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A Letter from Bishop Carter on the recent Judicial Council ruling

A Letter from Bishop Carter on the recent Judicial Council ruling

Denominational News Inclusivity

We have some good news for anyone seeking more clarity and understanding about the rules for churches wishing to disaffiliate, due to their beliefs over LGBTQ issues.

For several months, we had been waiting for the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church to rule on how to conduct such departures. And the good news is the Council just confirmed the exact process. Here is a link to the ruling: Click here.

Please let me step back a moment. For those not steeped in the mechanics of United Methodism, the Judicial Council is like the U.S. Supreme Court of our faith. It is comprised of nine United Methodists from around the world – several attorneys, pastors, lay leaders, editors of the Book of Discipline and former law school deans. All serve as volunteers. They are  diverse in their backgrounds, gender, race and geography. They meet twice a year to interpret issues regarding the Book of Discipline to help bring clarity and instruction to the faithful.

The question before the Council was to clarify the applicable and proper language within the Book of Discipline for churches who wish to disaffiliate to follow, and the respective responsibilities everyone has amid the process.

The Judicial Council ruled that the clear answer is set forth in Paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline, which contains a step-by-step recipe to handle timing, apportionments, property transfer, pension payments, insurance and other factors. This is proper, as mature Christians share responsibility.

Somewhat ironically, it was leaders in the conservative wing of our church who originally wrote Paragraph 2553, perhaps as they envisioned it was progressives who would depart the church. Instead, the opposite is happening, and some conservative leaders are now claiming that Paragraph 2553 is too onerous. In fact, they filed a lawsuit in the government courts seeking to avoid 2553.

They even sued individual pastors and trustees, which we find especially inappropriate (and even cruel) as these are faithful people who are volunteering their lives and livelihoods to serve others. The state court procedures require us to file a response to that lawsuit. And we will do so soon.

Indeed, we will ask the state court to dismiss the lawsuit because both Florida courts and the U.S. Supreme Court have for decades consistently ruled with a “deference” or “neutral” approach – that churches like ours have ecclesiastical liberty to settle our property issues internally – guided by the highest authority within our own denominations. We now have a fresh ruling from the Judicial Council that reaffirms exactly that.

Still, amid this new clarity, we also want to make one thing clear on behalf of the Florida Conference: Within the bounds of Paragraph 2553, we extend an open hand of friendship to those churches and leaders seeking to disaffiliate. Our trustees, superintendents and the Episcopal office want to join in a dialogue with you to make this departure as painless, as graceful and as reverent as possible. That door to that dialogue has always been open and remains so now. We hope you will join us in that dialogue.

The Peace of the Lord,
+Ken Carter
Resident Bishop, Florida Conference
The United Methodist Church

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