First United Methodist Church of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. | Screengrab: Koco.com
UMC conference can’t stop
pursuing disaffiliation, judge rules
A judge has ruled that a United Methodist Church congregation in Oklahoma can't be prevented from pursuing disaffiliation from the denomination, ruling against the regional body.
Oklahoma County District Court Judge Aletia Timmons ruled in favor of First United Methodist Church of Oklahoma City on Monday, concluding that the Oklahoma Conference had wrongfully delayed the congregation's process of discernment.
Timmons ruled that the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference committed several actions that prevented the congregation from joining 55 other churches in disaffiliating during a meeting in April. He ordered the conference and delegates to consider and vote on the church's disaffiliation.
According to The Oklahoman, the ruling gives the conference until Aug. 6 to hold another disafiliation gathering to hold the vote in which delegates from the 55 churches that have disaffiliated must be allowed to vote.
First UMC member Hardy Patton, a spokesperson for the congregation, told the Oklahoma City-based KOCO News 5 on Tuesday that he was "ecstatic with the ruling because we were looking for a way to be made whole."
Patton also said that while the conference "never specifically told us" why there were delays in the discernment process, he speculated that First UMC's property had something to do with it.
"But obviously, this is a very valuable building. Whether or not they wanted to have the building or control the building, whatever the case might be, we think that played a large role," Patton continued.
"We have always been a traditional, conservative-minded church. I think it will be back to business as usual. Hopefully, we can get back to actually focusing on ministry instead of focused on litigation."
The UMC Oklahoma Conference opposed the ruling and intends to appeal "without delay," saying in a statement shared with media that the decision "interferes with what is and should be an internal church process protected under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."
"The District Court has no right to intervene in the internal affairs of a religious entity, and this unwarranted and erroneous decision represents a threat to all institutions of faith within the State of Oklahoma," the conference argues. "This is not a property dispute."
In April, the Oklahoma Conference held a special called conference in which they voted to approve the disaffiliations of 55 congregations that had been part of the UMC regional body.
Oklahoma Bishop James G. Nunn said in a statement emailed to The Christian Post at the time that he recognized "how painful and emotional these decisions are for all involved."