FaithfulUMC.com – Holding the Church Ransom?

Critiquing the Tactic of Withholding Money

screenshot_faithfulfumcOne of the bumper sticker arguments against war and the death penalty is “why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?” In other words, how do two wrongs make a right?

Reading the Methodist news the past few weeks, another form of that argument comes to mind: “Why do we violate the covenant to show that violating the covenant is wrong?

The Covenant and the Money

In response to over 1,000 United Methodist ministers pledging that they would offer same-sex marriages or holy unions to all people, which is in defiance of church law, those who oppose this action have started the website FaithfulUMC.com. The website collects signatories to a letter to the bishops asking them to speak clearly on the repercussions for the clergy who have signed this pledge. There’s a clergy letter and a laity letter to sign.

While that’s an appropriate expression of their opinion, the clergy letter includes a troubling section regarding apportionments (church tithes to the meta-church agencies, structure, and missions). It states:

“Many of us struggle every year to defend to our members why we should pay apportionments that support boards such as the General Board of Church and Society that regularly lobbies and writes legislation to change the church’s position regarding the practice of homosexuality. If we ever come to the point that we are having to explain why the church is not holding those who break the Discipline accountable in a real way, we may no longer be able to convince our members of the wisdom of contributing to the general ministries of a church that seems bent on its own destruction.”

Why is this significant? Apportionments are part of the covenant of the local church to the greater church.

Payment in full of these apportionments by local churches is the first benevolent responsibility of the church ¶247.14, ¶812

The apportionments for all apportioned general Church funds, as approved by the General Conference, shall not be subject to reduction either by the annual conference or by the charge or local church ¶811.4

In other words, if the clergy covenant is seen as breakable, then by the transactive law of mathematics, the church covenant to give connectional dollars must be breakable too.

History: This is not a new idea

It is important to note that this is not a new thing. It is a regular tactic of those opposed to sexuality initiatives in the UMC to withhold or threaten to withhold Apportionments. T.L. Steinwert (citation: TLS) includes some of the following historical events in her 2009 dissertation on the history of the LGBT debate in the United Methodist Church (available at BU Digital Commons):

  • In 1969, the United Methodist student magazine motive published an article on LGBT issues. Local churches withheld their apportionments in protest (or threatened to withhold) and eventually motive magazine was removed from the GBHEM and made into an independent entity. It lasted two more issues and then folded (TLS)
  • In 1979, five Nashville-area churches withheld their apportionments in protest of the GBOD’s “Sexuality Forums” which included videos on LGBT issues. The forums were then dissolved at the 1980 General Conference. The protesting churches’ statement included the quote (TLS):

We feel we can no longer stand by in the name of Christian stewardship and support these agencies now lobbying against basic Christian morality.

  • In 1990, Bethany UMC in Eastern PA conference withheld its apportionments in protest of a abortion-related issue, donating that money instead to a pregnancy crisis center for one or two years.
  • In 1998, First UMC in Marietta, Georgia, withheld its apportionments to the general church agencies (ie. General Administration, World Service Fund, MEF, etc) in response to the Jimmy Creech trial and its own “special task force” in its church that researched and cataloged all the doctrinal breaches of the meta-church leadership (I would LOVE to get ahold of that “75 page document”) (TLS).
    • They resumed their apportionments that same year after further review of the finances of the General Agencies and the news report includes a comment that “UMAction had their facts incorrect.” Now THAT’s a news flash! Ha!
  • In 2004, St. Peters UMC in the North Carolina conference sent a letter to their new bishop threatening to withhold apportionments due to sexuality disagreements. In this blogger’s opinion, this is the most theological and well thought-out of the statements (see appendix 1). They included the following rationale:

Is it possible that obedience to the baptismal covenant might, in a particular case, conflict with the congregation being subject to the Discipline? For example, might United Methodist leaders and/or general boards engage in activities blatantly opposed to the denomination’s Discipline? Under such circumstances, are not United Methodists, out of obedience to the baptismal covenant, required to resist such activities? And as a last resort, after all other possible responses have been attempted to no avail, might a congregation, motivated by covenantal obedience, refuse to pay apportioned monies that would support continuing, undisciplined activities by denominational boards?

Historically, in response to sexuality initiatives in the UMC, particular churches or groups of churches withhold or threaten to withhold apportionments based on their outrage at what their moneys seem to support.

How is FaithfulUMC Different?

By talking about withholding apportionments, FaithfulUMC fits in with the tradition above of the churches who protest a particular development in sexuality initiatives by withholding funds. However, by its form, it is more aligned with the mass-protest movements who would pen a letter and have thousands of signatories to it. For example, in 1987 the Houston Declaration was penned in response to LGBT ordination concerns (TLS). It was initiated by 40ish pastors and eventually got over 60,000 signatories. There are a few other letters like this…but here’s the key…none of them talk about withholding apportionments.

In short, it’s a hybrid of the two movements: it’s a letter seeking signatories but it’s also talking about withholding apportionments. Each person that signs it affirms that paying apportionments becomes less likely if the Bishops do not act. It’s this point that brings me to my current problems with the FaithfulUMC website and each section below includes questions for signers of the website’s petition.

Problem #1 – This is Not Divestment

In a conversation with a clergy colleague about this website, it was compared with the tactic of divestment, or the withdrawing of money from businesses or funds whose actions you disagree with. For example, in 2005 New England Annual Conference called for divestment from particular companies who were profiting from the Israel/Palestine conflict (it didn’t pass at 2008 GC). They included the following rationale:

WHEREAS the United Methodist Church should not profit from the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land or the destruction of Palestinian homes, orchards, and lives, and WHEREAS we are committed to ensuring that our denomination’s money is used in a manner consistent with our beliefs, with international law, and with Christ’s teaching

The language sounds the same as the FaithfulUMC rationale above: removing money from a group that doesn’t match with your beliefs. But the difficulty with comparing divestment strategies with FaithfulUMC’s call is precisely onefold:

  1. Divestment is voluntary, apportionments are not.

We are obligated by the Discipline to support the work of the meta-church structures whether or not we agree with them. It’s the same as a church tithe: you give to the church a regular amount trusting they will use it to God’s glory. Otherwise, it becomes an Offering.

There’s a ton of Methodist ways to express disapproval with other Methodists. We can express our disagreement through direct conversations, speaking out against their actions, electing people to positions of power to influence their policy, writing petitions to General Conference, and being elected to serve those meta-church agencies. But withholding of apportionments is not one of them.

So if you signed the document rationalizing “hey this is like divestment,” think again and consider what better Methodist avenues of change one might pursue.

Problem #2 – Which Civil Disobedience is Okay?

I must point out a fascinating correlation in this FaithfulUMC’s signatories.

FaithfulUMC, at its root, calls for punishment for those who are practicing civil disobedience in the church. However, there is a good number of signatories who also signed the Manhattan Declaration, which…wait for it…calls for civil disobedience to secular laws that restrict religious liberty. I’m serious! Here’s a quote from the Manhattan Declaration document:

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.

Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required. There is no more eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience than the one offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Writing from an explicitly Christian perspective, and citing Christian writers such as Augustine and Aquinas, King taught that just laws elevate and ennoble human beings because they are rooted in the moral law whose ultimate source is God Himself.

Most of the Board Members of the Confessing Movement, which supported the Manhattan Declaration in their April/June 2011 issue, signed both documents. Individual clergy like Rev. Paul Stallsworth of LifeWatch signed both documents. I’m certain there are many more that have signed both so don’t think I’m singling them out. The problem is that the Manhattan Declaration purports 490,000 signers but only 1% of them are available online so it’s hard to find more parallels.

Why is that fascinating? FaithfulUMC is written in protest of those who practice a form of civil disobedience, namely ecclesial disobedience. One of the drafters of the Manhattan Declaration, Princeton Law professor Robert George, stated “When the limits of conscience are reached and you cannot comply, it’s better to suffer a wrong than to do it.”

So with this information, I wonder why some of the signatories of the FaithfulUMC.com website support civil disobedience to the covenant of law but not ecclesial disobedience to the clergy covenant.

So if you signed both the FaithfulUMC and the Manhattan Declaration, exactly what role does civil disobedience play for you? How are the understandings of civil disobedience different in the two statements?

Problem #3 – The Temptation of ‘Buyout Power’?

Dr. Tom Oden (one of the intellecutal forces behind the Confessing Movement) signed the document (#1328). I’m honestly surprised. For example, Dr. Oden signed the Manhattan Declaration, as we discussed above. Interesting. But also in Oden’s 2006 book Turning Around the Mainline, he criticizes the Episcopal Church in this way:

Their wealth tempts them to presume they still have legitimate control and buyout power over the organizational apparatus of the entire Anglican Communion. (page 86)

In the same way, the signers of this document all affirm that their church’s inclination to pay their apportionments would be stifled, perhaps even abandoned. The five FaithfulUMC originators’ churches gave a combined $3 million in 2010 Apportionmentstwo of them give over $900k a year. Because they give more money, does that give them more say in this discussion? Does it give them more influence? Regardless of does…should it?

So if you signed the document, ask yourself about this quote. And wonder with me if this is the same temptation of wealth that Oden himself criticized…

Perceptions

In summary, the FaithfulUMC clergy letter is a letter expressing concern over the actions of other clergy. If that’s all it was, that would be fine and well within the tradition of protest. But it doesn’t stop there. It warns the Bishops that if they don’t significantly punish those who pledge to perform same-sex unions, the largest churches in the UMC will likely withhold their Discipline-mandated apportionments in protest.

So the unanswered question is this: How does violating the Discipline show that violating the Discipline is wrong?

While an expression of ecclesial warning such as FaithfulUMC is a good way to express and gather support for their position, I find the following problems with it:

  1. It implies that faithfulness is narrowed to one issue, ie. those who want punishment to these dissenting clergy. If you do not sign, then you are probably not faithful, right? Isn’t that the sentiment?
  2. It uses a reckless tactic of “withholding money” from the church by conflating ecclesial disobedience of the clergy with the financial covenant of individual United Methodist parishes. Make no mistake: the originators all serve very large churches within the UMC. But I call it reckless because there’s a lot of collateral damage when you withhold money from other ministries that lose funding along with your intended target.
  3. This document breaks with previous documents like it in that it talks about withholding of apportionments. None of the previous big-name documents like the 1987 Houston Declaration, 1997 More Excellent Way, 1999 response to the Sacramento 68, or the 2002 Renaissance Affirmation insinuated a violation of the Discipline in this way.
  4. Some of its signatories seem to support civil disobedience on their pet issues while denouncing ecclesial disobedience on others issues. Clarity is needed on how they split these hairs.

I write this blog post not in support of the 1,000 covenant-challenging clergy AND not in condemnation of the many more people that sign this letter to the Bishops (heck, the Houston Declaration got 60,000 signatures..BEFORE social networks). I write this blog post to give a historical context to the role and function of these type of letters (which is to threaten loss of membership and money to the general church and put pressure on the Bishops and the delegates to General Conference) and ask questions of the people who have signed or are considering signing. That’s my primary purpose.

But I do wonder.

I wonder if the signatories realize that they are calling to fight fire with fire by breaking their financial covenants and that paragraph is a major break from the past mass-protest efforts not a continuation of them. It may be only one of nine full paragraphs but it’s an important one…and if you don’t agree with all of a statement then you shouldn’t sign it.

I wonder if withholding apportionments is a reckless tactic. Using military imagery, this is the difference between using a rifle or a shotgun. A rifle takes out its target alone. A shotgun blast will hit its target but has collateral damage. If these churches withhold their apportionments, its collateral damage will hurt missions overseas, saving people’s lives through mercy ministries in America, blunt the UMC’s rigor right at the time it is reorganizing, and lower finances for outreach to youth and children…to say the least. Is taking money from all those ministries really worth it?

Finally, I wonder if this is a similar case that Oden denounced as a small group being tempted by the power of the dollar in their coffers. That’s meant as a difficult question, not an accusation. I would be tempted as well if I found just cause to withhold a lot of money given to the dispersing control of others and instead keep control for the people I know in my church. But I’m uncomfortable with it as that’s a step towards congregationalism that our connectional system ought to oppose.

In conclusion, there’s a ton of Methodist ways to express disapproval. We can express our disagreement through conversations, through prayer, through speaking out against official UMC actions, electing people to positions of power to influence policy, writing petitions to General Conference, being elected to serve those meta-church agencies, refusing a bishops’ re-appointment, writing petitions and getting signatories…hey, we are a Methodist church and there’s a method to do almost anything, including express dissent. But withholding of apportionments is not a Methodist way of doing things. So why does FaithfulUMC allude to it and give apologetics for it?

Thoughts?

  • If you are a signer, please feel free to respond to the above questions/musings. Obviously I’m not accusing you of anything (I’m critiquing the movement not the signatories) but I do want to know more about your support of this document. Conversation is great!
  • If your pastor or lay member is a signer, feel free to forward the article to them and start a conversation with them about how they feel about withholding apportionments.
  • If you are reading this and have a pulse, share it with others on Twitter or Facebook to get this cautionary information into the hands of others who are interested in this topic.

Post your comment below!

Appendix 1: While St. Peter’s above included the most theological and Discipline-based rationale of the ones I read, connecting the clergy covenant to upholding the baptismal covenant seems to be a valid point that can be used by both sides of this debate. Indeed, some of those 1,000 clergy doubtlessly appeal to the baptismal covenant they officiate with their members as the basis for serving them in holy matrimony without regard to their orientation. These appeals to the baptismal covenant by both sides of this debate are very interesting to note. Will be a future blog post…

Appendix 2: One final note of a website ethics persuasion: the FaithfulUMC website uses only ONE image on its website: petition.png. It’s owned by Joe Sandoval, found here in its google search and the original is here at smugmug. I contacted Joe and he said he did NOT license FaithfulUMC to use his image and they do not give him photo credit. Shake my head at web designers who do not respect copyright, as this website goes beyond the law to try to uphold.

(Image Credit: Screenshot of FaithfulUMC.com [dated 9-17-2011], used under Fair Use)
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Comments

  1. Matthew Johnson says

    I went back and reread the letter to make sure I wasn’t missing anything and thus have to ask: do you really think that the paragraph concerning apportionments is a threat about withholding?

    I signed the letter after reading it carefully and did not come away with the same understanding as you did. The paragraph states that, at a time when it is already hard enough to convince some of our church members that our apportionments aren’t being wasted, telling them that we must pay them because the Discipline says so loses it’s power when others are willfully rejecting the Discipline’s authority.

    Every year, when our church goes through the budget process, I am put in a position of saying, “Yes, we must pay our apportionment and here is why we should…” It’s not just apportionments, either. I have people who want to be rebaptized – I’m asked 2-3 times a year to do this. If they remain unconvinced by my Biblical and theological reasoning, I can always fall back on, “The Discipline says I can’t.” and the conversation is over.

    You’ve written a very interesting and well-reasearched post, but it misses the point of that paragraph you quoted.

    • says

      I think the threat is very much implied, Matthew. If it is not intended as a threat in any way, it is very clumsy writing. The authors specifically brought up the issue of apportionments because they wanted to raise the issue of money.

      To your point, they did not write, “If the bishops don’t act, then I won’t be able to stop my people from rebaptizing each other.” No, they brought up money.

      By the way, some of the signers of that document already stretch our baptismal theology up to or past the breaking point. This is another reason I did not sign it. At least some of the authors of that document are no strangers to pushing the envelope of the system as far as they can in the interests of what they believe is best for the church. Neither side has clean hands when it comes to episcopal obedience. Indeed, I bet the bishops find it a bit odd to be appealed to as such all powerful figures.

      • says

        “I bet the bishops find it a bit odd to be appealed to as such all powerful figures.” Absolutely. It’s my understanding (from two sources in their conference) that at least one of the original signatories intentionally withheld a significant chunk of their apportionments during a capital campaign for five years. And yet they call on others on covenantal faithfulness? Amazing.

    • says

      I appreciate your context and can see how you would interpret it that way. However, having read the texts of the situations mentioned above in the History section, I found enough parallels to see them as in the same category. It seems more about abdicating responsibility for the “inevitable” than providing leadership regardless.

      Glad you found it interesting, regardless!

      • Matthew Johnson says

        I still disagree. While it certainly is true that a *few* churches have threatened or actually withheld apportionments, those churches and pastors are very few compared to the rest of us evangelical pastors who work hard to make sure apportionments are paid (full disclosure – I serve a church with a *massive* amount of debt and were unable to make the full payment last year even though we are, by the grace of God, moving in the right direction).

        When you sit at a table of people who see that in the current economic climate everyone is hurting, making cuts, and doing more with less, the apportionment is the first thing people say, “I can’t see how this is doing good right here – let’s cut it out.” To which we must respond, “No, we are going to make every effort to fully fund our budget and that includes our apportionment because it does matter. We are bound together in a covenant that is stated in our Discipline.” When they see clergy rejecting the covenant, they are going to say, “Now why do we pay our apportionment?”

        Maybe it is a threat. I still don’t think so. I think it’s an exasperated plea.

        • says

          I accept your practical considerations and I agree that must be a very real conversation that our churches will have. It will be harder for clergy to respond and that’s almost word-for-word what the Clergy Letter of the petition site says. But in my reading of the history, when one links an action with apportionment talk, they mean to abdicate responsibility when their churches do exactly that. Your comments indicate otherwise, which I appreciate, but the tone of the letter and its historical parallels betray something more. In my opinion.

        • Scott McCutcheon says

          I am also an early signer of the http://www.faithfulumc.com petition. In fact, I signed right after John Wilks (#62..and no, we did not plan this.)

          I never, ever saw this petition as any kind of attempt or threat to withhold Shared Ministry Givings (apportionments) in any way, shape, or form. I knew it as a reality in terms of local church giving. Apportionments are definitely an important part of our ministerial and local church covenant within the Annual Conference. I would not have signed it if I had thought that the authors were advocating an act of disobedience.

          Part of the reality is this: a local church must obviously pay all of its budgeted requirements. However, in times of financial difficulty, the first things paid are staff compensation followed by utilities, supplies, equipment, etc. Apportionments are usually the last thing paid simply because creditors will not wait, nor will they be as patient as the Annual Conference. Often, our church is short, and at the end of the year we go all out trying to get caught up. Each year, people usually dig deep to meet these requirements.

          I know that an argument over right vs. wrong in the topic of same-sex marriage and ordination will prove fruitless. However, 900 clergy have said that they will break covenant when the time is right. if these 900 do not get their way at General Conference, is not likely that they will engage in ecclesiastical disobedience? Perhaps in a premeditated move to overwhelm the church judicial system, won’t these pastors attempt to force their stance on the entire denomination. Why else would they agree to this publicly if they were not willing to carry it out?

          So what will happen when faithful people and hard workers hear that our apportionments go to support a denomination that will not uphold a stance that is both Biblical and backed by the Book of Discipline? How will we as pastors…local church missionaries…convince these people to give when it hurts, when their own hearts are broken by these stances? Pastors will get caught in the middle by members either not giving to support this, or who leave.

          The Methodist Church has its roots as a holiness denomination. This truly is a holiness issue. Long before the “United” was placed next to “Methodist”, the people called Methodists were dedicated to loving, sharing with, caring for, and helping others in Christian love, but this was never to be at the expense of personal holiness. There are a great many, probably even the majority of Methodists who still cling to this Christian teaching and life of faith. These are the people who will leave, and in significant numbers. In essence, how can one ask them to uphold their end of a covenant which they will see as already and completely broken.

          At that point, Annual Conferences, left, right, or moderate will no longer be able to support their ongoing ministries, and Annual Conferences will have to deal with these significantly diminished congregations, possibly even empty buildings. Is that a threat? Nope. No one is saying that we will take our ball and go home. As pastors, we know our congregations and their theological leanings. These people had these beliefs long before we came as their pastors. So with broken hearts, people will leave for other churches or perhaps leave the church altogether. And that would be a cross that none of us wants to bear.

  2. says

    Jeremy,

    You hit on an important issue. It is one of the reasons why I did not sign the petition even though I support the notion that clergy should be disciplined for breaking their vows of ordination.

    Maybe a more faithful response would be to make extra pledges to support the costs of church trials for all 1,000 or so clergy who have pledged to break their vows. As I understand it, part of the goal of the protest is to overwhelm the resources of the church.

    Perhaps at General Conference the signatories of the document could push for some changes in the Book of Discipline to streamline disciplinary procedures as well.

    Either of those idea would meet your objections, if I understand your point properly.

    • says

      John, both of your points meet my objections, absolutely. I would find a petition of pledges offering to financially support the clergy trials, or a call for changes in the disciplinary procedures, to both be well within both the Methodist tradition and Methodist polity. It is to their shame (and loss of supportive persons like yourself) that they escalated the document to this point of apportionment talk.

      • says

        Jeremy- I do not agree that “paying off the system” by financing these trials is a precedent that either side in this debate wants to set. It smacks of bribery and payment for the desired result.

  3. says

    Overall I agree with your position Jeremy, very well thought out. I have one clarifying question/comment.
    As a Catholic during the clergy-sex abuse scandal I witheld my tithe and refused to give to the general collection. Instead I earmarked my money to specific programs in the church. Several Catholic churches did this as well, witholding their tithe to the general church. This was because part of our tithes would go to the general church fund that would pay for the defense of the priests who had molested children and the church had knowingly covered for.
    This action by myself, others, and the churches helped to bring about positive change in this situation. What are your thoughts on this? I am unsure now myself. To this day I have trouble jsut giving to the general fund because I am still upset that our money, given in faith, went to help child abusers.
    Would it be ok for churches to withhold their tithe from the general fund but to earmark it for other church funds?
    Would we be so upset by faithfulumc.com if this issue was over a sex-abuse scandal? Or is it because this issues is one to do with sexuality that we are ready to say “how dare you withold your tithe”?
    Will we be equally upset if clergy do decide to disobey the discipline and perform same-sex unions?
    My bottom line: If you want to be clergy you better be willing to uphold the entire discipline, otherwise you have no business being a minister. (Doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with it, as long as your disagreement is within the parameters of following the discipline.)

    • says

      Terrific question, CJ. Thanks for it. My heart goes out to your history with this issue and I appreciate your moral wrestlings with this question that outperform mine for sure.
      Some thoughts:
      This document fits within a historical category of responses only to sexuality initiatives. They withhold funds historically only from particular funds, like your comment asks. I think every church that can’t pay all their apportionments (CAN’T not WON’T) pick and choose which fund to put more into, ie. they’ll pay all the African University line but not the World Missions line. It’s not acceptable in theory but in practice it is done. But there’s a difference between being unable, choosing the lesser option, and intentionally withholding. Two are understandable, one is not.
      There’s a line of nuance between a church’s covenant and an individual’s covenant. Your withholding of a tithe is your business. A church withholding a tithe is both parties’ business. Until we become Mormons and require W-2′s to determine tithe amounts and what makes a person in good standing, it’s a different issue. Which is the point really: a clergy covenant is not the same as a church’s covenant and yet one violation begats another?
      Your most challenging comment is on the clergy sex abuse cases and the tithes paying for their defense. Very challenging. I’m not sure I can offer an off-the-cuff remark with any sensitivity. Will think about it and I hope you know that is honest consideration not mere delayed response.
      I’ll post in a few days about competing covenants. I hope you come back and see if I offer any clarity.
      Thanks again.

  4. Matthew Johnson says

    Eh, I lost the last part of my penultimate paragraph. In the same way that “We must pay our apportionments because the Discipline says so.” is weakened by a rejection of the Discipline’s authority, so is “Even though you reject my reasoning conceding rebaptism on Biblical and theological grounds, I will not do it because the Discipline forbids it.” loses it’s power. Or a host of other things. That’s what lies behind the paragraph on apportionments in the letter.

  5. says

    Thank you for putting context around these events. Is there any acknowledgement by the signatories of FaithfulUMC.org of the conflict inherent in the Discipline for those who serve congregations with GLBT members? Or is it just so clear to them that our only ministry to GLBT folks should be one of “caring judgment” and “transformation” that its a non-issue when marriage comes up?

    I also just want to share, since it seems like you have people reading your blog from across the spectrum, that these policies/theological are causing a great deal of damage to youth ministry. Because of the wider UMC confusion about homosexuality, our churches are terrified of teaching anything about Christian sexual ethics and would rather leave it to schools and media. I’m sure the signatories would say that all these problems would disappear, if everyone just obeyed the Discipline and agreed homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. But that’s not realistic given the growing momentum of the gay marriage movement. We will always have to wrestle with these questions whatever happens within the UMC. And I for one would hope that Christians all over the spectrum could agree that teaching people of all sexual orientations to have mutual, respectful and monogamous relationships would do more to bring wholeness and holiness into our lives than any amount of ecclesiastical bickering.

  6. says

    I am a signatory. I’m #61 on the clergy side. Let me address a couple of your concerns.

    First, this is NOT a threat to withhold. Instead, it is an admission of a pastoral difficulty. The vast majority of Evangelical pastors believe that we should pay as a sign of faithfulness and good will. The trouble is that our layity don’t always see it that way. If the bishops would enforce the Discipline, it would make the task of getting my church to pay out far easier.

    Secondly, Civil Disobedience against a government makes sense because our relationship with our government is not voluntary. As an American, I can’t follow Spain’s laws. I live here. Therefore, if I feel that the government is acting unjustly and it won’t listen to me, I might commit an act of civil disobediance to be heard because that is my only reasonable option- expatriating isn’t reasonable.

    Our denominational affiliation, on the other hand, is entirely voluntary. You can switch church affiliations without having to pack a single box or apply for a immigration. It is easy. In fact, what ever theological or social agenda you are looking for, there are multiple denominations just waiting for you to come on in and have a grand old time.

    So this idea that what these 900 pastors are doing in saying they are going to perform gay marriages is NOT civil disobedience. It is a case of theological hijacking. This is a senseless act since these 900 clergy could easily become Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Disciples, Metropolitan, several flavors of Baptist, UCC, independent, or even start their own denomination. There goal is not to be free to do what they think is right, as would be the case with civil disobedience. To the contrary, they could easily be free to do what they think is right simply by leaving.

    Instead, their goal is to force their agenda on the rest of us.

    • Randy Kiel says

      Thank you, John, for so ably expressing the points that I felt needed to be made.
      Also a signatory (though I do not recall which number my signature is on the clergy side), I was surprised by the initial arguments that were made in this blog. I too have had to coax, cajole, (not to say command) congregations to willfully meet their commitment to pay apportionments, and the issue of treating the Book of Discipline as duty, rather than a set of suggestions, has always come to the fore in these discussions. So my perception, in reading the initial petition, of the wording about apportionments was that of a plea for help to the bishops, since this discussion would be made much harder by active clergy disregarding the Discipline without repercussion.

      Likewise, the mention of civil disobedience — attempting to equate (protest by willful disobedience of civil law by civilians) to (protest by willful disobedience of church law by ordained/licensed clergy) is a straw man argument. As you mentioned, John, a clergy member’s (or lay member’s) affiliation with a given denomination is entirely voluntary. Further, as clergy, we are intentionally bound to uphold the church’s doctrine/discipline. UMJeremy seems to understand that to a degree; in his response to CJ (above) he asks “a clergy covenant is not the same as a church’s covenant and yet one violation begats [sic] another?” By covenant, the clergy are to be held to a higher standard!

      At ordination, among other commitments, an elder agrees to “Be accountable to The United Methodist Church, accept its Doctrinal Standards and Discipline and authority, accept the supervision of those appointed to this ministry, and to be prepared to live in the covenant of its ordained ministers” (The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church: 2008, paragraph 304.1.j) To violate this commitment is not only dishonest and wrong in and of itself; it is to demonstrate to our parishioners that the clergy, who are held up as moral exemplars, do not find honesty important. This is unacceptable!

    • says

      John, I think your points that expatriation is not an option for folks and that those of us who support same-sex marriage should just leave the UMC are conflicting. Expatriation from the UMC is not an option for me. I am United Methodist and believe to the core of my very being that God’s grace has redeemed all of us and will redeem all of us in this conversation as well. When going through the SPR Committee of my local church, I was asked, “If you believe so strongly that the UMC has been harmful and continues to harm LGBT people through its policies, why do you even stay and want to be an Elder?” My answer was because I believe that God’s church can be redeemed through holy conferencing and only if people like me are willing to speak out and act. To suggest that I should leave the UMC just because I feel called by God to minister to all of God’s people betrays who I am as a United Methodist.

    • Scott says

      Brother Wilks, “So this idea that what these 900 pastors are doing in saying they are going to perform gay marriages is NOT civil disobedience. It is a case of theological hijacking. This is a senseless act since these 900 clergy could easily become Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Disciples, Metropolitan, several flavors of Baptist, UCC, independent, or even start their own denomination.”

      I don’t know about the other denominations, but those guys wouldn’t be able to get into the Baptist church with that stance. :) <

  7. Wes Stanton says

    “The Church needs you to lead,” begins the closing paragraph of the clergy letter. “And here’s what you are to do” is the implication of the rest of the letter.

    I agree, the Church needs our bishops to lead. But leadership does not mean caving to demands & threats from those one is charged with leading. Leadership sometimes involves risking, even expecting, sabotage by those in one’s charge. See Ron Heifetz’ works, Leadership on the Line and others.

  8. says

    Wes, whatever leadership is, it must involve integrity. Every Elder promises to uphold the Discipline. The Bishops are Elders who tasked with upholding it and making sure that the clergy of their Annual Conference do too.

    If we who have signed this letter are demanding anything it is only this: that the Bishops would do the job they promised to do when they became Bishops in the first place.

    I hardly see where we are out of line to do so. To the contrary, what we ask is the bare minimum which should be automatically expected.

    You act as if we are committing mutiny; as if we are the ones asking the Bishops to bend, break; or flat-out ignore the Discipline; as if we are the ones trying to change the denomination through activism instead of through our polity. But in fact, we are doing none of the above.

  9. Creed Pogue says

    The Western Jurisdiction perspective that Jeremy so often champions is the one that already feels there is a higher priority than the covenants we make together. It isn’t the Southeastern, but instead the Western Jurisdiction that pays the lowest rate on their apportionments. However, they are also applauded because they give a high level to the Advance. They want the freedom to pick and choose.

  10. says

    I’m a signatory.

    Not of this document, but of that *other* one.

    I think the point that upsets me most is problem #3. It seems to me that opponents of equal marriage and/or ordination of those God has called to ministry regardless of their sexual orientation are often saying that if the church’s position on human sexuality is changed– or in this case, if those who oppose that position are not adequately punished– they will leave the UMC and take their money with them. For me, this raises the question of why their threat to leave should be taken any more seriously than anyone else’s, why their presence or their money are any more a blessing to God and God’s church than anyone else’s. There are people who have left and are leaving the United Methodist Church because we do not allow or support equal marriage. There are people who are considering leaving. There are pastors (like this one), who struggle with the question of how to minister faithfully in their time and place, and how to honestly respond when asked if our complicity in a system that denies blessing to certain relationships is not our agreement to it. I have the same question– how can I convince my congregation that the United Methodist Church embraces God’s children, is truly open in hearts, minds, and doors, articulates a vision of Shalom that extends beyond our current fractured reality– how can I preach and teach any of that, when some of the people in the congregation find that their denomination will not marry them, or their children, or their friends?

    But those who want to keep the current position, those who want to see me punished because I am a signatory of that *other* document, because I have searched my heart and come to a place where I cannot refuse to offer prayer and blessing and be a vessel of grace for a loving committed couple, they threaten to withhold their presence, their gifts, their service, their witness (maybe not their prayers). How is their dissent more important than mine? is it because my church has 65 people on Sunday and theirs has 2000? Is it because my church has a $150,000 budget and theirs has a budget of $2 million or whatever (I honestly have no idea how much money big churches deal in)?

    I value every voice in this debate, because we are voices in connection with each other. I hope and trust that we can come to a place where we can be united without being uniform, where we can minister together in faith and hold one another in love and still vehemently disagree. I am saddened when a person walks away from the UMC because they no longer see God in it.

    But I’m not *more* saddened over one loss than another. I can’t determine whose opinions are more right, whose presence is more needed, whose voice is most necessary (unless maybe to say it is the voice that is seldom heard). And I refuse to try to calculate whose money makes the most difference. After all, the widow’s two small coins make all the difference in the world to her, and to Christ.

    Seeking Shalom in discourse and discord,
    Becca

    • says

      Becca, If you are confused about whose opinion should matter in this debate, feel free to search Scripture, check out the doctrines and Discipline of our church, scan church history, re-read the vows you made at ordination and then reach your conclusion.

      • says

        I didn’t notice any confusion in her reply, Wesley. You only appealed to Bible and Tradition there in your response, whereas I see Becca appealing to all four quadrilaterals.

        The more you narrow your focus, yes, the less confused one would be, but also the less Wesleyan.

    • Tom Lambrecht says

      My comment to Rebecca would be that no one is advocating that you be punished for signing a document. In that your signing of the document was a pledge to perform an act of “disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church,” it is reasonable to assume that at some point you will act on that pledge. If so, that would be the time for a complaint to be filed and any punishment to be determined by a trial process.

      I agree that there is a lot of wrestling with this issue. Maybe we won’t know for sure until we get to heaven. But what we have right now is God’s self-revelation in Scripture, as interpreted through Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Our church has determined that our current position is the way we will approach this issue. For better or worse, it was determined fairly democratically through majority votes repeatedly over the past 40 years. This position is also a faithful reflection of 2,000 years of Christian teaching. If it is a violation of one’s conscience to submit to a covenant that requires we not perform same-sex unions, then out of integrity we should consider moving to another covenant.

      I would like to know what right a minority group within the church has to agitate for over 40 years to change a church’s position, in spite of the fact that the church repeatedly says no. I can assure you that many evangelicals will not submit for 40 years to a covenant that openly contravenes the clear teaching of Scripture. That is not a threat (BTW), but just a statement of principle.

      If one cannot withhold money that one believes is being misused to promote un-Scriptural teachings, the only other alternative is to leave the church altogether. I think one key phrase is at the end of the part you quoted, about a “church that is bent on its own destruction.” Were we to move to change our position on sexuality to endorse homosexual behavior, it would destroy our church. One has only to look at what is happening to other mainline churches who have made this move. They are experiencing schism and massive membership losses.

      Evangelicals and traditionalists (such as those who are signing this letter) are often accused of being divisive. Yet it is those who are promoting the change in our position who will be the ultimate cause of any division that takes place.

      • says

        Rev. Lambrecht, thanks for your contribution to the blog.

        Not to nitpick your points, but there was
        ….a minority group of people who agitated for well over 40 years
        ……..whose church repeatedly said no through democratic votes, then yes, then no again
        …………and who sought to overturn 1600 years of church teaching
        …………….They were really annoying people called women preachers.

        Sure wish they hadn’t agitated or endured or changed our church forever. Maybe if they hadn’t, we would still be a biblical church. /snark

      • Carolyn says

        Jeremy makes an excellent point, Tom. We’ve used the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to help us as we wrestle with a number of issues, including women in ministry. The use of Reason and Experience ultimately helped us decide to allow women in ministry. We used reason to decide to prioritize certain texts (the ones that ground women’s fitness for ministry in their createdness and common humanity with men) over others (the ones that tell women to be silent). We used Experience when we recognized that women had powerful gifts for ministry- and if the Spirit gives these gifts, there is no good reason why they shouldn’t be used.

        My conversion from a less inclusive view of the ministry and gay marriage began when I first became a Methodist and realized that women could be ministers too. Then I met friends who have obvious gifts for ministry… who are also gay. I realized that I cannot expect myself to be included and blessed while expecting certain others not to be included and blessed. My Reason and Experience led me to this conclusion.

        I would also like to note that it hasn’t been “40 years of agitators” that has caused division in this Church. The UMC has been divided along conservative/ liberal lines from the beginning. First we fought about how to use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (conservatives insisted we prioritize Scripture and Tradition over the others and liberals did not), then we fought over abortion, and now we are fighting over homosexuality. Sadly, it seems that fighting is part of our way of being. I wish that were not so.

  11. says

    Jeremy, two quick points. 1. JW neverspoke of a quadrilateral. The UM position is that Scripture is primary and tradition, reason, and experience must be understood in it’s light. 2. Beca has chosen to base her faith on experience with reason, tradition and Scripture subservient to that. For a better understanding of what it means to be Wedleyan, please refer to the closing paragraph of the General Rules of the church.

  12. says

    Thank you, Wesley; that’s precisely how I reached my conclusion (feel free to search Scripture, check out the doctrines and Discipline of our church, scan church history, re-read the vows you made at ordination and then reach your conclusion). As with the passages of Deuteronomy that suggest that women must purify themselves following menses, or the passages from Paul’s letters that have been used to oppose the ordination and ministry of women, I begin with a scripture passage, and the historical context of the Jewish and Christian traditions. However, reason and experience offer a different insight into these passages, as our understandings of human sexuality and gender have changed over the past 2-4 millennia.

    What has not changed, or not changed much, is our calling to be in ministry with all people, to make disciples in Christ’s name. That is a vow I recall from my ordination quite clearly– do I promise to be in ministry with all people? My answer was an unequivocal yes– I did not feel I needed to put any qualifiers on “all” or “people.” As I read the Bible, and as I find confirmed in our tradition and reason and my own experience, Jesus sought out the people so often pushed to the margins of society, and brought them the scandalous message that God’s love and grace were extended to them, and to prove the point, he gave his life, executed by the established religious and civil authorities of his day, with only a minority band of a few dozen fringe characters supporting him. One might ask– indeed many did– what gave him and his followers the right to agitate and challenge 2000 years of Mosiac law. I certainly don’t claim to be acting on the same authority Jesus did, but my experience of Christ– which is an experience that comes by definition from scripture– is an experience of abundant, transformative, confounding grace that steamrolls through our human categories and overwhelms me with the command that I must love as Christ loves, unconditionally and sacrificially. That love is my highest commandment, covenant, and calling.

    Blessings,
    Becca

  13. Coy J. Remer says

    I wouldnt shed a tear if we gave you all the boot. I love how we keep talking about the last 40 years, the last 40 years of decline. The last 40 years of a sinking ship, a ship with a lot of you at the helm.

    Hey anti LGBT people, that was the argument of 10 years ago! Your issues are irrelevant. Remember in 08 when the evanglical vote went to Obama because the younger evanglicals didnt want to look like biggots? Most of you will be dead or retired in the next 15 years… like the rest of the US.

    Pro LGBT people, you’ve won, but you wont see that for another 15-20 years in the church. We’re like the Lord of the Ring tree people, were careful and slow, we dont like rocking a sinking boat. Our society has changed, so will the church. Leave the anti LGBT people alone, give them the next few years to die in peace. During those next few years start making your parishoners comfortable with the change, if they arent already (like most of Americans are). For the love of God, please stop trying to rip our church apart. Instant gradification is for fat spoiled children.

    Tom has a great point “Evangelicals and traditionalists (such as those who are signing this letter) are often accused of being divisive. Yet it is those who are promoting the change in our position who will be the ultimate cause of any division that takes place.” However, this next quote simply is not true. “One has only to look at what is happening to other mainline churches who have made this move. They are experiencing schism and massive membership losses.” This was true 10 years ago with the Anglicans (once again highlighting the irrelevance of this argument), but is not true for the Lutherans or the USA Calvanists today. But who cares about Calvanists right? I mean, that is one point we can all agree on!

    Righty’s, have your day because your dusk is upon you. Lefties, chill out, the American people are on your side so PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE stop trying to destroy our church.

    I wish you all could see the damage youre doing to the church over this bickering. Tom, you make a very dangerous assumption when you say that maybe we’ll figure it out when we get to heaven. People who treat each other the way we are, need to be fearfully wrestling with our salvation and not assuming its a given. But what do I know, I’m just a Local Pastor.

    Peace and love ya’ll.

  14. Billie says

    Just a few years ago (sadly, this decade) a local congregation made no bones about the fact that they would not pay any apportionments that would benefit African Americans….heartbreaking then and Now….

      • Billie says

        There was certainly nothing rational about whatever reasoning may have been offered….just bigotry…not sure where they may be today…hopefully they’ve grown spiritually and should they decide to speak out through “civil disobedience” it is in behalf of those who are marginalized not against them…….

        • Laura says

          I wish this were an isolated incident but I’m afraid it’s not. It has recently happened in several different congregations in my conference, about either sexual orientation, race, or theology. In a nut shell, a small group of members disagrees with something and when they are not given what they’ve asked for the next step is to withhold their giving. It has happened in 4 different congregations (that I’m aware of) in the past 5 years. In all 4 instances, the group was able to impact the finances enough to force action. In all 4 situations the pastor was moved at the next annual conference. In 3 of the 4 situations, the circumstances were stressful enough that the pastor took a sabbatical prior to annual conference.

          Disagreements are a given. Nobody expects everyone to agree on everything that goes on in the church. But disagreement, when handled well, can also be healthy, helpful, and ultimately propel us closer to an authentic witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but only when we work through them together – focusing on making room for our neighbor, doing no harm, doing all the good we can, and staying in love with God. We have to stop the name-calling, the intentional spreading of miss-information, the alarmist language, the manipulation, the ultimatums, and the threat of or actual withholding of funds. Come on, Friends. We can do better!

  15. Padre says

    I am disturbed that Mr. Putnam chooses to make his response a personal criticism of Becca rather than doing the more honorable, but more difficult, work of addressing or challenging the content of UMJeremy’s original blog post.

    As tensions increase and fires of separation are being fueled, I offer my own very personal perspective.

    I am newly ordained. As one who separated himself with great intentionality from God and the small-minded exclusivity of the fundamentalist faith of my childhood and youth, I know what it means to stand outside the church, as I did for over 20 years. Granted, the choice was mine, but when I began to question the foundations of my atheism, it was The United Methodist Church that invited me in. Here I found a community of faith to belong to as I came, not without difficulty, to slowly believe in God again, and to eventually reclaimed my faith in Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit actively engaged my own spirit and finally brought me the truth and peace I so long sought. Belonging led to belief which led to serving, then calling, and now ordination. My ordination journey took 11 years.

    In general, I consider myself to be articulate, bordering on erudite, but I despair at the inadequacy of my vocabulary to describe the sacredness of the moment and the overpowering sense of anointing I felt as my bishop and others laid hands on me and conferred the authority to participate in the active and ongoing salvific work of Jesus Christ. I was one person as I walked to the altar that night. When I rose from my knees just a few minutes later, by God, I was not the same person who had just knelt. I felt within my deepest sense of self, that once again I was a new person in Christ. I felt, with great humility, the privilege that had been bestowed upon me and also a new, rising sense within me of the power of the Holy Spirit’s prophetic truth, grace, mercy, and call to justice. All I’ve wanted to do was serve – and now I had been blessed to do so as an ordained elder in full connection with my beloved denomination, The United Methodist Church. I am a product of God’s grace as lived out in our Wesleyan theological heritage and praxis. I am beholden to my church.

    And now, barely six months later, all that I worked so hard to accomplish is being threatened as the polemic intensifies and the polarization concretizes as clergy and laity from each side seemingly have begun the active work of splitting our denomination. And the split may happen regardless and irrespective of what side I choose or do not choose to align with, or regardless and irrespective of what I sign or do not sign.

    Here is the real quandary as I see it. Frankly, most folks in my pews could care less about this one specific issue that some are making the lightning rod for separation. Most are simply trying to do their best for their family, scraping by day to day and depending heavily on the grace sufficient for each day of their challenging lives. These are the ones in left in the middle who will suffer the most and are the ones I feel most responsible to.

    And I fear that suddenly the middle will be added to the marginalized.

    If we split, who will be left to give those who remain behind a morsel of hope? Who will be left to offer them the redemptive mercy of Christ? Who will be left to feed them when they are hungry? Who will be left to give them drink when they thirst? Who will be left to clothe them when they are naked? Who will be left to visit the prisoner? Who will be left to provide for the widow or the orphan? Who will be left to provide for this new mass who we are actively chosing to add to the numbers of the least, the last, and the lost, the brothers and sisters of Christ. As we do not do for these, we do not do for Christ.

    I was called, equipped, and set apart to serve. Much too casually, I fear, words like heresy and schism are being tossed about. Much too casually, I fear, threats to withhold apportionments are being made. Our connectionalism, which has been our strength, is threatened by sectarian and congregationalizing forces which are counter to who we are among the historical “people called Methodists.”
    It cannot be that I am a lone voice from the middle. It is not that I choose not to choose sides. Instead I choose to serve those whom Christ sends me to serve and to serve those Christ sends to be served by me. Scott Kryppayne wrote a song a few years ago that includes these words: “I will love, for to follow Christ is to lay aside my right to choose who I love.”

    I am a follower of Christ explicitly because grace-filled folks at Noel United Methodist Church in Shreveport, LA laid aside their right to choose who they would love. They welcomed me, invited me in, and chose to love me with the love of Christ. I likely would still be outside the church had not The United Methodist Church introduced me to the grace of Christ. I cannot pay back the grace with which I was offered. I can only pay forward the grace I received and now have been ordained to share.

    This is no time for hubris. We are rushing to the abyss. The price that will be paid is too terrible to imagine.

    May the peace and grace of Christ Jesus, the guiding wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and the creative power of God help us all rise to the moment, restore our humility, remind us of our common calling, and renew and invigorate the sense of privilege and responsibility we all were set apart for – to fulfill the will of God that all may be on earth as it is in heaven.

  16. Allen Ewing-Merrill says

    “Appendix 2: One final note of a website ethics persuasion: the FaithfulUMC website uses only ONE image on its website: petition.png. It’s owned by Joe Sandoval…”

    Did you notice they’ve changed their image? They’re paying attention to you, UMJeremy! :-)

  17. says

    I am a retired Local pastor, but still preaching part time, if the Gay issue is not soon dwelt with for a final time, if Methodist pastors who perform Gay marriages are not dismissed, i will leave the the Methodist church after being a supporter and life time member. Their is no room in God’s word for half way repenting, we are to repent of all sins… And make every effort to stop doing them.. period>

    Pastor Claude

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