MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Harvest Church's lawsuit against the United Methodist Church (UMC) on Wednesday.
Harvest Church in Dothan is suing the UMC over a property dispute after the church announced its disaffiliation from the denomination months ago.
The lawsuit by Harvest Church against the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, Inc. and the General Council on Finance and Administration of the United Methodist Church was delayed in Houston County Circuit Court in May pending a review by the Alabama Supreme Court.
Harvest Church has approximately 3,000 congregants, according to its lawsuit filed in November 2022.
Arguments in the case center around whether Harvest Church alone or the UMC owns its church property.
Robert Northcutt, an attorney for the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, said on Wednesday in court the Harvest Church was attempting to “unilaterally sever” its relationship with the UMC.
“We do not believe that it would be appropriate for a church to be allowed to ignore what it agreed to when it joined the denomination and just run to the Circuit Court and say, ‘Well, I don’t want to follow the church law regardless of what’s in the deed, regardless of what’s in the articles of incorporation, regardless of the fact that we applied for a grant (and) received money for start up costs from the denomination…we don’t want to pay any attention to that. We’ll just let a court say we don’t have to follow ecclesiastical law,’” Northcutt said.
Ryan French, an attorney representing Harvest Church, said during oral arguments ownership documents show that Harvest Church isn’t subject to any oversight by outside entities such as UMC.
“The affidavits that were originally filed in our complaint show this was very specifically not intended to create a trust. It was just to show we were connected to the United Methodist Church for a time. This was not intended to create any property rights. We specifically told the United Methodist Church on numerous occasions from 2005 to the present that our deeds do not have a trust clause and are not subject to your trust,” French said.
Harvest Church lead pastor Ralph Sigler said in a video in April about why Harvest had left the UMC that the denomination was moving in a direction against the Bible, it was breaking its own bylaws, and "it's doing really irreparable damage to the people Jesus died for, people who are caught in sin which all of us were, specifically people who are involved in practicing homosexuality."
Hundreds of churches in Alabama have disaffiliated from the UMC in recent months, mainly over theological disagreements.
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