DOTHAN, Ala. (WDHN) – A Houston County judge has sided with Harvest Church-Dothan and ordered an injunction against the United Methodist Church and its Alabama-West Florida Conference.
The church is concerned that if the conference votes to leave the denomination, it may attempt to confiscate church property.
While the interim court order is in effect, it bans the UMC Alabama-West Florida Conference from having any property owned or owned by Harvest Church. The UMC is unable to file documents claiming ownership of the Church, dissolve or close the Church, or interfere in day-to-day activities and duties. It expires on November 20th.
The Harvest Church plans to let its congregation decide whether to separate from the United Methodist Church.
Some conferences have asked withdrawing churches to pay a percentage of the property value of their church buildings.
At annual regional meetings across the US earlier this year, United Methodists approved motions from about 300 churches to leave the denomination, according to the United Methodist News Service.
The flashpoints are the denomination’s bans on same-sex marriage and the ordination of open LGBTQ ministers — although many see these as symptoms of deeper disagreements about justice, theology and biblical authority.
Those leaving are still a fraction of the estimated 30,000 congregations in the United States alone, with nearly 13,000 more overseas, according to the latest UMC statistics.
But there are large United Methodist congregations moving to the exits, including some of the largest in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.
This spring, conservatives formed a new Global Methodist Church determined to both uphold and enforce such bans.
A proposal presented in early 2020 for the amicable division of the denomination and its assets has lost its once broad support to the General Legislative Conference, which required a vote to ratify it, after years of pandemic-related delays.
Now the separation and negotiations are taking place piece by piece, one regional conference at a time.
“We live in a divided world. Just look at our political front,” said Bishop David Graves, who chairs the South Georgia and Alabama-West Florida conferences.
Both conferences have dozens of congregations moving to the exits, although the vast majority remain so far.
Graves said he wants to help churches leave if they want, but has spent many hours urging them to consider all factors and be sure it is God’s will.
“It’s very tiring,” he said. “These are intense encounters.”
Conservatives complain that church leaders are being made difficult to leave the congregations.
Currently, churches can opt out after paying two years of contributions – essentially denominational contributions – plus their share of unfunded pension obligations. Conferences may also have additional requirements, and some charge a percentage of the real estate value of church buildings.
Additional requirements may also be imposed in addition to their share of unfunded pension obligations and conferences.
Stay tuned to WDHN for updates.
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