Update on a Motion to Dismiss the Disaffiliation Lawsuits
September 23, 2022
Dear Members of the Florida Conference:
In mid-July, 106 local churches (the Plaintiffs) represented by David C. Gibbs, III, James Joseph Therrell, Jr., Jeremy Bailie, and Jonathan Bailie filed a lawsuit against The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church. The lawsuit attempts to assert claims across six counts against The Florida Conference, Bishop Carter, and 12 other church leaders (the Defendants). By filing the lawsuit, the 106 local churches seek to have a secular court determine the process for them to disaffiliate from The Florida Conference. A copy of the lawsuit can be accessed here.
Earlier this week, the Defendants formally responded to the lawsuit by filing a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint. A copy of the Motion to Dismiss can be accessed here.
The Motion to Dismiss was filed on behalf of the Defendants by the Conference’s Attorney of Record, Gregory A. Hearing. In the Motion, the Defendants point out that this dispute is an intra-church dispute regarding the agreed-to process for disaffiliation set forth in The Book of Discipline. The Defendants respectfully argue that the dispute must be resolved pursuant to church law, doctrine, and polity, not through a secular court’s analysis, interpretation and/or application of same. In fact, it is well settled that secular courts are precluded from exercising jurisdiction over ecclesiastical disputes and should defer to church authority. Accordingly, only the Judicial Council has jurisdiction to resolve disputes involving the interpretation of the Discipline, and, in Decision 1449 (which can be accessed here), it has recently done so regarding the process governing church disaffiliation. It is undisputed that the Plaintiffs are expressly subject to the Discipline. Therefore, they should not be using secular courts in an attempt to skirt their responsibilities in that process. Moreover, they should not be suing individuals who have no ability to provide the relief they seek. Indeed, the Plaintiffs’ actions are harming innocent individuals who only seek to do God’s work. We do not believe these actions are appropriate, much less justified.
Despite the Plaintiffs’ unwarranted and improper secular lawsuit, The Florida Conference remains open to an amicable resolution - one which allows churches who wish to disaffiliate to do so through church law and polity in a gracious and peaceful manner as contemplated and provided for in the Discipline in Par. 2553.
May the peace and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with everyone as we go through this process.
Mark A. Hanley
Florida Conference Chancellor