Over 100 churches seeking to leave the mainline Methodist denomination have filed a lawsuit against the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC).
According to CBN News, 106 Florida churches are seeking to leave the mainline denomination and hope to take their property with them.
The lawsuit accuses church leadership of not abiding with the UMC's Book of Discipline – their rule book on doctrine, core denominational beliefs and church building and property ownership rights.
Grace United Methodist Church, the lead plaintiff in the case, filed the lawsuit against the Florida conference claiming that church leadership required Grace to pay a fine to leave the UMC, The Tallahassee Democrat.
The "[Florida] Annual Conference has taken the position that it is entitled to keep [Grace United Methodist Church's] Property – which was owned and paid for ... long before The UMC and the Annual Conference ever existed – unless Grace ... pays a substantial payment of money as unilaterally determined by the Annual Conference Defendants," the lawsuit states.
The litigation also blames UMC Bishop Kenneth Carter, who leads the Florida Conference and the Western North Carolina Conferences of the UMC, for violating the Book of Discipline by failing to discipline an openly lesbian bishop and a progressive reverend in St. Petersburg, The Democrat reports.
In recent months, several congregations across the US have left the UMC over a decades-long debate within the denomination over same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay clergy.
On May 1, a conservative theologically Methodist denomination, The Global Methodist Church, launched in response to the differing viewpoints within the mainline denomination.
Transitional connectional coordinating officer of the GMC Keith Boyette noted that the split would spark several legal battles for the UMC.
"Florida is the first of what I would anticipate might be a number of similar lawsuits occurring," Boyette told the Religion News Service.
As Christian Headlines previously reported, 107 Florida Methodist churches announced in May that they were leaving the UMC to join the Global Methodist church.
In a statement by Bishop Carter, he expressed his grievances over the lawsuit brought forth by the Florida churches.
"We are deeply grieved by this, as we seek to be a church united in love and in mission," he said.
"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 explained.
"We ask that, despite their haste, these groups seeking to break away live up to the responsibilities established by the General Conference in 2019, and that they not cause pain, damage or disparage other United Methodist churches, other members in their churches or other pastors, or the Conference," the bishop continued.
"Much of this is about fairness and responsibilities churches have to each other. For instance, an abrupt separation creates significant issues that could damage benefits and pensions for retired pastors and their spouses who devoted their lives to service," Carter said. "Another example is the apportionment churches give to support our camps, the United Methodist Children's Home, to campus ministries, to natural disaster response projects and to missions abroad."
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.