A Georgia megachurch with at least 10,000 members will pay $13.1 million to leave the United Methodist Church (UMC) denomination and become independent.
Mt. Bethel Church in Marietta will keep its property and assets after an agreement ended litigation between the church and the UMC North Georgia Conference. The agreement was approved in Cobb County Superior Court on June 3.
"God has moved mightily on behalf of Mt. Bethel," Mt. Bethel Church leaders said in a statement.
"We are thankful that we have reached a settlement with the Trustees of the North Georgia Conference that puts an end to the litigation and enables us to move forward in faith as an independent church. We praise God for His provision and offer gratitude for all the parties involved in reaching this peaceful resolution," they added.
"We extend abundant thanks to our members, faith community, and partners who have been praying for a God-honoring outcome."
The settlement agreement states that the church will "cease all use" of the terms "United" and "United Methodist." The church will also no longer use the Cross & Flame insignia or "any intellectual property of the United Methodist Church." Any signs containing these wordings or images will be removed. The church will also change its name from Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church to Mt. Bethel Church, Inc., or Mt. Bethel for short.
In stating the "Covenant as fellow Christians," the parties to the agreement were keen to express respect to each other as "part of the one universal church in service to Jesus Christ."
The agreement noted that "both sides plan to look forward and honor the mission and ministry of each other as Christians. Accordingly, the Parties shall encourage their members to focus on the mission of Jesus Christ and not the past actions and alleged transgressions of each other, as referenced in the civil action now being mutually resolved pursuant to this settlement agreement."
All parties agreed that, unless required by law, they intend "as Christians" not to publish "any comments or remarks about the other parties or any of the other parties' ministers or members that could reasonably be expected to adversely affect the reputation of the other."
According to The Christian Post, the Board of Trustees for the North Georgia Conference reemphasized that "we are all part of one universal church" in a short public statement about the agreement, adding that the parties involved were "look[ing] forward to moving ahead in service to Jesus Christ."
The Trustees also noted that "the North Georgia Conference is appreciative of the Cobb County Superior Court, which has given final approval of the mediated settlement agreement between The Trustees of the North Georgia Conference and Mt. Bethel. We anticipate full resolution in the next 120 days."
Litigation issues first began in April 2021 when all 50 members of the Mt. Bethel administrative council voted to start the process to leave UMC. Reasons given at the time were concerns about the overall direction of the denomination and also objections about the moving-on of the lead pastor Jody Ray.
In July, the UMC publicly declared that the assets of Mt. Bethel would be seized "out of love for the church and its mission" and due to "exigent circumstances." Mt. Bethel opposed the move and highlighted that the church had adhered to the UMC Book of Discipline and was financially stable with a growing membership.
An injunction request was issued by Mt. Bethel in the county court last October (2021), attempting to block the UMC from involvement in the congregation's vote to leave the UMC.
The North Georgia Conference has seen other regional churches leaving the denomination over issues such as gay marriage. Some 70 churches (nine percent of churches in the region) will leave the UMC by the end of June. Many of these churches will join the newly formed Global Methodist Church denomination.
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Christopher Eyte lives with his wife Céline and three children in Swansea, Wales, UK. He has worked as a journalist for many years and writes his own blog (hislovefrees.life) encouraging others in their walk with Jesus. He became a Christian in February 2002, after a friend explained God's amazing grace!