Alabama Supreme Court rules against 44 churches trying to leave the UMC


The Alabama Supreme Court has upheld an earlier ruling against 44 congregations attempting to leave the United Methodist Church over the denomination’s debate on LGBT issues.

In a per curiam ruling released last Friday, Alabama’s highest court rejected a lawsuit by Aldersgate United Methodist Church of Montgomery and 43 other churches against the UMC Alabama-West Florida Conference.

At issue in the litigation was the procedure for which the churches could disaffiliate from the UMC, with the departing congregations arguing that the annual conference’s process was unfair.

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According to the state Supreme Court, the matter was centered on “ecclesiastical questions,” and thus was outside the domain of secular courts to decide on, in accordance with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

“The churches argue that the trial court erred in dismissing their suit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because, they say, the case presents only ‘civil and property issues,’” read the opinion.

“But the churches' central claims turn entirely on the interpretation of [paragraph] 2553 and whether their efforts to leave the UMC were consistent with that church law. Under existing First Amendment law and our precedent, that interpretive issue constitutes an ecclesiastical question that courts do not have jurisdiction to decide.”

In 2019, at a special session of the General Conference, the UMC added a temporary measure to the Book of Discipline known as paragraph 2553, which created a process for churches to leave the denomination due to its decades-long debate over LGBT issues.

From 2019 to 2023, approximately 7,500 congregations left the UMC, with most of them affiliating with the recently launched theologically conservative Global Methodist Church.

According to numbers compiled by UM News, 248 congregations based in the Alabama-West Florida Conference were granted disaffiliation during that four-year time period.

In October 2023, 42 churches filed suit against the Alabama-West Florida Conference, arguing that the conference was wrongfully delaying the dismissal process.

“After laying out the plan by which Plaintiffs could disaffiliate with their property and invoking Plaintiffs’ reliance on that plan, Defendants have now revoked that plan and are attempting to prevent their disaffiliation, exercising leverage over Plaintiffs by holding their church buildings and property hostage,” the lawsuit claimed.

A couple of weeks later, however, the Montgomery County Circuit Court ruled against the departing congregations, arguing that, as a secular court, it held no jurisdiction in the matter.

In a statement released last November, the conference explained that the ruling was consistent with “principles enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and long standing rulings of law by the United States Supreme Court and Supreme Court of Alabama.”

“We continue to pray for all involved and look forward to continuing our missional work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” the conference stated at the time.

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