"First United Methodist Church Indianola, Iowa" by Paul R. Burley / CC BY-SA 4.0

One goal of Methodists’ plan to split the church over same-sex marriage and clergy: Avoid lawsuits

Jan 10, 2020

By Julie Zauzmer

Leaders of the United Methodist Church took notice when other Protestant denominations began allowing same-sex marriage — and in some cases were hit with a wave of lawsuits.

Conservative Episcopalians and Presbyterians, opposed to any new stance on homosexuality, wanted to break away from their denominations. And they wanted to take their church buildings and church bank accounts with them. The denominations claimed to be the true owners of the breakaway churches’ assets, and bitter legal fights sometimes ensued.

The United Methodist Church leaders who announced a historic agreement last week — splitting the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination along the divide of beliefs on sexuality — hope to avoid that fate.

“In any mediation, you always ask the mediation participants: ‘What is the alternative? Do you want scores of lawsuits?’ ” said Kenneth Feinberg, the prominent negotiator who brokered the separation agreement. “Hiring and retaining and paying lawyers and becoming involved in years of litigation? That alternative was so uninviting that it provided leverage for successful mediation.”

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