A number of United Methodist churches in Southern California who wish to cut ties with the United Methodist Church (UMC) over its inclusion of LGBTQ+ leaders say they are being met with unfair departure terms.
22 churches within the UMC's California-Pacific Conference have allegedly been told they must pay half the cost of their real estate to leave the denomination, or face having their land seized.
Members of the Fount church, in Orange County, California, voted unanimously to disaffiliate from the denomination shortly after UMC declared the region a “safe harbour” for LGBTQ+ clergy, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Lead pastor Glen Haworth said there was a fundamental disagreement on the interpretation of scripture, saying: “The progressive end of the church wants to basically negate all of the teachings of the Bible that have to do with sexual morality.”
Haworth claims the Conference has amended the terms that enable congregations to part ways, saying the protocol, drafted in 2019, typically required a church to simply pay off its outstanding dues and pensions. He says churches are now required to pay half the value of their real estate to the conference or face the potential seizure of the property.
After reassessing the agreement laid out to churches, a spokesperson for the Conference’s leadership said it had “ultimately decided to keep the terms the same,” according to an email seen by the LA times.
Latest figures suggest more than 5,800 churches have left or ‘disaffiliated’ from the United Methodist Church since 2019, due to disagreements over LGBT acceptance and Methodist authority structures. It comes after a debate at the UMC’s 2019 General Conference on whether to adopt new rules on human sexuality and the church. Though the UMC voted to affirm a traditional stance on marriage and sexuality, the issue remains contentious within the denomination and the UMC has stated on its website that it's policies may be revised in the future.
Some congregations have become non-denominational, while others have joined more conservative Methodist groups such as the Global Methodist Church - which was founded in May 2022.
The UMC is set to hold its next General Conference in 2024.