The Jolt: Savannah congregation becomes first to split from United Methodist Church over same-sex marriage

JJ Warren of New York embraces Julie Arms Meeks of Atlanta during protests outside the United Methodist Church's 2019 Special Session of the General Conference in St. Louis, Mo., Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. The United Methodist Church faces a likely surge in defections and defiance after delegates at a crucial conference voted to strengthen bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy. (AP Photo/Sid Hastings)

A Savannah congregation has apparently become the first in the nation to split from the United Methodist Church over the denomination’s ban on same-sex weddings and LGBTQ clergy.

Asbury Memorial Church officials announced its disaffiliation this morning, saying they believe it is the first to leave “due to its unequal treatment of LGBTQ people.”

The South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church confirmed the decision last month, completing the legal process. Asbury Memorial will continue as an independent, non-denominational congregation.

The request to disaffiliate was triggered by a February 2019 decision by the UMC’s ruling conference – on a 54.5% vote by 823 delegates – to reaffirm a UMC policy established in 1972 stating that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

About 43% of the delegates were from abroad, mostly from Africa, and these representatives overwhelmingly supported the LGBTQ bans, the Savannah church pointed out in a press release.

A vote by the Savannah congregation to leave the denomination was taken last September, with 309 members voting in favor and only seven voting against, the church reported. In support of LGBTQ rights, Asbury Memorial Church had discontinued all weddings in the church. It will now resume those ceremonies, the church said, “when it is safe to do so after the threat of COVID-19 has lessened in Georgia.”

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It’s not unusual for presidential candidates to set up a string of one-on-one interviews with local TV stations in contested states. On Wednesday, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden hooked up with WSB-TV.

A string of national surveys show a tight race between Biden and President Donald Trump, but a Landmark Communications poll commissioned by Channel 2 and released Tuesday showed the Republican incumbent with a narrow lead coming out of last week’s GOP nominating convention.

Biden told WSB anchor Jovita Moore that he wasn’t worried. “I’m doing just fine,” he said. “I’m doing better than any Democratic presidential candidate has in a long, long time. And it’s very competitive.

“If you look at the national polls, the same thing is happening. There’s been no change. I’m averaging being eight to 10 points ahead nationally, and also based on the constituency groups, because I think responding to their concerns,” he said.

Only hours before, the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee reported raising a record $365 million in August, easing fears that Trump would overwhelm the Democrat in the money race.

In the WSB interview, Biden repeated the Democratic message from the four-day convention last last month: “Get your ballot now and vote now.”

“Look, part of what the president is doing and his team is doing is trying to delegitimize whatever happens,” he said. “So to try to turn down voter turnout, move it down. That’s been clear. You saw that happen in Wisconsin. You saw it happen in part of your state. Make a plan now how you’re going to vote.”

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Gov. Brian Kemp plans to tap Insurance Commissioner John King to lead a task force that would “put all the nuts and bolts together” to potentially distribute a coronavirus vaccine to health care workers and other high-risk groups later this year.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified officials in Georgia and every other state to prepare for a vaccine, which President Trump has repeatedly said might arrive before year’s end.

Kemp said Georgia has been working on distribution plans for “quite a while” and that attorneys are weighing whether changes to Georgia law is needed to set up a system. He also said an “awareness campaign” is likely in order.

“We’re looking at the logistics: Where it’s going to be, where it needs to go, who’s going to get it,” he said. “All of those things, we’re working and digging into right now.”

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The National Republican Senatorial Committee has released a pair of cookie-cutter digital ads targeting two Democrats in Georgia’s twin U.S. Senate contests - Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. The one-minute videos are replete with images of chaos and violence that echo President Donald Trump’s rhetoric. Both have the same final message: “Say no to the mob.”

Both candidates have condemned the violence and have called on Trump to stop stoking the divide.

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Already posted: Democrat Jon Ossoff raised more than $4.7 million in the month of August, which his campaign said was the highest single-month fundraising total for any U.S. Senate contender in Georgia history.

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A real estate development in rural Clay County was flagged last week by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee as an example of syndicated conservation easements that the panel says “appear to be highly abusive tax shelters.”

From our AJC colleague Tamar Hallerman:

Syndicated easements have become increasingly popular in Georgia over the last decade, where a cottage industry of promoters has emerged in Rome and metro Atlanta.

The IRS estimates that between 2010 and 2017, such deals generated nearly $27 billion in tax benefits for investors, including thousands of doctors, business owners, athletes and celebrities. Most of those investors, the Senate report notes, “appear to reside or work in the southeastern United States.”

Defenders say reports of abuse are overblown and that easements have conserved tens of millions of acres of land in the four decades since the law was created.

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Music venues across metro Atlanta and the nation are asking members of Congress to step in with funding during the coronavirus pandemic. More from our AJC colleague Melissa Ruggieri:

Without federal aid to survive the continued shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the possibility of beloved live music havens shuttering in Georgia and around the country is becoming more of a reality.

Along with the National Independent Venue Association, a group of Georgia musicians and artists has mobilized to urge local senators to support the “Save Our Stages Act” and the “RESTART Act,” both currently before Congress.

“We join together for the first time out of necessity for the purpose of protecting the ecosystem that underpins Georgia’s arts and entertainment industries,” they wrote in a letter directed to U.S. senators from Georgia, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

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Taxpayers in Jacksonville, Fla., are on the hook for nearly $154,000 in expenses tied to the Republican National Convention that never was, according to the Florida Times-Union.

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In endorsement news:

-- U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath has endorsed Raphael Warnock in the special election for Kelly Loeffler’s U.S. Senate seat, bypassing other Democrats also in that race.

-- Democracy for America, a progressive advocacy group, is backing Democrat Nikema Williams in the Fifth District congressional race to replace the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta

-- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently tweeted out her support for fellow Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux in the Seventh District congressional contest.

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