In Florida, over 100 churches formerly affiliated with the United Methodist Church (UMC) have filed a lawsuit against a regional UMC group to negotiate fair terms for formally departing the denomination.
According to The Daily Wire, the lawsuit was filed on July 14th in the Circuit Court for the Eighth Judicial Circuit for Bradford County, Civil Division; the suit was filed against the UMC’s Florida Annual Conference. The lead plaintiff is the Grace United Methodist Church in Lawtey, which argued that, in the process of splitting from the church, it should not be forced to purchase its property from the regional body since the church itself already bought the location before the denomination was founded in 1968.
“The Annual Conference has taken the position that it is entitled to keep the Grace UMC Property — which was owned and paid for by Grace UMC long before The UMC and the Annual Conference ever existed — unless Grace UMC pays a substantial payment of money as unilaterally determined by the Annual Conference Defendant,” the lawsuit reads.
“The reason the lawsuit was filed was that the 106 churches believed that the Florida Annual Conference is not being equitable in creating a split that they’re able to successfully minister in the communities for the Gospel,” said Jonathan Bailie, the CFO of the National Center for Life and Liberty, which is representing the breakaway churches. “The churches are frustrated with the annual conference’s violations of the Book of Discipline and refusal to honor the Traditional Plan as outlined in the 2019 General Conference.”
Tensions rose even higher when Kenneth Carter, the Resident Bishop of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, refused to take action against an openly lesbian bishop in St. Petersburg. This led to further backlash from the 106 churches in question, which comprise a more conservative congregation that opposes the UMC’s support for same-sex weddings and the ordaining of LGBTQ clergy.
In response to the lawsuit, Carter released a statement on Tuesday saying that he was “deeply grieved by this, as we seek to be a church united in love and in mission.”
“The Florida Annual Conference is committed to providing a ‘gracious exit’ for those churches that wish to depart, pursuant to our common process outlined in The Book of Discipline, and have been trying to engage those churches in that process,” he continued.
As for the departing churches, some believe that they will ultimately turn to a newly-formed denomination called the Global Methodist Church (GMC), which itself was founded as a more conservative alternative to the UMC. In May, 107 Florida churches formerly affiliated with the UMC announced their intentions to join the GMC. In June, over 70 Georgia churches also left the UMC in favor of the GMC.