The United Methodist Church has been allowing congregations that want to leave the denomination over its opposition to biblical sexuality to do so without too many strings attached – an offer that expires at the end of the year. As of this fall, more than 6,200 congregations (comprising more than 20% in the U.S.) have disaffiliated with the UMC. And according to The Institute on Religion & Democracy, that doesn't include "the large exodus of conservative members leaving their church buildings individually or in large, organized groups."
Mark Tooley of The Institute on Religion & Democracy says the UMC's Alabama-West Florida Conference is apparently tired of the rush to the exits and put out a door stop or two.
"That conference implemented additional requirements for exiting the denomination requiring the church staff and clergy to sign a collective statement explaining how that church disagrees with the church's teachings on sexuality," he describes to AFN.
The churches desiring to leave took the conference to court so they could do so under the same dispensation afforded the multiple thousands of other churches that have left in 2023.
"They had already approved a large number of churches for exit and then implemented this additional burden," Tooley continues. "So, these other churches had difficulty complying with this additional burden – and hence, they sought litigation."
On November 10, the Montgomery County Circuit Court denied the churches any relief because, it said, being a secular court, it could not get in the middle of what is essentially a religious squabble. Tooley says it didn't have to get to this.
"I'm sure the conference was upset by the number of churches that had already left and so it made it more difficult for future churches to leave," he concludes. "It's regrettable – and was certainly avoidable."