Court lifts ‘disaffiliation’ vote ‘pause’ on UMC North Georgia Churches

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Some congregations are divided on the position of the denomination

Cobb County Superior Court Senior Judge J. Stephen Schuster on Tuesday issued a ruling that nearly 200 churches can proceed with a process that would allow those congregations to vote on whether or not to leave the denomination.

Schuster told a packed courtroom that “it’s hard to be here and it’s hard for everybody on both sides of the dispute.”

In March, 185 churches sued asking they be allowed to proceed with the disaffiliation process to leave the denomination. The lawsuit named the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, former Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, current Bishop Robin Dease and the conference’s board of trustees among others.

At issue was a “pause” from the North Georgia Conference that temporarily halted requests to leave, citing “factually incorrect and defamatory” information circulating about the process for disaffiliation.

“I’m very pleased by the judge’s ruling,” said Gary Floyd, a member of The Fountain Church in Suwanee. “I personally want to give the membership the opportunity to vote.”

The hearing was well-attended with some estimates exceeding 200 people. Congregants of UMC churches filled the courtroom as well as two overflow rooms.

The denomination has been divided over several issues, largely over the ordination of openly gay clergy and same sex marriage. But those are not the only issues. Some said they feared the denomination was moving away from biblical principals and was becoming more progressive.

Indeed, for many attending, what started as division over issue of the ordination of practicing gay clergy and same sex marriage has turned into something more.

Michael Raper, who attends a UMC church in Woodstock, said reasons for wanting to disaffiliate have “morphed into a general lack of confidence in conference leaders.” Raper made it clear he was not speaking on behalf of the church.

Bishop Dease, who was in court for all of the daylong hearing, said it was undecided whether the conference would appeal.

She said the ruling, “was unfortunate, but we are focused on mission and ministry and so we’re going to be headed into annual conference in a celebratory mode.” The annual conference will be June 1-3 in Athens.