The United Methodist Church’s top court released six decisions Feb. 9 related to a new provision governing how congregations can leave the denomination with property.
All six rulings from the United Methodist Judicial Council stem from questions of law raised about the Book of Discipline’s new Paragraph 2553 — approved by the 2019 Special General Conference in St. Louis.
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Passed during the same legislative assembly the church law allows congregations to exit with property for “reasons of conscience” related to homosexuality if they meet certain requirements.
The disaffiliation plan offers a limited way to release congregations from The United Methodist Church’s centuries-old trust clause, which states that church property is held in trust for the benefit of the entire denomination. The provision permits such disaffiliations through Dec. 31, 2023.
In 2019, the Judicial Council upheld Paragraph 2553 as in line with the denomination’s constitution. In that ruling, the church court also spelled out that any disaffiliation must include:
- Approval for disaffiliation by at least a two-thirds majority of a church’s professing members present at the vote.
- Establishment of terms and conditions between the exiting local church and the conference board of trustees.
- Ratification of a church’s disaffiliation by a simple majority at annual conference.
The new Judicial Council rulings cover decisions of law that bishops made during the 2020 and 2021 annual conference seasons.
The church court notes that under the Discipline, a local church “cannot sever its connectional relationship to The United Methodist Church without the consent of the annual conference.” The Judicial Council has construed this provision to mean that the annual conference must ratify any disaffiliation agreement.
In Decision 1422, the Judicial Council affirmed another decision by Haupert-Johnson.
In Decision 1421, the Judicial Council addressed two questions: Whether the sale of property can be completed before the conference votes and whether the conference board of trustees can enter into a nondisclosure agreement with a departing church.
The church court said the Alabama-West Florida Conference Board of Trustees acted unlawfully by closing sale on the property of a church before the annual conference voters ratified the disaffiliation agreement.
In Decision 1423, the Judicial Council affirmed a decision by New England Conference Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar.
In Decision 1424, the church court affirmed Arkansas Conference Bishop Gary Mueller’s decision.
In Decision 1425, the Judicial Council also affirmed Devadhar’s decision that the New England Conference can require churches considering disaffiliation to go through at least an eight-month discernment process.
The Judicial Council’s ruling said the disaffiliation process established by General Conference constitutes minimum standards, “which do not preclude additional procedures and standard terms created by annual conferences, provided that the latter do not negate or violate the former.”
excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, assistant news editor, UM News.
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