Marshalltown United Methodist churches split over theology, social issues
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Acts 20:28
One Marshalltown Methodist church has severed ties with the United Methodist Church denomination, and another has stayed. The decisions stem from fractured beliefs in theology and social issues within the denomination.
On May 23, 83 Methodist churches in Iowa chose to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church denomination, and First United Methodist Church at 202 W. Main St. was one of them. Pastor Jeff Kodis said while the fractured beliefs seem new, he has actually been dealing with them for several years.
“This is something the denomination has been fighting about since I have been a pastor,” he said. “It just came to a point where it was decided we can’t stay together.”
The decision was not spur of the moment. Kodis said it has been at least one year and has consisted of a town hall, a straw poll and emails to congregation members. It all culminated in a congregational vote in March.
“The overwhelming majority voted to leave,” he said.
One of the disagreements which has gained the most attention revolves around LGBTQ+ issues — specifically conducting same-sex marriages within churches and allowing gay clergy to serve.
“It’s complicated,” he said. “The loudest argument in the denomination has been human sexuality. It is an important issue, but it is not a central issue for our congregation. Nothing has changed regarding sexuality since the beginning of the United Methodist church in the 1960s. What has changed is the annual Iowa conference leadership. They encouraged churches to believe what they want and do what they want to do. It is a chaotic leadership environment and the church did not want to be a part of that. We have not changed our beliefs or practices, and left the denomination because we wanted to be the church we have always been.”
Other disagreements revolve around questions about the scripture, Kodis said.
“There are different ideas as to who Jesus Christ is, and what He came to do,” he said. “The sexuality issue grew out of the deeper disagreements in faith.”
Kodis said the congregation also wishes to be free of the politics which have become inserted into the United Methodist denomination.
“We want to be free to offer the grace and love of God without distinction,” he said.
For Kodis, the most difficult aspect of the whole situation has been witnessing it play out.
“It has been hard watching the United Methodist embrace the values of the culture, rather than Christian values,” he said. “That is not the direction we wish to follow.”
As a result of leaving the denomination, the sign in front of First United will be removed this week and replaced with one representing a new affiliation. The Marshalltown church has chosen to join Global Methodist Church, and it will be official on July 1. Kodis said Global is new, having launched in May 2022, and will allow local input in how churches operate.
Hope United Methodist Church
On the flip side of the coin, Hope United Methodist Church at 2203 S. 3rd Ave. has opted to remain with the United Methodist Church. Pastor Dani Musselman said the Hope congregation is proud to be affiliated with the denomination.
“They are heading toward a fuller inclusion of people of all sexualities,” she said.
Whether or not Hope will conduct same-sex marriage and allow gay clergy has not been decided. Musselman said United Methodist will allow individual churches to make those decisions, and they will be having discussions this summer.
“We welcome, support and love members of the LGBTQ community already,” she said. “We believe every person is made in the image of God, regardless of their gender or sexuality. Our main mission is to be graceful to people made in the image of God.”
Musselman highlighted Hope’s mission statement: “Wherever you are in your faith journey, Hope United Methodist Church welcomes and affirms all persons without regard to any thing which threatens to divide God’s family. We are a caring church; we commit ourselves to loving acts of invitation, hospitality and reconciliation, providing ministry to, for and with all persons.”
One United Methodist practice of Musselman touted is connectionalism, which essentially means they are all connected.
“It’s something I really love,” she said. “We belong to each other, to people all over the globe.”
One way in which connectionalism is practiced among United Methodist churches is the gathering of donations for various people across the world. Musselman said when there is a connection, it is easier to send those donations for children’s birthdays, missions in prisons or families in impoverished areas.
“Hope has a generous way of supporting the United Methodist Church, and there is a joy in doing it together,” she said.
Regardless of the affiliations of the two Marshalltown Methodist churches, Musselman said they are still siblings in Christ.
“We have the same mission, just not in the same denomination anymore,” she said. “We can still work together to make disciples of Christ. I still see us as partners, just in some ways, our work is going to be different.”
Relatively new to Hope, Musselman became pastor in July 2022 after spending three years serving at a rural church outside of Altoona. She stressed she does not speak for all of Hope Church, that she is just the shepard.
“I would like Hope to continue to welcome people and highlight the grace of Christ for all people,” Musselman said.
Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 ext. 210 or