About 38 Maryland and West Virginia churches have sued the Baltimore-Washington Conference UMC over departure fees.
Recently, several congregations cut their ties with the denomination due to the policies they believe are unfair.
UMC Allegedly Demands 'Financial Ransom' from Leaving Congregations
The local congregations sued the conference and its leader, Bp. LaTrelle Easterling, as they revealed that the denomination seeks "financial ransom" for those who will leave.
According to The Washington Times, the lawsuit focuses on the conference's insistence that the churches pay "unfunded pension liabilities" on top of the property-value payment.
It also reported that a provision simplifying separations would expire this year. The demands come as Methodist churches seek to leave under the provision.
Conference trustees claimed the 50% payment was fair, but the churches argued that they offered no explanation. The churches also explained that the conference declined to provide any justification beyond their assertion of graciousness in the court filing.
Allowing Congregations to Disaffiliate
The complainants revealed that the UMC's "The Book of Discipline" states that any congregation can leave without penalties and keep their properties. With that, they believe the denomination violated its law as they seek financial ransoms from the congregations.
A longtime methodist and president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Mark D. Tooley, said that the policies would kill the denomination, keeping properties from the churches while losing its people.
Thousands of churches have split from UMC over installing women and other genders as pastors.
In light of the anticipated disconnection of congregations, spokesperson Melissa Lauber declared on March 1 that they would not replace the Rev. Gerry Green, who oversees 65 congregations in the group's Greater Washington District. Instead, the neighboring districts' superintendents will take up the congregations' leadership.
About Baltimore-Washington Conference UMC
The United Methodist Church's Baltimore-Washington Conference links 603 congregations across Maryland, Chesapeake Bay, DC, Baltimore, Western Maryland, and West Virginia.
According to the website, there are over 39,694 United Methodists who worship together in the area every Sunday.
Throughout the week, these individuals are involved in various ministries catering to different demographics and interests, including those centered on youth, advocacy and action, and wellness and missions, among others.
The Baltimore-Washington Conference is a connectional church that collaborates with the 12 million United Methodists in local churches worldwide.
The United Methodist Church was established in Baltimore. In 1784, 60 pastors led by bishops Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke gathered at Baltimore's Lovely Lane Meeting House to form the first recognized American branch of Methodism.
According to its website, for more "transformed lives to transform lives," the Baltimore-Washington Conference seeks to encourage and equip local faith communities to produce disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
BWC offers various ministries, including advocacy and action and multicultural ministry.
They have Bp. LaTrelle Easterling and Lay Leader Delores Martin guiding the BWC. Also, more than 50 employees comprise the conference staff at the BWC's Mission Center in Fulton, Maryland.