UMC sues Southern Methodist University over decision to cut ties with denomination

Southern Methodist University
Southern Methodist University, a Dallas, Texas-based academic institution with historic ties to The United Methodist Church. |

A regional body of The United Methodist Church has filed a lawsuit against Southern Methodist University, accusing the university of unlawfully trying to sever ties with the denomination.

The South Central Jurisdictional Conference of the UMC filed the suit in district court on Dec. 4 in Dallas County, Texas, accusing SMU leadership of committing “unauthorized acts.”

Specifically, the SCJC argued that a vote held in November by SMU’s Board of Trustees was an attempt to cut ties between the regional body and the university, in violation of school documents showing the SCJC as the “electing, controlling, and parental body of SMU.”

“The November 2019 Articles purport to divest SCJC of all its rights guaranteed by the 1996 Articles and SMU’s other governing documents and to effectively terminate the long-standing and permanent relationship between SMU and SCIC,” read the lawsuit in part.

“… the Trustees of SMU had and have no authority to amend the Articles of Incorporation without the prior approval and authorization of SCJC. Because the Trustees’ acts were neither approved nor authorized by SCJC, the resulting November 2019 Articles are void from their inception.”

On Wednesday, SCJC spokesperson Kim Jenne forwarded The Christian Post a statement from the UMC regional body noting that it “regrets that a lawsuit was even necessary.”

“Recently, without SCJC’s authority or approval, SMU’s representatives enacted unauthorized amendments to SMU’s Articles of Incorporation, purporting to terminate all of SCJC’s rights and relationship with SMU,” read the statement.

“SMU’s actions left SCJC no viable alternative.”

SMU spokesperson Dianne Anderson told CP that the academic institution has received the lawsuit and intends to file a response no later than Jan. 6, 2020. 

Anderson provided CP with a statement from SMU in which the university argued that its board's vote was lawful.

“In response to the debate regarding the future organizational structure of the church, the SMU Board of Trustees recently updated its governance documents to make it clear that SMU is solely maintained and controlled by its board of trustees as the ultimate authority for the university,” SMU said.

“SMU believes its board’s actions are in compliance with the Texas Business Organizations Code and reflect the way the university is operated.”

The university went on to note that they “are committed to maintaining close connections with the church and its successors” and that “the church will continue to have important influence in the governance of SMU.”

The main reason for the November vote was the ongoing divisive debate within the UMC over the denomination’s official stance against homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.

In February, the UMC held a special session of General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, aimed at passing a plan to avoid a schism over the debate.

A majority of delegates, especially those from overseas UMC regional bodies, voted in favor of “The Traditional Plan,” which strengthened the conservative stance on LGBT issues.

Nevertheless, many in the UMC, especially progressives in the United States and Western Europe, have actively resisted the plan and hope to overturn it at next year’s General Conference.  

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