Detroit, MI—January 6, 2020–Daniel P. Dalton, a religious property attorney, speaker, legal writer and author of Litigating Religious Land Use Cases, has represented hundreds of local churches in property disputes within the Methodist, Episcopal and the Presbyterian USA denominations. He says the January 3, 2020 announcement by the Methodist Church that it has laid the groundwork for anticipated splits within the denomination for discussion and voting at the May 2020 United Methodist Church General Conference should spur all local Methodist churches to take action now.
“Every Methodist church in the U.S. needs to view this announcement as an immediate call to action,” Dalton said. “Any local church that does not have a conversation with its leadership and congregation now about where it wants to be in the long-run, will likely flounder and lose its members and property. Whether they are inclined to leave or stay, churches need to begin a thorough, evaluative process that helps guide their ultimate decision.”
Dalton, a founder of Detroit based Dalton + Tomich, PLC who represents religious institutions throughout the country in cases related to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), as well as local churches seeking to separate from their mainline denominations while retaining their property using denominational trust clauses, says his firm is often brought in as an impartial third party on denominal separations.
“Decisions about what pastors and congregants want to do to save the life of their church have both emotional and legal ramifications,” Dalton said. “That’s why churches often turn to professionals familiar with the issues of denominational separations who know the intricacies of religious law but do not have a personal stake in the local church.”
Dalton outlined the major changes in the January 3 United Methodist Church announcement as follows:
a. If the local church is a progressive or affirming church in a progressive conference and wishes to remain progressive or affirming, they do not need to do anything. While they may wish to review their governing documents and title work to make sure it is compliant with the Methodist Book of Discipline, not much more work is needed.
b. If the local church is a progressive or affirming local church in a traditional conference and wishes to remain progressive or affirming, it will need to affiliate with a progressive conference to remain within the United Methodist Church. They will need to consult with professionals with respect to purchase insurances and work with legal counsel to update governing documents and title work.
c. If the local church is progressive or affirming in a progressive or traditional conference and wishes to remain progressive or affirming yet independent of a denomination, it will need to seek legal counsel for guidance through the departure process.
2. Traditional Churches.
a. If the local church is a traditional local church in a traditional conference and wishes to remain traditional, it can join the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). However, it will need legal counsel to update its governing documents and change its title work in order to erase any potential claims of title asserted by the United Methodist Church in the future.
b. If the local church is a traditional church in a progressive conference and wishes to remain traditional, it can join the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). Again, in order to make sure that title remains in the name of the local church, it will need legal counsel to exit the conference, set up a new structure, and secure title.
c. If the local church is a traditional church in either a traditional or progressive conference and wishes to remain traditional but does not want to affiliate with any denomination, it will need legal counsel to guide it through the departure process. The proposed plan of separation references the Taylor disaffiliation plan as a mechanism to leave the denomination, but in practice, very few conferences and Bishops follow the plan.
3. If the local congregation is split between progressive and traditional members, it needs to examine its articles, bylaws and the Non-Profit Corporation Act of the State. In this way, when there is a vote to stay in the denomination or leave, there is a clear understanding of who qualifies as a member how a quorum is defined.
In his experience, Dalton says pursuing a denominational split in any denomination can be as much of a business process as a religious one.
“The journey toward a denominational separation can take up to two years, and it’s an eye opener for many churches from a business perspective,” Dalton said. “Some have discovered they were never incorporated, while others learn about how their church bank accounts are handled, or who has title to church property. The surprises along the way often lead to important discussions and decisions that are actually separate from the faith mission of the church.”
About Dalton + Tomich
Detroit-based Dalton + Tomich PLC is comprised of land use, denominational trust law, and business law attorneys. Serving as a partner to religious organizations, Dalton + Tomich is a national leader in religious property law land use, notably with cases related to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and denominational splits. Learn more about our services for businesses and religious organizations on our website.