Schism within Florida Methodist Church over same-sex marriage

Reporter: Jolena Esperto Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

Multiple churches in the state have agreed to break away from the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, as some church members say society is driving the church to make changes such as allowing same-sex marriage.

Fifty-five Methodist churches around the state will break away from the conference starting on June 1.

Tom Ballard, a trustee at Edgewater Methodist Church, located at 19190 Cochran Blvd. in Port Charlotte, believes religion should drive society, not the other way around.

“Society puts a lot of pressure on everyone,” Ballard said. “You can see it now, even with big corporations. And this just, you know, just drive for social issues seems to be the hot topic.”

“A lot of folks have just openly gone against the Book of Discipline, and there have been no consequences, and in an organization, you can’t survive with no accountability at all,” said Dan Prine, senior pastor at Englewood United Methodist, located at 700 E. Dearborn St.

Nine churches in the WINK News viewing area are splitting from Florida Methodist Conference, in large part because the conference plans to vote to allow same-sex marriage.

“I think they are ready to be out of the fight as much as we are ready to be out of the fight,” Prine said.

But the Edgewood and Englewood Methodist churches didn’t necessarily want to leave.

“It’s a very painful issue as well for all of us,” Prine said. “I mean, this is a denomination that I’ve given my heart and soul and life to for the past 20-plus years. And, so, it’s not necessarily a time to celebrate.”

“This has not been fun at all; I would have much rather stayed with the United Methodist Church,” Ballard said. “I’ve been in the Methodist organization for 50 years.”

Alex Shank, the assistant to the bishop of the Florida Methodist Conference, admits the possibility that the conference may allow for same-sex marriage as soon as 2024.

“We want all churches to remain United Methodist; that is our hope, and we’ve provided a pathway for that to take place,” Shank said. “But we understand that some have chosen not to. We honor them.”

But for the churches splitting, allowing same-sex marriage is a change they cannot accept.

“The fact that it’s OK to have same-sex marriages… that’s something that we don’t agree with,” Ballard said.

Prine insists that the churches leaving the conference love all people and always will.

“The reality is they’ve always been there, but now they’re getting the opportunity to express themselves more, and I’m glad that they get to do that,” Prine said.

Before the churches can break away, each one must pay its remaining fees for 2023 and 2024 and its share of the pension obligation.

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