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31 NC Churches Demand to Immediately Leave United Methodist Church, Threaten Lawsuit


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As the fallout over the United Methodist Church's (UMC) embracing of LGBTQ policies continues, 31 more UMC-affiliated churches in western North Carolina are demanding they be allowed to immediately leave the denomination. The group of churches has also retained a legal firm to help them as they seek to leave their UMC conference. 

Religion News Service reports the National Center for Life and Liberty (NCLL) sent a letter to Bishop Ken Carter, who oversees both the denomination's Western North Carolina and Florida annual conferences, to request that they preserve documents and other communications should a lawsuit be filed.

Most of the churches are small, rural congregations, according to the outlet. 

The NCLL also represents 106 Florida churches who sued the UMC's Florida Conference last month are wanting to leave the denomination and take their property with them. 

Many conservative congregations have been officially parting ways with the United Methodist Church after years of debate on same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay pastors. Many of these churches want to join the new Global Methodist Church. Some have filed lawsuits and others have threatened legal action. 

As CBN News has reported, the main reason involves disagreements over United Methodist clergy performing marriages for LGBTQ couples and ordaining LGBTQ people as clergy in the church.

A lawyer for the Western North Carolina Annual Conference, which represents more than 1,000 congregations, responded to the NCLL's letter, saying it would not comply since the request does not follow the disaffiliation plan approved by a special session of the United Methodist Church's General Conference in 2019, Religion News Service reports. 

The disaffiliation plan allows churches to leave the UMC through Dec. 31, 2023, according to UMC News. Congregations can own their property after paying apportionments and pension obligations for church staff for two years. 

The Western North Carolina Annual Conference, which spans 44 counties in the western end of the state, has approved the disaffiliation of 18 churches following the approved plan. In Florida, 14 of the conference's 700 churches requested disaffiliation and were allowed to leave at this summer's annual conference meeting, according to Religion News Service

But more recently, more than 100 Florida churches have filed a lawsuit to leave the UMC, and 70 Georgia churches left in June. 

"If they really do desire to depart, we want to do that in a way that's honorable. We have also made the appeal that this not become about misinformation and false witness," Bishop Carter told Religion News Service.

In a statement dated Aug. 17 and posted on the Western North Carolina Annual Conference website, Carter said churches leaving suddenly without paying apportionments and pension liabilities can create "significant issues" for the rest of the conference.

"Much of this is about fairness and the responsibilities churches have to each other," he wrote. 

CBN News has reached out to the National Center for Life and Liberty for comment. We'll add their response here if we hear back. 

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UMC church members have been at odds for years with some members in the United States leading the call for full inclusion of LGBTQ people within the denomination.

While other mainline Protestant denominations have embraced gay-friendly practices, the UMC still technically prohibits them, though acts of defiance by pro-LGBT clergy have multiplied. Many have performed same-sex weddings against the rules. Others have come out as gay or lesbian from the pulpit. 

Other churches recently voting to leave the UMC include two large Texas Methodist churches. One, the Woodlands Methodist Church located north of Houston with almost 14,000 members, voted earlier this month to leave the UMC Texas Annual Conference. The other large church, Faithbridge Methodist Church located in Spring, Texas, also voted to leave. 

Both Woodlands Methodist and Faithbridge will remain in the UMC until Dec. 3, when the Texas Conference has a special session to consider approving the churches' disaffiliations as well as others, UMC News reported. 

So far, more than 200 churches in Texas are also considering disaffiliating themselves from the mainline denomination, according to a report in The Christian Post.

As CBN News reported in June, dozens of churches in Georgia split from the United Methodist Church (UMC) over the LGBTQ disputes related to issues. 

The 2022 UMC North Georgia Annual Conference approved a vote to disaffiliate 70 congregations on June 2. That represents nine percent of the congregations in the Conference and three percent of its membership, according to the denomination.

The official disaffiliation of these churches was final on June 30. 

Also in June, the largest UMC church in Atlanta settled its lawsuit with the Georgia conference.  Mt. Bethel Church in Marietta agreed to pay $13.1 million to the conference trustees to leave the UMC with property and become independent, according to UMC News

The outlet reports Mt. Bethel must pay the full amount within 120 days. The congregation has started a fundraising campaign in order to meet the deadline. 

Unofficially, the tally of departing churches stands between 750 and 1,000 of the more than 30,000 U.S. congregations, based on news reports from the conferences and local media.

The UMC says it has 6.3 million members in the U.S. and 6.5 million overseas.

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