Small church, big message

Published 10:10 am Thursday, May 20, 2010

Something just seems fundamentally wrong when a church organization resorts to suing its member congregations.

That is exactly what happened when the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church decided to pursue litigation against Windsor United Methodist Church after the local congregation opted to part ways with the denomination.

For a small rural church, this was a big blow with the conference seeking compensatory damages in excess of $25,000 and punitive damages of more than $100,000.

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What was this over? Not likely what the powers that be are telling the public that’s for sure.

Although it is difficult to say for sure since attorneys for the West Ohio United Methodist Conference aren’t talking, it appears to be classic case of David vs. Goliath.

And just like the original story in the Bible, the underdog came out victorious because of conviction and faith.

The conference contended it actually owned the building that Windsor meets in. The church disputed that notion and offered up the deed to prove it.

Who was right? It appears that Windsor had a stronger argument after an agreement was reached that cost the congregation only $100 and a break from the Methodist congregation. That is a far cry from what was originally sought.

So the question remains: What was the real motive? It is hard to believe that an organization of this size would act on such shoddy legal advice or would give in if it truly had the moral high ground.

Logic says this was retaliation, pure and simple.

Maybe West Ohio UMC didn’t like it that Windsor decided to leave because of philosophical differences over the church doctrine and wanted to send a message to other churches thinking of doing the same thing. Or maybe the conference simply thought it could end up with some financial gain.

These results send another clear message to all national or regional religious organizations of any faith: Understand your members and don’t be surprised if they react strongly when decisions are made that may attempt to change core beliefs.