By Jessica Brodie
One of the largest United Methodist churches in South Carolina has asked to leave the denomination.
The administrative council of Christ United Methodist Church, Myrtle Beach, has sent a letter to Bishop Jonathan Holston and Marion District Superintendent Tim Rogers requesting it be allowed to peacefully exit the denomination and become independent, said the Rev. Jeff Dunn, senior pastor.
While the church lifted up its deep appreciation and respect for Holston, Rogers and others in the South Carolina Conference, Dunn said Christ United wishes to distance itself from the global UMC’s struggle around the issue of human sexuality.
Dunn said Christ United feels strongly about neither condemning nor condoning sin, but rather focusing on converting people to Christ as the answer.
However, he said, with the UMC’s special called General Conference coming Feb. 23-26, 2019, the church feels United Methodists are being put into a position where they will have to make one of two choices: appear to be condemning of homosexual people or appearing to condone the practice of homosexuality.
“We refuse to do either one,” Dunn said in a sermon to his church Sept. 30 announcing the request for withdrawal.
As he told the Advocate, “We don’t want to be condemning or condoning.”
Dunn said the decision was unanimous among church leaders and evolved over many months in prayer and, most recently, five weeks of prayer and fasting.
“We know it’s what God would want us to do,” Dunn said. “We’re trying to walk in great integrity and sincere love.”
Holston confirmed Christ United had made this request.
“A letter has been received indicating that Christ United Methodist Church has requested to begin a process to withdraw from the denomination,” Holston said. “Any request by a congregation to withdraw will be responded to under the appropriate provisions of The Book of Discipline.”
Dunn said in his Sept. 30 sermon he’s been asked whether he’s worried the denomination will take the church’s building, as per the UMC’s trust clause, Para. 2501 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. That clause prevents churches from exiting the denomination while still maintaining its property (read more on the trust clause at https://tinyurl.com/y74shxob).
Dunn said they are just going to trust that God will provide. Christ United started 20 years ago from 12 people gathered in a living room. Today it has thousands of members and is so big they meet in a theater.
“God gave us this building free and clear, and He can do it again.”
Christ United’s announcement comes weeks after an open letter crafted by West Ohio lay and clergy members calling for GC2019 delegates to prioritize passing a “gracious and equitable” exit plan for churches who wish to leave the denomination. That letter was released in September and continues to be signed by United Methodists across the nation and elsewhere in the world. Dunn said Christ United expects that the bishop will not be taking action regarding their request until after February, and they encourage other churches to wait until after February to determine what they will do moving forward.
If a gracious exit is offered and other churches choose to peacefully exit the denomination after February, Christ United will invite them to form a fellowship of likeminded churches that will pray for each other and hold each other theologically accountable.