Florida churches split from Methodist denomination over LGBTQ+ inclusion

Six Tampa Bay churches cutting ties over disagreements on same-sex marriage and doctrine.
Six Tampa Bay congregations are leaving the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church over issues about LGBTQ+ inclusion and differences in doctrine.
Six Tampa Bay congregations are leaving the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church over issues about LGBTQ+ inclusion and differences in doctrine. [ GREG GARRISON | ]
Published April 28|Updated April 30

The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church recently approved the requests of 55 congregations in the state to leave the denomination amid debates over sexuality and theology.

Six of the churches that are leaving the conference are from the Tampa Bay area. The congregations can choose to become independent or join the Global Methodist Church, which holds more traditional and conservative stances on issues such as sexuality and gender.

While the biggest sources of contention have been the bans on same-sex marriages and ordaining openly LGBTQ+ clergy, local pastors and spiritual leaders told the Tampa Bay Times that there are more fundamental divides. Nationally, churches in other southern states, like North Carolina, Texas and Georgia, are also leaving their parent denominations, Politico reported.

The Tampa Bay churches splitting from the conference are: New Hope in Brandon; Sylvan Abbey, in Clearwater; and Bay Hope and First, in Lutz. The list also includes Tampa Korean and Palma Ceia, in Tampa.

Mandy New, executive director of New Hope, said while human sexuality is the main issue in the ongoing debate within the conference, the church’s leadership is concerned about broader issues.

“These include, but are not limited to, differences in doctrine, social focus, organizational and financial matters and clergy accountability,” New said.

The process by which churches may separate requires them to meet certain financial conditions, and acquiring private liability insurance to protect the Florida Conference from potential lawsuits and claims.

Their departures become effective on June 1 if they fulfill all financial and other requirements. According to the Florida Conference, the vote to cut ties was 1,020-71. As of December, there were 29,257 parishioners in the 55 churches. That represents 15% of the 191,902 total members in the conference.

Vicki Harrison, lead pastor of the 1,200-member New Hope, said the process began with several months of church-wide prayer and careful consideration. The word “Methodist” would no longer be in their name and they would officially begin affiliating with the Global Methodist Church, a more traditionalist and evangelical denomination.

“Unfortunately, we continued to see evidence of the (United Methodist Church) moving away from these fundamental beliefs,” added Harrison. “The more the (United Methodist Church) drifted from both its mission and its theological foundation, the more obvious it was that we needed to go a different path.”

Protestants are the second-largest faith group after Catholics, accounting for 21% of Hispanic adults, a share that has been relatively stable since 2010, according to the Pew Research Center. But Catholics remain the largest religious group among Latinos in U.S. even as their involvement has steadily declined from 67% in 2010 to 43% in 2022.

The Rev. Jeremy Rebman, president of the Florida chapter of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, said there has been some frustration with the Florida Conference seeming to focus on various politically charged and divisive issues.

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“Many want to hold to our traditional Methodist faith and are therefore joining our new movement — the Global Methodist Church,” said Rebman.

The United Methodist Church has more than 6 million members in the U.S., making it one of the largest Protestant denomination in the nation. According to its website, it has over 12 million followers worldwide.

Florida Conference Bishop Tom Berlin said that there has been a long-standing question of whether the church will become more inclusive toward gay people and the communities they serve by allowing them to be married in their churches and whether they qualify to become clergy.

“The churches that are leaving fear that this will happen,” Berlin said.