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North Georgia Methodist Conference Sues to Seize Control of Prominent Church Seeking Disaffiliation

The North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church has sued Mt. Bethel Church in East Cobb and is seeking to seize control of the church’s assets after mediation attempts to keep the church within the oversight group failed. 

Mt. Bethel is the largest church in the North Georgia Conference with 10,000 members.

“While the Conference and its representatives have engaged in negotiations with local church officials and have made good faith efforts to resolve the issues without litigation, the current situation has not changed and it is untenable,” said a statement from the board. “The Conference Board of Trustees will continue to take all necessary and appropriate actions to ensure compliance with the tradition and the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.”

The Book of Discipline details the procedures and doctrine of the United Methodist Church.

Mt. Bethel has been seeking to disaffiliate from the Conference since Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson announced plans in April to reassign Mt. Bethel senior pastor Rev. Jody Ray to a Conference staff position related to racial reconciliation.

Ray refused the reassignment, saying the Conference did not follow the appropriate process in making it, and the church began exploring disaffiliation as a way to keep Ray as its leader. 

However, the Southeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and the Southeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops subsequently determined that Haupert-Johnson had followed the Book of Discipline when making the reassignment and Mt. Bethel did not have a legitimate argument, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The suit also seeks a permanent injunction to prevent Mt. Bethel from retaining control over its assets.

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Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.