CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Several United Methodist churches are leaving the Holston Conference over differing views on same-sex marriage, a topic of the 2024 event.
Monday we spoke to faith leaders on both sides to learn why differences in belief are causing a rift.
The United Methodist Church (UMC) saw the departure of more than 200 member churches.
More than 100 of those churches are based in Tennessee.
According to the UMC's website, the Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church is comprised of 842 congregations, organized in nine districts, and located in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.
The Holston Conference now has 578 churches after starting Saturday with 842.
“We haven't left the Methodist Church, the Methodist Church Left us," says pastor Shane Wallace.
There is now division among faith leaders after debates over same-sex marriage between over 200 United Methodist churches and the Holston Conference.
"We have differing interpretations of Scripture," says pastor Nathan Malone.
Shane Wallace, a pastor in Coeburn Virginia says his church is leaving.
While here in Chattanooga, pastor Nathan Malone of Christ United Methodist Church says his congregation will stay.
"I know in some of the media, they've talked about a split and a breakup," says pastor Malone. "But the United Methodist Church has not split."
The Holston Conference holds a meeting every 4 years, with the last one being in 2016.
"And then in 2020, that General Conference was postponed due to COVID," says Holston Conference Director of Communications Reverend Tim Jones says.
The conference was supposed to discuss the church attitude towards same-sex marriage in 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic.
But the conference is now set for next year.
"It sparked a lot of conversation over the years and some people are wanting the discipline to change to be more inclusive," says Reverend Jones.
Pastor Wallace claims they were planning on staying until the next meeting, but Saturday’s vote means they made a decision a year early.
"We were given this ultimatum; you leave now or not. You may not get to leave, and fine. We're not school children, we'll leave now. And take our money with us," says pastor Wallace.
After paying a fine to leave..
"We paid the extortion fees, as we call them," says Wallace.
Reverend Jones says they are currently in negotiations with allowing a church to leave the conference if any disagreements arrive from the changes, and says the fines were just to pay out the year.
"The Holston trustees have signed, stating that they will continue to offer a graceful exit for churches that disagree with any changes that are made in the Book of Discipline surrounding human sexuality," says Reverend Jones.
Pastor Malone says his church will stay in the Holston Conference.
He believes there has been some miscommunication.
"For some, they saw that deadline as a 'if we're going to do this, we have to do it now.' I think there was a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about that. There was a lot of fear and mistrust," says Pastor Malone.