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Beyond these FAQs, below are actual court documents to support these findings as well as more information you must know.

Why did First Church take the Oklahoma Annual Conference to court?

Going to court was our last option, not our first. Our members acted in good faith and exhausted every conceivable avenue to disaffiliate from the UMC as permitted by paragraph 2553 of the Discipline. The members of First Church had a rapidly-closing window of opportunity with no indication the Conference would allow them to exercise their right to disaffiliate.
First Church members have made efforts to reconcile with the Conference both before and after filing the lawsuit, including after the judge’s ruling — all to no avail.
How was First Church harmed?

The discernment/disaffiliation process is a long and stressful event for any congregation. Our members devoted much time and prayer to seek God’s discernment on this matter. However, when it came time for us to vote, the Conference denied us the opportunity to do so.

This is an issue of fairness. Fact is, the Conference wants ownership of our valuable downtown property, which our members paid for through decades of personal generosity. The Judge in this case wisely ruled that the Conference is singling us out and that the people of First Church deserve a fair and just vote.

What did the Judge say regarding the Court’s ability to rule on a church-related issue?  Is the Court’s involvement in this matter a violation of the Free Exercise Clause?

Judge Timmons cited “Neutral Principles of Law'' which gives civil courts the authority to rule in church property disputes. The court is not involved in, nor will it rule on, ecclesiastical issues.
Ironically, the Conference admitted that it has used civil courts to adjudicate property issues in the past and would continue to do so in the future.  

The only reason paragraph 2553 was enacted is to provide a process for local churches to be able to disaffiliate and take their property. If courts have no power to provide a remedy when a local church cannot avail itself of a process intended to release the church from the trust clause, the UMC cannot use the civil court system to enforce the trust clause.  The Conference cannot have it both ways.

If the Conference and its leaders violated the Discipline in order to deprive First Church of its right to be released of the trust clause, who else but the courts could address this breach of contract issue and provide a remedy for the harm caused by the violation?  

Judge Timmons ruled that the members of First Church have been treated unfairly, the Conference is breaking its own rules, and we deserve a legitimate vote.

Paragraph 2553 exists to provide local churches a process to gracefully disaffiliate and retain their property. We are only asking to leave the UMC with our property so we can continue serving our community in peace.

Couldn’t this issue have been resolved internally?

Our members never wanted to take this to court but, despite our sincerest efforts to work this out, the Conference left us no choice. We have followed the procedures clearly spelled out in Paragraph 2553 and the rest of the Discipline. In fact, we have gone above and beyond, often accommodating requests from the Conference that were violative of paragraph 2553 (as affirmed by the Court).
After months of communication attempts, and with no response and no new dates provided by Conference leadership, we felt we had no other recourse than to seek relief through the courts.
Please reference linked Court Exhibit documents to read the correspondence between First Church and the Conference leaders.  Additionally, a Timeline of key events can be found in this document.[Time Line-.docx]   Please note, the Conference did not respond to several of our emails and letters.

Did First Church refuse to adhere to the same process required by other disaffiliated churches?

No. First Church was singled out when the Conference demanded that we participate in an unauthorized “viability study.” Not one of the other 84 disaffiliating churches in Oklahoma was subject to this stipulation. We are not asking for special treatment. We are asking for equal treatment.

Judge Timmons recognized this fact and wisely ruled that the Conference is singling us out and that the people of First Church deserve a fair and just vote. To date, the Conference still has not given a legitimate explanation why our members were singled out. In addition, Conference representatives admitted they did not “dot their I’s and cross their T’s” when dealing with our congregation.

Does a local UM church have a “right” to disaffiliate under paragraph 2553?

Yes.  Paragraph 2553 specifically gives churches a “right” to vote on disaffiliation. Paragraph 2553 does not grant a District Superintendent or a Bishop the right to deprive a church of participating in the disaffiliation process, as affirmed by Judge Timmons.

Whether a church has the right to disaffiliate is not in dispute. The question before the Court is whether the Conference is acting in accordance with its own rules.

The purpose of paragraph 2553 is to give congregations a path to disaffiliate graciously with their property. The Conference has denied the people of First Church access to that path.

Does paragraph 2553 require that a local church be deemed “viable” in order to participate in the disaffiliation process?

No. There is no provision of paragraph 2553 that requires a church be deemed “viable” to disaffiliate. In fact, that requirement was specifically excluded by the General Conference. It was wrong for the Conference Board of Trustees to add a requirement that was specifically excluded by General Conference.

No other disaffiliating church in Oklahoma was required to perform a viability study. When we were asked to conduct a study, the Conference had not even defined what the “viability study” would entail, the Conference struggled to find someone to perform the study as several pastors refused to participate, and the Conference stalled the process for months. Notwithstanding the fact the viability study was improper, First Church has proven that it is indeed viable.

The Conference’s “viability study” is a five-step process. At the time we filed the lawsuit on June 1, 2023, the Conference had held only one meeting and had refused to set a date for a second meeting -- despite multiple requests from the people of First Church.  

Please reference linked Court Exhibit documents to read the correspondence between the parties.
Why did the Court require a separate special Annual Conference for First Church?   Why not just let First Church be considered at the October 14, 2023 special Annual Conference?

The Court determined that the Conference had wrongfully prevented First Church from being included in the April 22nd Annual Conference. According to Judge Timmons, their actions included multiple breaches of the Discipline and the Conference’s own disaffiliation agreement. Subsequently, Judge Timmons sought to place First Church in as close a position as it would have been but for the Conference’s actions.

First Church had requested the Court simply deem First Church as disaffiliated. However, the Judge sought to create a remedy that would allow First Church to be ratified by the delegates to the Annual Conference as if they had been included with the other 55 churches whose disaffiliations were ratified in April.  

The Court made a very important ruling regarding who is qualified to vote at our disaffiliation meeting on August 5th. In the spirit of fairness, Judge Timmons mandated that all delegates from the April conference must be granted a vote. Whether someone belongs to a disaffiliated church, or left the UMC for other reasons, everyone who could vote in April will get to vote on August 5th.

The Conference raised an objection to holding a special Annual Conference to vote on First Church’s disaffiliation. The Conference argued that to do so would result in breaches of the Discipline.  

Judge Timmons declared their objection to be disingenuous since  Timmons had already ruled that the Conference (and other defendants) had committed numerous breaches of the Discipline and it was their breaches that caused the need for a remedy to address the harm to First Church.  

Why was it necessary for First Church to seek a temporary restraining order to keep the Conference from closing its doors and taking its property?

Our members had many reasons to be concerned that the Conference might utilize paragraph 2549 to declare “exigent circumstances.” If the Conference had done so, it could warrant seizing First Church’s property in order for the Conference to “maintain a United Methodist presence in downtown OKC.”  

At a congregational meeting held by Bishop Nunn to address our congregation’s concerns about delays in the disaffiliation process, he was asked whether his office or the trustees might “vote no on [First Church’s] disaffiliation and take [its] building to keep a presence downtown?”

Bishop Nunn responded, “I don’t know the answer to that. It’s possible.”

As of June 1, 2023, the day our lawsuit was filed, Bishop Nunn had failed to assure our members that he would not seize our property.

Our request for a TRO was a defensive measure to ensure fair play on both sides. The members of First Church have acted in good faith through every phase of this process. The Judge agreed and definitively concluded that the Conference had been disingenuous and could not be trusted to act in good faith.

Did First Church vote on disaffiliation properly?

Yes. Members of First Church complied with the process for holding a Church Conference to vote on disaffiliation except for the requirement that a District Superintendent must oversee the process. We did this because the District Superintendent refused to participate.  

First Church gave notice to its members in accordance with paragraph 246.8 of the Discipline and held a vote on February 5, 2023. The Court ruled that the District Superintendent breached the Discipline by refusing to conduct a Church Conference upon request by First Church’s Church Council, pursuant to paragraph 248 of the Discipline.

We have done everything right -- following the Discipline since day one. The Conference has not been playing by the rules, as the Judge rightly concluded.  

If First Church is approved to disaffiliate, will United Methodist have a presence in downtown Oklahoma City?

Yes. As the testimony showed in court, a United Methodist congregation called “The Christ Experience” meets in First Church’s building. The Christ Experience does not intend to disaffiliate.

First Church has assured The Christ Experience it can continue to worship in First Church’s building in downtown Oklahoma City.  

It is an insult to the devoted members of The Christ Experience to say they do not represent a UMC presence downtown. The only distinction between our congregations is who owns the property. The Conference should not consider the financial assets of the congregation when determining who represents a “presence” downtown and who does not.

Does First Church have concerns about the integrity of the process for voting at the special Annual Conference scheduled on August 5th?

Yes. Sadly, this lawsuit has shed light on issues within the Conference that should concern everyone.

The Court directed Bishop Nunn to call a special Annual Conference no later than August 6th to give First Church a fair opportunity to disaffiliate. Judge Timmons also ruled that all delegates from the April 22, 2023 Annual Conference are eligible to vote. That meeting is now scheduled for August 5th.

Knowing delegates would need to make plans to attend the meeting on short notice, the Conference leaders sent notice on July 21, 2023 to current members of the Oklahoma Annual Conference. However, the Conference did not notify disaffiliated members even though they have a right to vote. Simply put, the Conference did not give equal notice to all delegates.

Compounding our concern is the fact that the Conference suggested, in its official notice to delegates of the August 5th meeting, that the Conference is the one who suffered harm in this case. That is in direct contrast with the Judge’s ruling which clearly states that the members of First Church were harmed by the Conference.  See Court’s Order here [2023-07-17 Transcript of Ruling P's Motion for TRO-.pdf]   See also, a Summary of the Court Order here [Summary of Court Order-.docx].

Does First Church have a response to the FAQs released by the Conference?

As long-time and faithful United Methodists, we have been shocked and saddened by the lack of integrity demonstrated by Conference leadership. They have been consistently disingenuous both during the disaffiliation process and during the three-day trial before the Court. Now they are peddling blatantly false statements to their own members.

We encourage everyone to read and review our Myth vs Fact report which breaks down each lie contained in the Conference’s FAQ’s. You can access the report here [Myth vs Fact-.docx].  We also have more detailed responses to the Conference’s FAQs’ specific Q&As.  [FC's Responses to Conference FAQs-.docx]

I still have questions. What do I do?

If you really want to know the truth and what truly occurred throughout this process, feel free to contact First Church OKC at community@firstchurchokc.com.  Leaders in the church that have been in the trenches will give you the truth.  Don’t believe rumor and innuendo from folks who were not in the room.

Additional Information

Court Documents and Transcript