Florida court rejects churches’ request to leave UMC with property and no exit fees
by Karen Faulkner, Worthy News Correspondent
(Worthy News) – Amid an ongoing “fractious debate” in the United Methodist Church over LGBT issues, a circuit court in Florida last month dismissed a lawsuit filed by congregations wanting to leave the UMC with property but without paying the exit costs required under the denomination’s regulations, UM News reports.
More than 2,000 US churches have now officially left the UMC over its leadership’s acceptance of same-sex marriage and homosexual clergy members.
Last month’s case concerns 71 churches which filed a joint lawsuit in Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit Court against the Florida UMC conference last year. The lawsuit asserts that UMC leadership is no longer following the denomination’s Book of Discipline, which sets out the Church’s beliefs and doctrine, including the rejection of homosexuality as acceptable conduct, and regulates the ownership of church buildings and properties.
Responding to the suit on April 18 this year, Judge George Wright ruled “this Court does not have jurisdiction to adjudicate the claims raised in the Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint.” The judge further noted that the US Supreme Court has rejected “entangling courts in consideration of doctrinal matters.”
In a statement, leader of the Florida Conference Bishop Tom Berlin said: “We have always supported a process that allows for a gracious exit, and which ensures the departing churches meet their financial, legal and moral obligations to not harm the Conference or the other member churches during their departure. Amid this fractious debate, we remain prayerful and respectful for the process and thankful for the legal team that so ably represents the Conference.”
Representing the plaintiff churches, the National Center for Life and Liberty said in a separate statement following the circuit court ruling: “We will be meeting with our clients this week and most certainly plan to appeal and have the higher courts determine whether Florida law needs to change.”