JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church was slapped with a 36 page lawsuit; 106 of its churches alleging the conference's leaders of not following Biblical teachings.
"Holding these leaders accountable is very, very important," said Attorney David Gibbs.
He represents the United Methodist churches. Some are in North Florida and are looking to disaffiliate from the organization, citing issues with allowing LGBTQ members to join the clergy and perform same-sex marriages.
"One of the reasons why the churches were motivated is they are looking at the future," Gibbs told First Coast News. "They are saying for our children and our grandchildren to know what was a traditional Methodist belief in church. We have to fight to protect and preserve these ministries."
The churches are also at odds about what happens to its property if they leave the denomination.
A church in Bradford County is spearheading the lawsuit, explaining churches shouldn't have to pay any type of fee or penalty to remove itself from the conference.
"We don't want the denomination to turn a blind eye to these important issues, they will have to answer, and we believe a Florida jury will clearly side with the churches in this case," Gibbs said.
First Coast News reached out to The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church for an interview, but we haven't heard back.
However, a statement posted to its Facebook page says in part, "...our doctrinal standards have not changed and will not change, even as we continue on a journey to be a church that serves all people."
Gibbs shares this message as church members decide their future.
"If somebody says I want to be part of a church that's going to uphold traditional Methodist values and Bible truth, they need to be asking their clergy and other leaders, what is our position on this?" he said.
For more information about The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church, click here.
In response to the lawsuit, the organization issued a statement last week:
Today, we became aware that a lawsuit has been filed against The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church, demanding the immediate separation of several churches into a new denomination. We are deeply grieved by this, as we seek to be a church united in love and in mission. We cannot comment on particulars in the lawsuit. Nonetheless, we are familiar with the issues at hand. Here are some important thoughts to keep in mind:
The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church is committed to providing a “gracious exit” for those churches that wish to depart, pursuant to our common process outlined in The Book of Discipline, paragraph 2553. We have been trying to engage those churches in that process but they have refused to follow that process choosing to file this lawsuit instead.
A law firm that claims to represent dozens of Florida United Methodist churches is demanding a short-circuit to those commitments and an immediate disaffiliation. That is vastly different from our open and transparent processes which occur in church conferences and at our annual conference session.
We ask that, despite their haste, these groups seeking to break away live up to the responsibilities established by the General Conference in 2019, and that they not cause pain, damage or disparage other United Methodist churches, other members in their churches or other pastors, or the Conference.
Much of this is about fairness and responsibilities churches have to each other. For instance, an abrupt separation creates significant issues that could damage benefits and pensions for retired pastors and their spouses who devoted their lives to service. Another example is the apportionment churches give to support our camps, the United Methodist Children’s Home, to campus ministries, to natural disaster response projects and to missions abroad.
From the perspective of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church, our doctrinal standards have not changed and will not change, even as we continue on a journey to be a church that serves all people.
In all this, our overarching goal is to move through this process in a spirit where we can support, bless and love each other. A tenet of our faith is that we embrace a Church built in loving relationships rather than uniformity in thought and action. As John Wesley is quoted “though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?”
Thank you for your faith in Jesus Christ and our connection as United Methodists.