stands for an unfaithful church. Who is this unfaithful woman? The apostle John doesn’t leave us guessing. For one, she is “arrayed in purple and scarlet” (17:4)—the colors that Catholic bishops and cardinals have worn for hundreds of years. During the Dark Ages, it was the papal church that became “drunk with the blood of the saints and … martyrs of Jesus” (v. 6).

But this “Mother Church,” as she calls herself, has harlot daughters. Who are they, if not the denominations that descended from her? They were not born harlots, for they once carried the torch of reform. But today, most of the Protestant churches are no longer “protesting” the false teachings of Mother Babylon. 

Moreover, the term Babylon means “confusion” (Genesis 11:9)—a suitable description for this collection of fallen churches with their conflicting doctrines!

Out of this confusion God is calling His people. Those heeding the call will “keep the commandments of God” (Revelation 14:12)—all ten of them. Those who have left a church that doesn’t keep the seventh have taken a big step in the right direction.

To learn more about the “THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS” in Revelation 17, check out our study guide “The Other Woman.”

Milo Jones
Milo Jones is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and lives in College Place, WA.

When you post, you agree to the terms and conditions of our comments policy.

If you have a Bible question for Pastor Doug Batchelor or the Amazing Facts Bible answer team, please submit it by clicking here. Due to staff size, we are unable to answer Bible questions posted in the comments.
To help maintain a Christian environment, we closely moderate all comments.

  1. Please be patient. We strive to approve comments the day they are made, but please allow at least 24 hours for your comment to appear. Comments made on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday may not be approved until the following Monday.

  2. Comments that include name-calling, profanity, harassment, ridicule, etc. will be automatically deleted and the invitation to participate revoked.

  3. Comments containing URLs outside the family of Amazing Facts websites will not be approved.

  4. Comments containing telephone numbers or email addresses will not be approved.

  5. Comments off topic may be deleted.

  6. Please do not comment in languages other than English.

Please note: Approved comments do not constitute an endorsement by the ministry of Amazing Facts or by Pastor Doug Batchelor. This website allows dissenting comments and beliefs, but our comment sections are not a forum for ongoing debate.