ARKANSAS, USA — Thirty-five United Methodist Churches in Arkansas officially broke away from the denomination this weekend over its stance on LGBTQ people getting married in the church and serving as clergy.
“As of right now, people of the LGBTQ community can be members of the local church and participate fully in the life of the church. While safely, it's not technically fully because they can't be ministers,” said Brad Elrod. “They can't be married in in United Methodist churches."
Brad Elrod is the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Ozark. He said he's feeling a lot of emotions right now.
“This is the church I grew up in, it's the only church I've ever known,” said Elrod.
The churches choosing to break away cited "reasons of conscience" about LGBTQ people's involvement in the denomination. This new "traditional" stance was first brought up in the 2019 general United Methodist Conference.
Elrod said this debate is nothing new, but perspectives are changing.
“It's all well and good until you start talking about the people you know and love,” said Elrod.
The 35 churches who've chosen to disaffiliate still have steps to take. Arkansas Bishop Gary Mueller said in a statement those steps include setting up a new legal church entity with the Secretary of State's office.
“Studies across the country have shown that around 80% of the churches that are leaving, as of right now plan to just be independent,” said Elrod.
In the end, Pastor Elrod said it’s hard to watch his church splinter, holding onto words that bring him comfort.
“One of our favorite verses is John 3:16, 'For God so loved the world that whosoever.' Well, whosoever is pretty inclusive. There's no kind of qualifiers to whosoever believes in Him will have eternal life,” he said.
Three Methodist Churches in Cabot, Jonesboro, and Searcy tried to disaffiliate, but did not reach a majority vote. Bishop Mueller said those churches can restart the process if they wish.