A judge has declined to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Jonesboro's congregation that chose to quit The United Methodist Church and objected to the terms governing the security of its church property.
Congregation's Case Dismissal
According to the Christian Post, the First United Methodist Church, Jonesboro, Arkansas, is the complainant in a lawsuit against The United Methodist Church Arkansas Conference the previous year. The church contends that the regional body has no legal claim to the property that the church owns. Judge Gary Arnold decided on Tuesday to enable First UMC's lawsuit to move forward by denying a motion to dismiss the complaint and setting the trial date for January 29, 2024.
Days before the ruling, Bishop Laura Merrill of Arkansas announced her decision to appoint the Reverend Britt Skarda as the interim pastor for First United Methodist Church. He will begin his tenure in this post on Wednesday and continue until the end of June. The Rev. John Miles, the pastor of First United Methodist Church, was reportedly suspended in December because he held a second meeting in which members of the congregation once again voted in favor of leaving the United Methodist Church.
Before the vote, the administrative board of First United Methodist Church sent a letter to the congregation in which they expressed their support for disaffiliation and sought to join the Global Methodist Church, which is a theologically conservative alternative to the United Methodist Church that was recently founded. Moreover, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that on Tuesday, a hearing was held in the dispute involving Jonesboro First UMC and state United Methodist officials over the congregation's assets.
Jonesboro First UMC, the state's second-largest Methodist congregation, decided to disaffiliate on July 31 and subsequently signed a disaffiliation agreement with the board of trustees of the conference. Voting members ultimately rejected the deal at a special session of the Arkansas Annual Conference on November 19 in Hot Springs. That day, 35 additional disaffiliation agreements were ratified. In addition to Jonesboro, the approval of Searcy First UMC and Cabot UMC was denied.
Also Read: UMC's Arkansas Conference OKs 35 Disaffiliation Requests, Thumbs Down 3
Church's Lawsuit to Leave United Methodist Church
As per the Baptist Press, more than 100 churches have filed a lawsuit against the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, seeking immediate disaffiliation. The case is filed amid a slow-moving division within the United Methodist Church, primarily about the ordination and marriage of its LGBTQ members. According to the leader of a new, theologically conservative Methodist organization that severed ties with the United Methodist Church, it is likely not the last.
In the lawsuit, which was filed on Thursday, July 14, 2022, in Bradford County, FL, by the National Center for Life and Liberty, 106 churches assert that the requirements for disaffiliation approved by a special session of the United Methodist Church's General Conference are "onerous and in many cases prohibitive."
After paying apportionments and pension costs, the disaffiliation plan permits congregations that choose to quit the denomination due to its attitude on sexuality to retain their properties until 2023. Delegates at the 2019 General Conference added it to the Book of Discipline with the Traditional Plan, which tightened the language prohibiting the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ United Methodists.
Related Article: Jonesboro Methodist Church's Disaffiliation Move Over Sexuality Row Could Lead to Spiritual Void Among Members