The Gist: A landmark ruling by Cobb Superior Court Senior Judge Stephen Schuster has decreed that 185 churches in Georgia have the right to vote on whether they wish to remain part of the United Methodist Church denomination.
This case hinged on a pause in the disaffiliation process by the North Georgia Conference of the UMC that governs more than 600 churches.
What Happened?: This decision came after a contentious legal battle between the UMC and 185 churches, all of which were united in their desire to separate from the denomination due to disagreements over social issues, particularly the stance of the UMC on LGBTQ participation in the church and whether or not members of that community should be ordained as ministers.
The 185 churches take a more conservative approach to LGBTQ issues than the denomination as a whole.
The churches claimed that the North Georgia Conference’s pause on the disaffiliation process violated their rights under the Book of Discipline, UMC’s church law, specifically paragraph 2553 that allows for disaffiliation.
Why It Matters: The ruling is significant as it allows these churches to exercise their right to vote on disaffiliation, a process that was previously stalled by the conference. The court case highlighted the broader argument within the UMC over social issues and the right of local churches to decide their affiliations based on these issues.
If the churches were unable to disaffiliate under the 2553 provision, they would have been required to pay fair market value to keep their property, a financial challenge for most.