KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The First United Methodist Church of Alcoa is celebrating 100 years of faith in the community. Things have changed in that time period, enough to make some Alcoa pastors question whether or not they still want to bear the name "United Methodist."
Reverend Todd Chancey is the senior pastor at Alcoa First. He is leading the charge in the exit from the "United" denomination into the "Global" Methodist denomination.
This is a local example of a nationwide split in the church.
One of the biggest forces driving a wedge between Methodists is the different interpretations of the Bible and other religious texts.
"The United Methodist Church has been in debate for many years, over multiple issues, pretty much separated by conservative or progressive issues socially," Chancey said.
The largest difference is the members' views on LGBTQ+ issues.
"That is probably the one that's the most talked about in society, is biblical views on human sexuality," Chancey said.
He said Alcoa First believes strongly that people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community should not hold clergy positions within the church. Chancey said this idea comes from a literal interpretation of the Bible's text.
"I believe in biblical authority. What value do you put on biblical teachings? What does the Bible actually say?" Chancey said. "We going to follow that. I'm one of those clergy persons that take a really high standard on the Bible."
However, a split in the church came as some view the text more figuratively, rather than literally.
Tonya Barnette is not a member of the Methodist church. However, she is a pastor at the United Church of Christ and said she identifies as lesbian. She provided perspective on how the text can be viewed in many different lights.
"We believe it's not possible to interpret it [the Bible] literally or to live it literally," Barnette said. "There are too many translations that have happened and too many edits. "
In addition to biblical authority, and differing opinions on LGBTQ+ involvement in the church, Alcoa First's leaders also said they are displeased with the choices of higher-up clergy members.
"Several of our bishops are violating our denominational policies and procedures. And not only are they violating them, but they're also celebrating the fact that they're violating them. And I just don't want to serve in a denomination that can't follow its own policies and procedures," Chancey said.
The policies and procedures Chancey is referring to are outlined in the United Methodist Church's 2016 Book of Discipline. On Page 161, section C of that book, Methodist leaders said, "We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman."
This is the policy Chancey said he is trying to uphold in his church. Another reason Chancey said their church is separating from the United Methodist denomination is the "trust clause."
"We have a trust clause that says, if our church fails to be a United Methodist Church, then our property and assets revert back to our conference, our local congregation does not actually own this property or the assets that we manage," Chancey said.
In order for the church to officially separate from the United Methodist denomination, it will have to pay a $285,000 exit fee. The church has been trying to raise that money.
United Methodist also requires churches to get a two-thirds vote to leave the denomination.
First Alcoa has about 800 members. Around 87% chose to disaffiliate, and around 23% wanted to stay United Methodist. Once that vote passed with a two-thirds majority, at least 92% of church members voted to join the Global Methodist movement.
First Alcoa joins 96 other churches in the southwestern conference to disaffiliate, according to Chancey. He also said 2,500 churches nationwide have followed suit.
Chancey also said the split has come with consequences.
"As a pastor, anytime you lose a member, you grieve over that. And, we did lose several families when we made that vote and made that decision to move to Global Methodist. I respect their beliefs, I respect their choices," Chancey said.
However, he also said that new people have joined their congregation since the decision. Chancey said there is a period of change coming to Methodism, not just at First Alcoa.
"I believe we're going to trade some sheep. And people are going to just have to land where their conscience and moral understanding and biblical authority allows them to stand," Chancey said.
Nothing will be permanent until May 29. That is when First Alcoa will officially re-brand as a Global Methodist church.