ALCOA, Tenn. -- Holston Conference has released a statement clarifying itself as a separate institution from an adoption agency supported by many Holston churches, while a local United Methodist group is communicating disapproval of actions brought to light by court cases involving the agency.
On Jan. 28, First United Methodist Church of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, released a resolution denouncing recent actions of Holston United Methodist Home for Children and called on the organization to “end discriminatory practices.”
Based in Greeneville, Tennessee, Holston United Methodist Home for Children shares a name and historic connection with Holston Conference, which includes 850 congregations and has a main office in Alcoa, Tennessee.
However, since 2002, the two organizations have agreed to not “accept any legal or financial responsibility for the other,” under a covenant affirmed by the Holston Annual Conference and published in the Journal.
The relationship between Holston Home and Holston Conference has been under question by many since December 2021, when the adoption agency sued the Biden administration for reversing religious-freedom exemptions granted during the Trump administration.
Last month, a Jewish couple sued the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, claiming Holston Home, which receives taxpayer funding, violated the couple’s right to religious freedom.
On Jan. 26, the Rev. Tim Jones, Holston Conference communications director, emailed the following statement to clergy and lay leaders:
“As a separate institution, Holston Home has a board of trustees that guides their decision-making process. All inquiries concerning their leadership and decisions should be directed to the Holston Home for Children.”
In his email, Jones also said Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett and her Extended Cabinet are “examining our relationships with all our ministry connections” as part of an overall evaluation and reshaping of Holston Conference’s mission and vision.
The resolution from First United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge denounces legal actions of Holston Home “against federal regulations to prohibit discrimination in programs funded by Department of Health and Human Services grants.” The resolution also calls on state and federal legislatures to pass legislation protecting “all persons from discrimination based on their religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or same-sex marriage status.”
The Oak Ridge resolution was affirmed by leaders of the church council, according to a press release accompanying the resolution.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.