UMC Appeals Court’s Ruling Over Disaffiliation of Church: A decision made by Oklahoma County District Court Judge, Aletia Timmons, earlier this month is at the center of this particular dispute. The Judge has commanded that a special disaffiliation meeting conducted in April be repeated by the officials of the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference. According to the Judge, her decision was based on her belief that, the conference officials had not given the First United Methodist Church of Oklahoma City enough time to legally ratify their disaffiliation request.
As a result of the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference’s appeal of the local court’s decision, which it claims violates the First Amendment, a significant dispute within the regional body is intensifying.
According to The Oklahoman, the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference’s appeal questions the authority of secular courts to hear cases involving religion and claims that Judge Timmons’ ruling interferes with internal church business.
“The ruling blatantly interferes with an internal church process protected under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the leaders of the regional conference said in a statement.
Judge Timmons, on her part, defended her ruling by arguing it was grounded in “neutral legal principles” pertaining to a property dispute rather than intruding on ecclesiastical autonomy.
While the appeal to the Supreme Court of Oklahoma is pending, the conference leaders have also filed a request for a stay of Timmons’ order. A decision on this stay is expected on Monday.
In April, the Oklahoma Conference held a special 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.”
“I am comforted that the process for today’s vote was carried out according to the requirements identified in our denomination and conference disaffiliation agreements,” stated Nunn.
Members of First UMC of Downtown Oklahoma City felt that the conference was acting unfairly, so the disaffiliation process was not permitted to move further.
First UMC declared on June 1 that it would sue the Oklahoma Conference, claiming that his congregation had “exhausted every other avenue.”
We anticipated a reasonably smooth transition because “at least 75% of our congregation expressed a desire to disaffiliate, which is well above the 66% threshold,” noted Patton at the time. ” Unfortunately, by willfully disobeying their own laws and processes, leaders within our governing body have unfairly obstructed our departure. We claim that their motivation is avarice.
The conflict in Oklahoma is not isolated; it reflects other conflicts that have arisen within the global UMC. The denomination’s General Conference approved a clause in 2019 allowing for a “gracious exit” for churches looking to break apart over differences regarding “human sexuality.”