Methodist
Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia was founded in the 1870s (Photo: MBUMC / Facebook)

United Methodist Church Seizes Assets of Conservative Georgia Megachurch

By Julie Roys

The United Methodist Church has seized the assets of a large congregation in Georgia whose pastor maintained a conservative stance on homosexuality and objected to being reassigned within the denomination.

Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church, in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, has about 8,000 members and is one of the largest congregations in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.

The conference said in a statement Monday that it was seizing Mt. Bethel’s assets “out of love for the church and its mission,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The Mt. Bethel church also has the Mt. Bethel Christian Academy. According to the statement from the conference, the title to the congregation’s real, personal, tangible and intangible property was immediately transferred to the conference’s Board of Trustees, “who may hold or dispose of such property in its sole discretion.”

The North Georgia Conference and the leadership at the conservative Mt. Bethel church have been in a dispute for months.

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In April, the Rev. Jody Ray, who has served as the congregation’s senior pastor for about five years, surrendered his credentials and announced that Mt. Bethel is taking steps to leave the denomination.

Rev. Jody Ray

At issue was the denomination’s planned reassignment of Ray to the conference staff related to racial reconciliation. Ray contends he was never consulted about the move.

Ray also said in a previous interview that he believes the congregation’s support of the Book of Discipline’s conservative stance on the issue of homosexuality may have led to the reassignment.

The United Methodist Church is sharply divided over LGBTQ issues and is set to vote next year on a proposal to split the denomination over LGBTQ inclusion. Currently, the denomination maintains that the “practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” At the same time, laypersons may become members and serve within their local church “without respect to sexual orientation or practice.”

Ray said he believes another factor in his reassignment may be that Mt. Bethel has not paying its full share to the annual conference for several years.

Shortly after Ray was reassigned, an anonymous grassroots group of North Georgia laity purchased a full-page advertisement in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, seeking answers from Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson. The ad included 18 pointed questions for Haupert-Johnson about Ray’s reassignment, LGBTQ inclusion, and the future of the church.

According to the recent conference statement, the employment, instruction, activities and worship at Mt. Bethel church and school will continue “but under the direction and control of the Conference Board of Trustees.”

On July 1, the Rev. Steven Usry began serving as “pastor-in-charge” at Mt. Bethel.

United Methodist Church Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson

Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson and the eight district superintendents “have unanimously determined that ‘exigent circumstances’ have threatened the continued vitality and mission of Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church,” according to the conference statement. “Given this determination, all assets of the local church have transferred immediately to the conference’s Board of Trustees of the North Georgia Conference.”

The conference said a decision could be made next summer about whether to close the local church.

In an April 26 pastoral letter, Haupert-Johnson wrote that the “reassignment of a pastor is not done out of spite. The placement of a pastor is not done as a form of punishment. The reassignment of a pastor is not designed to persecute.”

After the seizure of assets was announced, Mt. Bethel issued a statement saying Haupert-Johnson had failed to engage in the denomination’s consultative process.

“While she claims she is acting out of ‘love for the church and its mission,’ enlisting attorneys and the courts to seize assets is a strange way for a bishop to show her love for one of the healthiest churches in her conference,” according to the congregation statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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18 thoughts on “United Methodist Church Seizes Assets of Conservative Georgia Megachurch”

  1. Richard L Mortimer

    It’s all about the money and property. If this were a small church with little assets and average property, this would not be happening. The pastor has only been there 5 years? Nah, this move was not done for political purposes! C’mon, man…

    1. Reassigning pastors is part of the Methodists denomination’s guiding principals and historical distinctives. John Wesley believed that pastors should be itinerant rather than settled in one place.

      “We have found by long and consistent experience that a frequent exchange of preachers is best. This preacher has one talent, that another; no one whom I ever yet knew has all the talents which are needful for beginning, continuing, and perfecting the work of grace in a whole congregation.” John Wesley, 1756

      A reassignment after five years is pretty normal. The pastor knew this.

      1. Richard L Mortimer

        How long was Kirbyjon Caldwell at his Texas church? Are there exceptions to that principle based on size and/or location the church? Are the assignments always free of church politics? Just trying to understand…

  2. Beth Price-Almeida

    Dear “Christian” people, THIS would be another EXCELLENT reason why church attendance is dropping across the board, why people are not tithing to churches anymore, and definitely why there are so many complaints from “Gen Zers” & I will add I bet a ton of the Millennials as well who don’t attend church. Church is supposed to stand out, to be a beacon in a society with no moral compass to speak of. This is not the example that any church of late has shown. There’s more greed and in fighting and petty bickering in the church than outside it. You all should be absolutely ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES. The world may accept whatever half ended excuse the world accepts, but the Bible, GOD, is extremely clear on His commands for the church as a whole. When half of you are reading the Bible for guidance and the other is looking to what society says, you get this type of nastiness.

    1. Christopher Hanley

      Using quotation marks for sarcasm rarely works well. I advise avoiding all caps, underlines, red ink, and so-called as well. Have a good one.

    2. “why there are so many complaints from “Gen Zers” & I will add I bet a ton of the Millennials as well who don’t attend church”

      The PRIMARY reasons for that is due to why this congregation wants out of its denomination: “maintained a conservative stance on homosexuality” (itself rather a euphemism for “perpetrating active discrimination against its LGBTQ members and, one may assume, LGBTQ citizens via endorsing state discrimination”).

      Millennials and Gen Z *absolutely will not accept* this kind of bigotry. They know deep down that this bigotry is profoundly immoral, and no selective misquoting/misinterpreting of the Bible is going to convince them otherwise. Sadly, even churches which have come to LGBTQ-affirming doctrines/policies—I would assert, being guided by the Holy Spirit!—are nevertheless bearing the blowback from Millennial/GenZ rejection of church-endorsed homophobia. [Closely related to this, is Millennial/GenZ rejection of too many churches *anti-science* positions, on climate change, the teaching of evolution (and other evidence-based studies), and now, re COVID (and other medical subjects)]

      If Millennial/GenZ is ever going to become part of the Body of Christ, the Church—and it’s probably too late, at least in my late Boomer “Generation Jones” lifetime—is going to have to repudiate homophobia/transphobia (and all forms of bigotry—as well as embracing science), and it’s going to have to do so in such an active, passionate way, as to OVERWHELM those remnant forces hate (which, despite the “Christian” moniker, I believe to be essentially anti-Christ). The problem today, is that those affirming churches—as you may have guessed, I’m a member of one—are still too much “God’s Frozen Chosen.”

      Look at this bishop here, making all nicey-nicey: ““reassignment of a pastor is not done out of spite. The placement of a pastor is not done as a form of punishment. The reassignment of a pastor is not designed to persecute.”

      It bloody well SHOULD be spiteful! It SHOULD be to punish! Yes, it SHOULD be to persecute!

      This pastor (I want to use quotation marks here, but I guess some object to that) is doing nothing less than perpetrating hatred against the Imago Dei that *God created LGBTQ*. If the church doesn’t condemn, excoriate, anathematize, exorcize—heck, take out Jesus’s whip of cords and chase him out!—then the church should go out of business. Full-Stop. It’s lost the plot of the Gospel: GOOD NEWS to the oppressed (Comfort the Afflicted, and Afflict the Comfortable!)

      I was just re-watching (via YouTube, of course) “Alas for You” from “Godspell”: more like that! Start emulating Jesus as Prophet—as well as Jesus as Healer/Feeder. THAT is the Hope to bring recent/future cohorts to the Church. Because Jesus Never Fails—though Christians do, constantly…

      1. Maybe you’re right, and God’s totally ok with gay sex. If so, the bible does a terrible job of communicating that. If, on the other hand, it incurs His wrath, we aren’t really being loving to gays by telling them there’s no issue.

      2. Gordon Hackman

        Sorry, but this is the opposite of the truth. Homosexual desires and behavior are manifestations of human fallenness. Far from being a misreading of scripture, that is it’s consistent and clear message as well as the unified witness of the entire Christian church throughout it’s entire history until very recently. Churches that change their position to accommodate contemporary cultural mores cease to be Christian churches.

        I suggest reading the letters to the seven churches in Revelation to see what Jesus thinks about sexual sin and what he promises to those churches that accommodate it. It’s not success.

      3. The citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah would like to speak with you. After the fall (Adam & Eve), humans by default are fallen sinful beings, accepting Jesus Christ provides you a chance to escape from imminent damnation. If you can’t control your sexual impulses and have to involve yourself in nasty degeneracy such as sleeping w/ same genders, performing beastiality and or pedophilia then you’re basically telling God that you’re willing to listen more to your Flesh than the Holy Spirit to guide your actions.

  3. Unfortunately the congregation has little to no recourse, in a hierarchical denomination the hierarchy owns everything.

    The people can leave and start a new church but they will start with little or nothing.

    1. The pastor had been there five years. Do you really think he should have a right to take over the assets built up by decades of congregational and denominational contributions?

      1. That’s not what I said. I said if the congregation tried to fight it, they wouldn’t have a chance.

    2. Christopher Hanley

      God bless you but Christians often start with nothing and end with something. These likely will also. Their liberal replacements risk ending up like the giant downtown liberal Presbyterian church in Seattle with a handful of parishioners rattling around in it.

    3. Thankfully, Mark, the situation isn’t as bleak as you suggest. A denomination is deemed to hold the church property “in trust” for the benefit of the congregation. So if a dispute arises between the trustee and the beneficiary of the trust, the outcome is governed by trust law and court precedents in the state where the church is located. The 50 states are almost evenly divided on this. Trust law and court precedents in half the states favor the trustee and favor the beneficiary of the trust in the other half of the states. In those states where trust law favors the beneficiary, congregations have been awarded clear title to their property either in a full blown trial or by negotiation with the denomination which recognized that its claim to own the property would be thrown out in court.

  4. chuckie pasquale presto

    Thank you Ms. Roys for sending me a copy of ‘Day of the Wolf’ by Coleman Luck for my meager donation.

    It explains in simple but excellent detail what is happening in the United Methodist Church as well as many many others around this nation and the world all of which claim to be ‘christian’.

    2 Timothy 3:1-17 KJV
    This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

    After Coleman Luck teaches how to recognize ‘Wolfs’ in all areas of the ‘organizations’ as well as in rank and file membership he directs and reminds us of how God wants them handled. and by the way God is not really concerned with the ‘stuff’ that the world is concerned with.

    1. I, too, was blessed by the same book which was sent in response to a meager donation. Thanks to Ms. Roys and Coleman Luck. Always encouraging to read about congregations defending the truth at tremendous cost.

  5. I grew up Methodist, and as far back as I can remember–back into the 1980s–tension between the bishops and rural/small town/more conservative churches has been a defining feature of the denomination. More or less, about a century and a half ago, theological liberals started to take control of the seminaries, and hence the bishops tend to be theologically more liberal (also politically, but that’s a side note) than the average Methodist.

    End result is that local churches will tend to enforce “Methodist club rules” (determined by vote of church representatives and more conservative), and bishops will push back by implementing the club rules–and leaders–they want. I had a roommate whose wife wanted to be a pastor in the UMC, but knew that in her district, she (with strong evangelical leanings) had no chance for this reason.

    There is something interesting going on here with the pastor being assigned to the racial reconciliation committee. I don’t know what it means, but I have a hunch it might mean he’s being shipped off to the back 40.

  6. This outrage should be no surprise to anyone following the near collapse of the so-called mainline denominations the last 50 years. Unbeknownst to the people in the pews who naively assume that their congregation owns their property, these hierarchical denominations (Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist) are structured that the denomination owns the property not the congregation which built and paid for it. If a majority of the congregation no longer wants to remain part of the denomination for whatever reason, the denomination seizes the property, evicts the dissident majority and turns the property over to the remaining minority of denomination loyalists. Normally that much smaller congregation only survives with denomination subsidies and if that gives out the church folds. Then the property is sold to some other religious group, sometimes not even Christian, or is converted to a non-religious use. In some cases denominations have been so mean-spirited and un-Christlike as to refuse to sell the property at full market value to its former congregation. This is just one of many factors that has resulted in these once important denominations shrinking by 50-70% from their membership peaks in the 1960’s and it won’t be long now before they’re nothing more than a mere footnote in the religious history of the U.S. The long suffering Methodists at Mt. Bethel in Atlanta can be forgiven for exclaiming, “good riddance.”

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