When Vaughn Tuttle and 70 other members of Gove United Methodist Church voted to leave the denomination in May 2003, they did not anticipate the fallout, especially when it came to church property.
Tuttle, 47, a father of three in the tiny northwest Kansas town, had been a lifelong Methodist. In recent years, he and other members at Gove UMC (one of just two churches in the 100-person town) had grown angry with the direction of United Methodist Church leadership.
"The church as a whole has just gotten liberal on a lot of conservative issues," Tuttle says, "like homosexuals in the pulpit." But homosexuality wasn't the primary concern. He was alarmed when Tibetan chants and Baha'i prayer bells were used in worship. "Sometimes you gotta just set your foot down and say, 'This isn't right.' "
Among conservative Episcopalians, the consecration of openly homosexual bishop Gene Robinson last November went beyond the pale. Many are waiting for the findings of the Eames Commission, expected in October, to decide whether to quit the national church. The commission will assess the implications of the consecration.
Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), which advocates for conservative renewal, says, "We are probably going to see a spate of property disputes. It is just unavoidable."
In recent months, conservatives in mainline congregations across the United States have voiced similar frustration. Christianity Today spoke in depth with leaders in two divided mainline congregations, Gove UMC and All Saints Episcopal Church in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, to gain insight into the property issues that arise when local congregations split.
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In the UMC, some evangelical leaders have said it ...1