Estonian Methodist Church quits UMC over LGBT rights

Methodist Church in Tallinn with the UMC logo visible on the wall.
Methodist Church in Tallinn with the UMC logo visible on the wall. Source: ERR

The Estonian Methodist Church (EMC) has left the international United Methodist Church (UMC) as it disagrees with the organization's liberal approach to LGBT rights.

"The reason we have decided to leave the United Methodist Church is that we have felt for a time that the UMC is going down a path that clashes with the church's teaching as we understand it and indeed its own rules. We see that it is no longer possible for us to be part of the global United Methodist Church," Robert Tšerenkov, superintendent for the Estonian Methodist Church, told ERR Monday.

Asked whether the split is over LGBT rights, Tšerenkov confirmed as much. "Yes, it is definitely among the most visible tendencies at the UMC to move toward accepting gay marriage and priesthood. We believe that this is not in accordance with scripture, which is also what the UMC precepts provide. The latter are being violated increasingly often. So that is among the most pronounced manifestations."

There are other differences over how to interpret scripture, its authority and how to interpret different Christian doctrines, the superintendent added.

Christian Network Europe (CNE) reported last week that the Estonian branch of UMC said it wanted to leave the church back in 2022. During the annual conference of the Estonian Methodist Church, held on June 16 this year, 97 percent of Methodist representatives from 23 congregations voted in favor of separating from the UMC, which decision took effect on July 1 and rendered the Estonian Methodist Church independent.

Tšerenkov, as the head of Methodists in Estonia, emphasized that the activities of the Estonian Methodist Church will continue without changes. "Nothing will change for the Estonian Methodist Church."

Cross and flame imagery needs to be removed from the church

While CNE hinted there were tensions around church real estate partially built with money from other countries' Methodist congregations, these disagreements have been resolved.

"The Estonian Methodist Church owns every Methodist church in Estonia, and little about it has been contested. Several churches have been built using donations from different parts of the world, whether USA or South Korea, that is true. But these have all been voluntary donations – the Estonian Methodist Church does not have debts or financial obligations in front of anyone. The real estate of the EMC will remain in the hands of the church," Tšerenkov said.

However, the Estonian Methodist Church must remove from its buildings imagery of the cross and flame, which is the symbol of the international church. "The cross and flame is the logo of the UMC, which we can continue to use until the end of this year. We will need to replace it with our own symbol by then, which we are currently in the process of designing. It is part of the split," the EMC superintendent said.

Amicable breakup

Tšerenkov emphasized that the split has been amicable and the process smooth, and that Methodists in Estonia are not cut off from working with the UMC in the future. "The breakup has been friendly and respectful. And while we may not agree on every aspect of teachings, we are parting as friends and avenues remain open for future cooperation – whether we're talking about social work, education or the like. Our departure is not the result of a conflict or scandal," he said.

Ringo Ringvee, adviser at the religious affairs department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, told ERR as much. "Looking at the split, it seems to have been an amicable and peaceful divorce where no accusations were thrown around. We can treat the EMC's decision as virtually unanimous."

Ringvee added that he also believes the decision will have very little bearing on religious life in Estonia as the EMC will continue much as it has.

"Time will tell what the relationship between the two Methodist churches will be, while the reaction of the UMC also reflects the desire to move on peacefully, albeit as separate churches," the adviser remarked.

Christian Network Europe writes in its article that the Estonian Methodist Church splitting from the UMC is not the first such case. Apparently, several Methodist congregations in the U.S. split from the United Methodist Church in May to create the Global Methodist Church, which has since motivated thousands of others to follow suit.

The Estonian Methodist Church currently has 26 congregations. During the 2021 census, 1,390 people identified as Methodist.

Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Marcus Turovski

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: