Many of you have received the notice from our Bishop of the recent lawsuit against the Florida Conference by 106 churches who want to leave our denomination. I thought that his response was very well-worded and respectful. (If you have not seen the letter, you may find it here: https://www.flumc.org/newsdetail/dear-clergy-and-laity-of-the-florida-conference-16569607
There is a further correspondence that has been put out by the Annual Conference, giving more detail to the process. You may find that document here: https://florida-email.brtapp.com/files/fileslibrary/bishop+carter/7.20.22+faq+florida+conference+disaffiliation+lawsuit+final.pdf
I want to be clear on my position as your pastor here at First UMC, Bonita Springs: I do not intend to leave the United Methodist Church, and I do not intend to encourage Bonita Springs to leave. I believe that the UMC is heading in the right direction of being welcoming and affirming of everyone’s calling to ministry. It’s taking some time to get there, but I believe that we will get there.
The lawsuit claims to represent churches who want to leave our denomination because they feel the current process for leaving the denomination is too harsh. The lawsuit itself does not say they are leaving because of our stance on homosexuality, but that appears to be the driving factor. But at the 2019 General Conference a protocol for separation was passed, which the conservative movement was involved with and agreed to. It appears that they thought this was a good idea when they assumed that it would be the progressives who would be leaving. Now that the conservatives are the ones leaving, they don’t like it anymore!
As of our last Annual Conference in June of 2022, 14 churches officially requested and were granted disaffiliation, using the path outlined in our Book of Discipline. The lawsuit claims that there are 106 who want to leave, but without following those guidelines. The main issue seems to be that they want to leave and take all of their property (buildings and resources) with them, without having any additional responsibility to the Annual Conference. If you think about it like a divorce, they want to walk out the door and take whatever they want, without having to pay any alimony or child support or take any responsibility for breach of contract. Even common-law marriages agree that the resources do not belong to only one partner, but must be split equitably. In addition, all debts and responsibilities fall upon both partners.
For a church to decide that they just want to leave and take everything with them, that means that all of the shared ministry funds (apportionments) will now become the burden of those who stay. In addition all pension payments, college chaplain salaries, and insurance payments now get transferred to the churches who remain.
We need to also consider that all of these churches were started by the Annual Conference and received funds and pastoral support to begin. We have received benefits and counsel from the Conference, and have been given guidance through difficult times. I don’t believe that the Conference has been right in every single situation, but I have also taken an oath to support and improve our denomination in whatever ways I can. I take my oaths seriously, and will work to make things better.
I do not wish ill on those who want to leave; I pray that God leads them in their ministry to bring more people into His Kingdom. But I also ask that, if anyone chooses to leave, to do so fairly and respectfully, and not poke holes beneath the waterline, .
I am reminded of Paul’s words to the church in 1 Corinthians 6, about not taking each other to court. I wonder what Paul would say about our situation – regardless of who is right or who is wrong, can we not work together in grace?
Thank you for your prayers and love, and I pray that we will continue to be a beacon of hope and healing – not just in Bonita, but in Florida, in the United States, and around God’s world.