Conflicts over pastoral appointments have led other conservative congregations to leave the UMC, which is waiting on a delayed vote to split the denomination over LGBT issues. Though the UMC officially does not permit same-sex marriages or clergy in same-sex relationships, the position has not been enforced in its regional conferences, and conservative churches are frustrated when incoming leaders do not share their stance.
Regional leaders of the United Methodist Church (UMC) took control of an 8,000-member congregation in suburban Atlanta earlier this month after a lengthy conflict over who should pastor the church.
The North Georgia Conference seized assets of Mount Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta on July 12, a move that has sparked tensions already roiling over the denomination’s ongoing conflict around same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination.
Back in April, North Georgia Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson reassigned Mount Bethel’s conservative pastor, Jody Ray, to a role in the regional office involving racial reconciliation and said a new pastor would be sent to the church.
Ray turned down that assignment and left the denomination. In a sermon announcing his departure, he said to his children, “Your daddy did not bow the knee or kiss the ring of progressive theology.”
Such a move by a regional conference “has never happened with a church of anywhere near this size or for this reason,” said Rob Renfroe, a UMC pastor in Texas and president of the Methodist publication Good News Magazine.
Over the past year, Renfroe said, “at least four other senior pastors … were told that they were being moved without the pastor or the churches being consulted,” but those situations were resolved without a takeover by the regional governing body.
All assets of a United Methodist church are held in trust for the denomination, meaning that though a local church technically owns its assets, they are able to be used only for the work of the UMC. When there is a conflict between the church and denominational leaders, the assets can be transferred back to the regional body and administered by them.