The United Methodist Church, via a regional conference, has sued (November 15, 2019 filing with exhibits) for declaratory relief, alleging that Southern Methodist University (SMU) “covertly” modified its bylaws to eliminate church control over the 12,000-student Texas institution.
In its pleading, the Church alleges that “the Trustees of SMU recently passed resolution empowering SMU’s President to take all steps necessary to sever SMU’s relationship with The United Methodist Church and SCJC.” This resolution was then “covertly,” without the approval of SCJC, filed with state of Texas, thus formalizing the change in bylaws without consent.
SMU has responded that they intend to maintain a relationship with the church and that changes to the bylaws were “in response to the debate regarding the future organizational structure of the Church” and that “the Church will continue to have an important influence in the governance of SMU.”
According to Religion News Service, SMU’s decision is “part of the latest fallout over the global denomination’s decision earlier this year to strengthen language in its rulebook barring LGBTQ members from marriage and ordination.”
This is the latest in a series of situations in which academic organizations have attempted to sever administrative ties with their affiliated religious denominations over differences in religious belief and practice. We will be watching this case closely.