Holding the UMC Hostage 02 – The Blueprint

 
The following is an entry in the “Holding the UMC Hostage” series regarding a manifesto that encourages discontent laity in our largest churches to defund the work of the global United Methodist Church. Read the full series:
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!

Langford’s proposal states that while every church is required to pay 100% of their apportionments, he believes the only requirement is the total amount of the apportionments, not the destination of where the money goes. In his words:

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…

Your turn

While I sheepishly don’t have permission to repost the document (yet) the gist is there. What are your thoughts?

  1. Do you think Andy’s “splitting of hairs” is a tenable position to have?
  2. Do you think this should be a decision made only by church leaders or should it involve more people/accountability?
  3. What other ways might we get through the “squeeze” of the middle levels of the church losing resources?
(Image Credit: “Clean Money” by flahertyb on Flickr, shared under Creative Commons License)
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Comments

  1. says

    I’m not sure you were wanting anyone to expand this out further, but on the local church level it is a little troubling when people want to earmark their tithes. Most are either too generous or too ambivalent to do this, but some want to make sure every dollar they give goes to the place they feel strongly about. Two of my three churches chose not to give any apportionments out of frustration with how those funds were being used by higher bodies, and it has been hard to fight against that in a denomination that values democracy. When we value democracy, the voice of every individual needs to be heard, and we have to take them on their own terms. They don’t like their funds being strong armed by delegates from a thousand miles away, to go toward programs they don’t care about or even resent. I’m really glad a lot of the time that they don’t keep up with the GBCS. But in an institution where churches are bound in trust to spend dollars on the local level only in the ways they are designated, I am surprised that we are only just now running into the real consequences. Seems like a logical place for us to end up…

    • says

      I agree with the local level. There’s a difference between a tithe and a designated offering. If the entirety of your gifts to the church are designated, then you aren’t taking that step in faith. And when people get mad, they sometimes withhold their tithe to the local church. I think people think this is then an OK thing to do to the national church, but a collective has different expectations (practical and spiritual) than individuals.

      • says

        This is an area of your theology that I’m still a little fuzzy on. Given that you’re such a strong proponent of local theology, fighting against many of the upper powers in our denomination, I find myself perplexed when you make a distinction between the individual and the collective. My understanding is that you would like for our collective identity to be broken down into more local identities. How do you delineate the sacrifices that should be made when part of a collective? Do we sacrifice? I’m reading that you think we should sacrifice our funds even when we know they will be spent in ways that we don’t like. What else should we give up when part of a collective?

  2. Sara Baron says

    For the first time in history, the General Church took LESS money for the 2013-2016 quadrennial in real dollars than the previous quadrennium. Additionally, the General Church has taken a consistently decreasing percentage of the funds that come into local churches since the merger that created the United Methodist Church. The 22% figure names reflects the proportion of the money that an Annual Conference receives that it then passes on to the General Church, a proportion that has changed primarily due to a lessening of ministry on the Annual Conference Level. The percentage of local church funds that go to the General Church are in the range of 3.5%. Furthermore, while the paragraph of the Book of Discipline sighted does not name that the churches are asked to pay appropriate proportions, I would wonder if another part of the Discipline invests proportioning of General Church funds in, say, the General Council on Finance and Administration, thus implying that the funds are meant to be used as designated by the body who is invested with deciding where they should best go.

    • Creed Pogue says

      11% of the amount that a local church sends to the annual conference (including what is forwarded to the General Church) and spends for direct benevolences outside The UMC connection went for General Church apportionments in 2010. http://www.gcfa.org/sites/default/files/u3/Financial_Commitment_Book_2013-2016_FINAL_1-23-13_w_Rpt_8_edit.pdf

      Since a large portion of money sent to the annual conference goes for billings like pension, health insurance and property insurance, then figuring that about a fifth of the money a local church has available for benevolences of various types is going to the General Church is likely to be valid.

      The ANNUAL CONFERENCE forwards money to GCFA for each of the apportioned funds individually. There is not an undesignated lump sum sent to Nashville.

  3. Creed Pogue says

    People who advocate disobedience to the letter of the Discipline based on their own perception of what is right and wrong have a limited standing to now say what is constitutional or legal under the Discipline. I am in favor of marriage equality in civil society. I do believe it should be done by votes of the people or their elected representatives. So, I believe we should uphold and obey the Discipline and that it is wrong to disobey the Discipline especially if you are not willing to accept the consequences.

    The main question is really a logistical one of the format of the billing for apportionments. Western NC appears to give a wide variety of choices in their remittance form, so you could theoretically pay your entire apportioned amount without paying to each of the line items. In Greater NJ, our remittance form is currently six items:
    ***the three outreach funds–Black College, Africa University and Ministerial Education
    ***Clergy Support which includes the Episcopal Fund, retired clergy health care, the Cabinet, etc.
    ***Administration which includes conference administration as well as General Administration Fund
    ***World Service/Conference Benevolences which is what it sounds like: World Service Fund plus conference ministries
    So, I don’t see how we could be “selective.”
    I believe Oregon-Idaho simply has one line for Shared Ministries so everything is included in one number.

    I would prefer spliting the World Service/Conference Benevolence into two parts because I believe that conference benevolence funding suffers because of the inclusion with World Service.

  4. Creed Pogue says

    By our actual experience, a far greater problem is those churches who simply aren’t meeting their connectional obligations without any “selective giving.” If they are failing because of financial issues (a lack of resources or “wallet”), that demands one set of responses. If they are failing because of their own decision not to meet the obligations (differing priorities or “will”), then that demands a different set of responses. Where do the 46% of the churches in the Columbia District fall? Where does the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference as a whole fall? Where does the Western Jurisdiction as a whole fall?

  5. d says

    Laypersons have far more power than they know.
    “Money talks” is true and no person has to give to any organization they are do not support.
    Laypersons can designate where their money is to be spent.
    One can direct their contributions to the Building Fund, Education Ministry, Sunday School expenses or that new refrigerator that stopped working at their local church. You do not have to give to the general fund and you can demand accountability of how your donations are spent. That’s the law.
    So..If you are not being heard or you do not like what your contributions are supporting, stop funding them.
    Take control of your good fortune and be a good steward.

    “It is therefore of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent; that they be instructed how it may answer these glorious ends, and in the highest degree. And, perhaps, all the instructions which are necessary for this may be reduced to three plain rules, by the exact observance whereof we may approve ourselves faithful stewards of “the mammon of unrighteousness”

    John Wesley sermon 50 “The Use of Money”

  6. says

    We can talk about the Western Jurisdiction all day long, but it has nothing to do with the argument Jeremy presents here. Even if they were selectively giving, it wouldn’t take away from Jeremy’s argument that selectively giving is wrong. I don’t agree with everything that happens in my conference. I also don’t think one can make the argument that apportionment deficiencies and Advance payments are the same thing. Apportionment payments come from churches, while many Advance payments come from individuals. Individuals giving money to the Advance often list their local church, which makes it look like the money comes through the church, or a check is written to the local church with an advance number indicated on the memo line. As a pastor, I am legally obligated to pass that money onto the advance, whether I like it or not.

    • Creed Pogue says

      I am not wild about selective giving either. But, this whole “expose” ignores the reality that it has been going on for years and half of the Western Jurisdiction is at the top of the game.

      Also, I was not trying to say that Advance giving and apportionment payments are the same thing. But, again, the Western Jurisdiction has the highest level of Advance giving per member. What are the pastors saying to their flocks?

    • says

      You mean that as a lowly pastor ON LOAN to the West that wrote an article NOT EVEN REMOTELY about the Western Jurisdiction that I don’t have to talk about it? Thanks Dalton! :-)

  7. says

    Decentralized vs. centralized is a bit of a false dichotomy. If what you want is a less top-heavy, bureaucratic structure, then you need fewer people making decisions so that decisions can actually get made. The UMC is currently attempting an American-style republican democracy without anything like an executive branch empowered to actually do anything. You suggest a “power grab” is a bad thing. I say we are a big, bloated boat without a rudder (actually we are more like a bunch of barges strung together with fishing line and no tugboat) – i.e. our current structure forces us to go where the wind blows without any ability to choose a direction. We are running a massive multinational structure without a CEO or even a Board of Directors, and the results speak for themselves. Sheep need a shepherd, not a structure that caters to their every bleat.

    As for “holding hostage,” it is the General Boards and Agencies (and the constituencies who support them) who are holding the mission hostage – because they are more interested in protecting their own interests than aligning resources of the church to actually do the work of the church. When the structure is designed to discourage any meaningful change, other means can legitimately be sought. Langford, who I am proud to have in my conference, has given us one valid option. Is it legal? I don’t know. I don’t particularly care, because the body who decides that has proven that it is not interested in allowing any meaningful changes to occur.

    • says

      Drew, “not caring” whether an option is “legal” is a pretty questionable statement. If clergy are to uphold the Discipline and regularly refer to the Discipline to correct “local variances” on decision making, then they have to care about whether an option is legal. Even the clergy that signed statements saying they would violate the Discipline to marry same-sex couples were fully “caring” as to the legality of their choice.

      • says

        I probably should have said legal “according to the Judicial Council.” And since when are clergy held accountable to the Discipline? Let’s not start concerning ourselves with that now…

        That said, and per your comment below, I would love to hear thoughts on how a *more* decentralized church is going to be more effective and remain recognizably United Methodist. I’m all for empowering Conferences and Districts more so than the General Church, but that still involves culling the heart of bureaucracy up top and redirecting the emphasis of attention, energy, and resources to local churches and other entities closer to the ground. To do that, you need leadership that is willing and able make those hard decisions and stand up to the system, and right now it doesn’t exist because the General Church is digging its heels in.

  8. Stephen says

    A couple of thoughts…

    1. Selective giving is a symptom of distrust (both sides are guilty of this). When this occurs in the local church you have to be proactive about understanding where there is distrust and why there is distrust. This requires time, energy, and relationship building. One of the churches that I have served had people only giving to the music ministry because they thought the music ministry was the only thing at the church worth giving to. I had to do work on my end to help them become part of the broader life of the church. This required the leader doing engaging in some difficult dialogue to see where my people were. In my opinion the general church has not done this. You know what would be a great thing for the GBCS to do? Attend conferences like CoR, LCI, or even just Annual Conferences to see “where the people are, and engage in some dialogue about the issues they discuss”.

    2. This goes along with the first. The Connectional Table is nobody, anybody, everybody. Our local churches have absolutely NO idea who or what or why we have a Connectional Table. They don’t understand why it exists, or who this people are, or why they make some decisions and don’t make other decisions. It is nebulous and the great unknown all rolled up into one. Depending who you are you either love Jim Winkler or can’t stand him, but nobody in our local churches ACTUALLY knows him. Our structure as it is is a very very poor way to to build relationships. Not only that, the Boards and Agencies are tasked with coming up with worship resources for people from Africa to Dallas. This is a HUGE task. I really see us moving to a decentralized, localized, intentionalized polity along Jurisdictional lines. Maybe what we actually need are Central Conferences in the U.S. each tasked with developing its own mission, tasks, and resources?

    • says

      Stephen, thank you for your thoughts.

      (1) I think your example about the music ministry and the clergy needing to broaden people’s giving is an excellent example of the type of work our leaders need to do, from the local to the multi-national level. I would agree that GBCS and other agencies haven’t done the legwork needed to make people fully aware that they are not all “one issue” and could do better to make that better known.

      (2) I fully am encouraged by your decentralized vision. I am hopeful that 2016 is also a change year, but in a direction towards decentralization rather than 2012’s failed emphasis on centralizing everything.

    • John says

      Stephen,
      I believe that you are correct. I would add that the UMC structure appears to lack any practical approach, short of what Rev. Andy Langford proposes, for holding General Agencies accountable for their ministries, stewardship or obedience to The Discipline. General Conference is an assembly of hundreds whose agenda is so crowded that they cannot consider every proposal that comes before them. They are captives of their committees, many of whose members are laity who do not have the time to consider the details of agency ministries. Most of these people travel to General Agencies on their own time and funds. On the other hand, the General Agencies support (i.e., lobby) these committees on the UMC’s dime with their version of the facts. The agencies are also more knowledgeable about the intricacies of the agenda setting and voting process (e.g., how to stick controversial items on the consent calendar). The upshot is no effective oversight of the General Agencies. It is obvious in their behavior. Why does UMCOM set UMC mission priorities (e.g., Nothing but Nets)? Why do GBCS public statements and lobbying disparage the parts of the Discipline that do not fit their agenda (e.g., the comment about pregnancy clinics in the WD / GBCS statement of the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade)? There is a reason that the people in the pews do not trust the general agencies. There is no accountability and no effective mechanism to hold them accountable. As missions chairperson in our local church who encourages payment of all apportionments, I am very thankful that our church family does not know much about what GBCS and GBGM do. I work to keep it tat way. One of my favorite examples of the lack of accountability was the way that our bishop addressed the local criticism of the UMC that caused by Nancy Pelosi thanking the UMC for its strong support of Obamacare. He said that the support was from GBCS, which doesn’t speak for the UMC, only General Conference speaks for the UMC. What kind of dysfunctional organization funds a lobbyist group that does not speak for the organization?
      I am far from certain that Rev. Langford’s proposal is a good solution to the accountability problem. However, I do believe that it is a problem that needs to be solved. Of course, there are also issues with the accountability of the Judicial Council. But one thing of which the General agencies and bishops seem to be quite certain. Our pastors who are organizationally accountable to the local church Staff Parish Relations Committee, the District Superintendent, and the Bishop clearly need to be held to greater accountability. One has to laugh because weeping is the only credible alternative.

  9. Donald C Kosloff says

    I am one of the despised and disregarded peasants who sits in the pews. Since I don’t want my money spent on left-wing or unGodly action, I am classified as “right-wing”. I can handle that, but I will spend less time in the pew and contribute less money. That is the effect of the hate that is being directed at me.

    • says

      The only designation of “right-wing” in this article is towards the leadership of particular caucus groups within the UMC. I’m sorry you felt like it was “hate” directed at you but the letter of the article is directed elsewhere in its intent and grammar.

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