It’s quite the brawl

Published 2:41 pm Saturday, July 8, 2023

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By R.A. Tea Mathews

The United Methodist Church (UMC) is in a brawl. And it’s going to get worse. But it’s in this fight that Christians find who they are.

In recent years, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) has been promoted in America from business buildings to government ones. But when the UMC allowed bishops and pastors to profess their homosexuality, congregations left in astounding numbers. 

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According to Christianity Today, 5,800 churches have left the UMC, taking their financial support. It’s alarming and UMC conferences are fighting back.

Even though a local congregation built and paid for its own buildings, these churches have been required to pay the UMC for their property in order to leave.

According to the Christian Post, in March, 38 Maryland churches sued their local UMC conference accusing the leadership of “holding their church and property hostage.”

And the matter is getting worse.

The publication also reported that in that same month 186 churches in North Georgia sued their conference for flatly prohibiting any more congregations from leaving.

What has been the court’s response?

According to the Christian Post, when 71 churches brought suit in Florida, a county judge said it did not have the authority to rule. The judge said, “a secular court must avoid entanglement in internal church matters or doctrinal matters by deferring to the highest ecclesiastical body…” But did the county judge miss the point that a more sophisticated judge would understand?

The doctrinal issue is not in dispute. For nearly 4,000 years, since the days of Moses and the Hebrews in the wilderness, the Judaeo-Christian church has stood against sexual relations between a man and a man and between a woman and a woman.

Both sides can stipulate that as a fact. Both sides can also stipulate that progressives in the UMC no longer accept Scripture’s position.

Once again, not in dispute. Nothing there for the court to decide.

What’s at stake is not doctrine, but property.

If two churches have a dispute over any other property matter, a secular court could easily step in, look at the contract, and decide. 

Bans and holding onto property are not the only strategies UMC conferences are taking. They’re also changing the rules.

Last Sunday, a UMC District Superintendent sent a letter to a local United Methodist church in Alabama. That congregation wanted to disaffiliate at the same time as a nearby church, and the latter church has already disaffiliated. But the first church was delayed due to the superintendent’s health issues.

On Sunday, that superintendent informed the church that they would have to follow new rules created in June. From mid July until October, the church must reflect.

That’s not a doctrinal matter either.

Essentially, the question is contractual: Can the UMC change the rules mid-stream, forcing the local church to follow new rules, when the UMC stopped them from moving forward under the old rules? It’s a simple matter for a federal district court judge to decide.

“It’s not that we want to leave,” a woman at that small Alabama church said. “We’re being forced to either accept a homosexual in the pulpit or go. You get the pastor you’re sent.”

The UMC conferences could stem that by allowing local churches the right to reject a pastor. 

I used to attend a United Methodist church that was wronged again and again by the UMC hierarchy. That church had been sent one minister, who had affairs, and another minister, who abruptly left the ministry. He had never been called by God.

But the homosexual schism within the UMC is bigger than what your pastor does. It presents an important church question: What is sin?

Listen carefully to me. Jesus began His ministry saying, “Repent.” So did John the Baptist. 

Jesus told His disciples to teach repentance. Peter’s first sermon in Acts was on repentance.

Reportedly, the district superintendent is coming to that small Alabama church to say that God  is love. He will make everything right for everyone.

Why then the cross? There was no other way or Jesus would have taken it.

Here is our faith: “…the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin … If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7,9).

God is love and He will forgive. But you have to repent. And you have to know what to repent. The duty of the church is to teach Scripture. Sexual relations between a man and a man and sexual relations between a woman and a woman are wrong according to Scripture. 

If you say God accepts everyone, no matter what they do, you mock the cross.

You also take a person’s salvation.

Know what your sins are, what you must lay at the foot of the cross, what the blood of Jesus must cover. And repent.

The Rev. Mathews, BA, MDiv, JD, is a newspaper faith columnist and the author of “Reaching to God.”

Contact her at to join her 1-Minute Bible Study.

Copyright © 2023 R.A. Mathews. All rights reserved.