Delegates and bishops pray before a critical vote on church policies about homosexuality during the 2019 United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis. | Photo: UMNS/Mike DuBose
More than 30 congregations based in North Carolina have threatened legal action so they can leave the United Methodist Church, claiming that the disaffiliation process is unfair to them.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association, a theologically conservative network, announced earlier this month that over 40 churches in the Western North Carolina Conference are overseeing "pre-suit negotiation requests."
The announcement comes as scores of theologically conservative congregations nationwide have left the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States amid ongoing debate over the UMC's longstanding opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
According to WCA, the Western North Carolina Conference "sent a legal demand to the United Methodist leadership in an effort to provide an exit for their churches wanting to leave the United Methodist denomination."
The head of the UMC Western North Carolina Conference is Bishop Ken Carter, who also oversees the Florida Annual Conference. In May, 106 churches in the Florida Annual Conference filed a lawsuit against the UMC regional body, claiming that the disaffiliation process placed unfair demands on those seeking to leave.
WCA Florida President Jeremy Rebman was quoted in the announcement saying that it's "another sad day for the United Methodist denomination."
"Members in the churches in both conferences, under the helm of Bishop Carter, had hoped and prayed that Bishop Carter would see his way … to negotiate a fair and equitable exit for traditional churches," Rebman stated.
Rebman claimed that Carter had previously signed the "Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation," a plan announced in January 2020 that, if enacted, would have given $25 million to conservative UMC members to form their own Methodist denomination.
Carter released a letter to the Western North Carolina Conference, noting that he became aware of 31 churches seeking to leave the regional body.