Disaffiliation Rumors, Myths, and Opportunities – #10: The Western North Carolina Lawsuit

This originally appeared on my Facebook page on March 21, 2023

The lawsuit filed by several churches in the Western North Carolina Conference to sue the conference and Bishop has been dismissed. It has been dismissed, from my understanding, on grounds that the UMC has it’s own mechanism for handling the issues at play and that there is legal precedent that civil courts cannot become involved in ecclesiastical matters. What this means: this is a matter of church and state separation and First Amendment issues (the government cannot interfere in church matters in most cases, especially in ways that impede upon a religious groups modes of practice and self-governing). And also, we have our own court structure for church matters (the Judicial Council).

My interpretation of what is happening with this is the court telling the churches, you can solve this yourself. he Trust Clause has existed for nearly 300 years. While local churches may own their property, they own them in trust for The UMC (particularly the Annual Conferences as entities) and for the glory of God. Even if your deed does not say this, it is true based on the Book of Discipline which states that if you benefit from any UMC offerings including using the name “United Methodist,” receiving a pastor, receiving financial services, sending members to annual conference, then you are agreeing to this.

It’s a terms of service situation. It’s not the denominations fault you didn’t read the rules. We have granted these churches a means of exiting this clause. And this conference is doing so in a very gracious way. I will continue to defend the trust clause as part of Methodism, because it is less a rule, and more an opportunity. These churches wishing to exit the denomination through this lawsuit are not acting the spirit of the Methodist tradition.

They care more about their property than the tradition and spirit of a denomination set on building the Kingdom of God and offering Christ to the world. This denomination is not holding you hostage. You just don’t want to follow the steps we created for you to leave. My whole thing continues to be that you shouldn’t leave, and we can work on figuring out how to be together, but if you want to, then follow the guidelines set forth by the people YOU sent to General Conference.

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