(Photo: Pixel/Sora Shimazaki)
Thirty-eight congregations that are a part of the Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) filed a complaint against the regional body regarding the disaffiliation process in November 2022.
The disaffiliation process is the separation of the denomination while maintaining the property and the church's assets.
Lawsuit Against UMC
The lawsuit was filed in Iredell County, with the conference, its board of trustees, and Conference Bishop Kenneth Carter listed as defendants. The plaintiffs in the complaint argue that the conference is 'keeping their church buildings and property hostage' by placing a trust on their properties that are equivalent to a 'financial ransom.'
As mentioned, the plaintiffs allege that the conference does this by imposing a belief on their properties. In a recent interview with The Christian Post, David Gibbs III of the National Center for Life and Liberty represents a group of churches that have opted to leave the UMC. He has defended the conduct of a group of North Carolina congregations that recently sued the UMC over the denomination's disaffiliation procedure.
According to Gibbs, a hearing about the lawsuit will occur on Mar. 20, and the UMC regional body will be present to argue for the dismissal of the case during the hearing. Gibbs is confident that the court will allow the lawsuit to continue in its current state. Moreover, he noted that several churches contacted his law firm seeking counsel in their legal actions against the conference.
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Conference Bishop Kenneth Carter's Letter to the Conference's Clergy and Laity
According to the response of the Western North Carolina Conference, UMC has a procedure approved in the 2019 General Conference, which can be found in paragraph 2553 of The Book of Discipline. The Western North Carolina Annual Conference of the UMC is committed to providing a 'gracious exit' for those churches that wish to leave the denomination.
The UMC's highest judicial authority has decided that churches that wish to cut ties with the UMC must follow the procedures outlined in paragraph 2553. It is also known as the 'denomination's court.' However, despite the efforts of the church to involve these congregations in the process, they have chosen to ignore The Book of Discipline. They are still initiating legal action instead of adhering to The Book Discipline.
In the letter, Bishop Kenneth Carter stated that the group is asking the complainant not to cause damage, pain, or lessen the worth of other United Methodist churches and the other conference members, pastors, or churches.
The church remains dedicated to maintaining the fundamental principles outlined in its Book of Discipline as well as the decisions made by the Judicial Council. Accordingly, the Bishop elaborated on the beneficiaries in their controversial apportionment of funds.
The church donated funds to their campus ministries, camps, natural disaster response projects, food, and homeless ministries and their vital missions abroad. With the fund, they will be able to sustain the needs of the said ministries.
An article in The Christian Post says that due to the letter of Conference Bishop Kenneth Carter, an administrative hearing was scheduled on Tuesday, Feb. 21. The hearing will decide whether or not the lawsuit would be thrown out. It will reportedly take place in Bradford County, Florida.
Also Read: UMC's Arkansas Conference OKs 35 Disaffiliation Requests, Thumbs Down 3