01 – The Setting | 02 – The Blueprint | 03 – The Effects | 04 – The Conclusion
“Everything about the life of a Christian is corporate.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
“No local church is the total body of Christ. Therefore, local United Methodist congregations are bound together by a common task and common governance that reach out into the world.” – UMCgiving.org
In yesterday’s post we talked about the history of churches that withheld their church tithe (“Apportionment”) out of protest towards what the general church bodies did, usually in response to sexuality initiatives.
What is New this time?
While I asked Andy for reading and writing on his “Church Directed Allocations vs. Proportional Allocations” strategy paper, I didn’t ask for permission to repost it. Sorry. So I’ll only link to the Confessing Movement (*sigh*) email as it has the gist of his assertions and the data for how to receive the report from Andy himself. However, I will quote from the document, and if Langford posts it somewhere or gives me permission, I’ll link/post the whole document. I respect agreements!
I am not suggesting that local congregations pay less than 100% of their apportionments…
Payment in full of these apportionments by local church is the first benevolent responsibility of the church (¶812). [However] please note, the Discipline does not say payment in full of each individual fund allocated must be paid, only payment in full…
Your congregation has the right to direct your apportionments. When a congregation chooses Church-Directed Allocation, the Conference Treasurer then pays each fund only what the congregation has designated. For example, if your congregation chooses to give more to one fund and less to another, the Conference Treasurer follows the designation of your congregation. No other person or body in the denomination can dictate how your local church pays its apportionments. This is a local church decision.
For example, if a church apportionment is $10,000 and they pay that full amount, it goes in various percentages to the various apportionments (some conferences divide it up 20 ways). Andy is advocating that the church can still pay that $10,000, but hypothetically the 20% ($2,000) that would normally go to World Service Fund instead be given to a district or conference local fund, essentially overpaying the particular line item and defunding the other. So the church still pays the $10,000 but refuses to pay one percentage and overpays on others.
Langford also states that such changes do not require the consent of the pastor, district superintendent, or even a charge conference (which is ran by a clergyperson). Langford believes that the Discipline cuts clergy out of this decision completely–indeed, even the whole local church doesn’t have a say, only the elected leadership:
Your Finance Committee must then make its recommendation to your congregation’s Church Council or Administrative Board or other authorized body. This action does not require a Charge Conference and requires only a majority vote by your church leaders. This action does not need to approval of your pastor or district superintendent. This vote may happen at any time, but ideally before the first apportionment payments are made in any calendar year.
In short, Langford gives a manifesto and a method to any irate layperson to defund the General Church in a way without the consent of the pastor or district superintendent, and indeed without accountability to anyone. It could be done in a day or a week, however long it takes to get from Finance to Administrative Council.
Why would a clergyperson propose this?
Andy Langford is a well-known clergyperson, a five-time delegate to General Conference and the author of many worship resources and studies used in Christian Discipleship (I have a copy of his Beginnings curriculum and Andy [with his daughter Ann Duncan] co-wrote a study about The Hunger Games two years ago). He ran for Bishop previously and his spouse is currently Assistant to the Bishop in Western North Carolina Conference. He was on the Study Group on General Church Apportionment Structure, so his familiarity with apportionments is considerable. He also isn’t really affiliated with the right-wing Caucus Groups (Good News, Confessing, IRD, etc) so he has more credibility to mainstream audiences.
If I were a lesser person, I would claim that Langford, as a member of the Connectional Table, tried to solidify control in a super-general-agency in the PlanUMC proposal. Since that was thwarted, Langford would rather drain general church of resources. “If you can’t control it, defund it.”
Such a charge might hold. Immediately after General Conference, Rev. Andy Langford of Concord, North Carolina, penned an article entitled “Change may require withholding apportionments” which contained the early details of this idea of withholding apportionments. After the Judicial Council struck down the unconstitutional reforms of the “reformers” group, Andy stated “Increasingly, only the nine members of the Judicial Council speak for our denomination…[the] time has come to withdraw all funding for their work.” So it is possible to claim this is reactionary based on frustration at the Reformers not finding constitutional or church-legal ways to accomplish their
consolidations of power reforms.
However, reading through the document and knowing what I know about Andy, these are his honest feelings on the matter and directly in line with his history of being a creative non-conformist. He repeatedly mentions the failures of the General Boards to create disciples or any sense of meaningful change, in his eyes. But regardless of our disagreement over opinions about general agencies, he has one section that struck home with me how serious he is about this topic:
With the decline in members in the United States, our denomination has reached the point at which fewer dollars will be available every year for ministry.
Over the [past] forty years, however, more and more of the apportionment dollars have gone not to districts, annual conferences, or jurisdictional missions and structure but to the general church agencies and programs. Local churches appear to exist to support the general agencies, not the other way around. Today, general Church apportionments total 22% of all apportionments in the United States.
Because annual conferences may not reduce any of the general Church apportionments allocated to congregations, over the past years, jurisdictions and annual conferences have cut back significantly missions and ministries. Over a third of all district superintendent positions have been eliminated in the last twenty years. District projects, conference institutions, and jurisdictional ministries have been cut. In 2012, one-fourth of all conferences had to cut their budgets. Bluntly, districts, annual conferences, and jurisdictions are being squeezed between the rock of high general church apportionments and the declining income of local congregations.
The frustration this time, unlike the past, is over structure itself. What Andy wrote above actually reflects some of my concerns over the denomination being too centralized and top-heavy. With the smaller dollars from the bottom and the more requests at the top, the very bodies that I think would revolutionize the church in a more-decentralized way (districts, annual conferences, and jurisdictions) are feeling the squeeze.
I don’t share Andy’s overriding frustration with the General Agencies–or perhaps my frustrations are in different agencies like the Publishing House and Communications–but I do share concern about over-centralization. I like this Andy Langford better than the one at General Conference as we have finally aligned that decentralized ministry is preferred over centralized ministry. I would like more autonomy for the different regions of the UMC, and if that means more financial autonomy, that’s probably a necessary byproduct.
So what’s the difference? Is this legal?
The difference, however, is how we go about it: through our polity or through rebellion? Andy’s frustration is focused on two Apportionments that are universally requested from every United Methodist Church: The World Service Fund and the General Administration Fund (click the titles for their focii). By defunding these two Funds, whereas Andy believes that would free the regional and local bodies to do more ministry, I believe it would overall cause more harm than good. We will examine the effects later in tomorrow’s Part 3 article.
It’s beyond my ability to comment on the legality of this proposal as an interpretation of the Discipline…that’s up to the Scholars. However, beyond this section in dispute, smarter people than I suspect that if it became a widespread policy that Annual Conferences would not be able to show how they would pay for their assigned apportionments. Like in the past, their budgets would be nullified by Judicial Council and forced to be rewritten and under the JC’s approval. So by defunding these funds, the local churches are threatening the Annual Conference, which even Langford states is the “basic unit of the church.” Yea team!
I do believe there is a “More Methodist” way of going about this. But to give this proposal its fair shake, tomorrow’s post is on its pros, cons, and effects. In the meantime…
While I sheepishly don’t have permission to repost the document (yet) the gist is there. What are your thoughts?
- Do you think Andy’s “splitting of hairs” is a tenable position to have?
- Do you think this should be a decision made only by church leaders or should it involve more people/accountability?
- What other ways might we get through the “squeeze” of the middle levels of the church losing resources?