Holding the UMC Hostage 03 – Collateral Damages

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

“By combining several smaller gifts into a larger amount, we can effect change across the world. Individual churches can minister to a small area; however, as a connectional church, we can do big things, all in the name of Jesus Christ.” – UMCgiving.org

“Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” – James 3:16

Previously in this series we’ve examined (a) the history of churches that withhold their church tithes (“Apportionments”) and (b) the rationale and proposal of a blueprint for churches to do this same thing today.

Has this been done before?

In reality, Langford is only articulating what other churches and perhaps conferences operate under already. The truth is that this theory has been put into practice in many different places, with disturbing reasons. For example:

  1. A few years back, the Southwest Texas Annual Conference had a large church that objected to spending any money on campus ministries and redirected those apportionment funds to another line item.
  2. About five years ago, a large Oklahoma congregation objected to spending any money on the “Interdenominational Cooperation Fund” (their primary objection was to the National/World Council of Churches, I suspect) and instead overpaid on some other apportionments. I don’t know if that is their current practice.
  3. Some churches contest paying the ethnic causes funds because their congregations do not reflect that racial diversity and they don’t see the benefit “to them” of it. I know of one District Superintendent who would bring a $20bill to every rural charge conference (sad but true, folks!), that had paid 99%, and when it would be obvious that the congregation was not going to pay the $17 Black Church fund line item, he would hand them a $20 bill in an envelope designated to that fund. Boom!
So while this is not an original idea, it is the first to come with some instructions and a rabble-rousing call for defunding without accountability to the effects.

Advantages: Possibly higher tithes paid!

Some people whom I spoke with about this type of Apportionment said it could actually be a good thing:

  1. For churches opposed to General Church initiatives and who cannot see the good things done because of resentment towards the GBCS and UMW and GBGM, such a proposal gives them the opportunity to pay apportionments because they believe their money isn’t going towards those entities. Shifting payments allows pastors to encourage churches to pay the full apportionment by promising that their money won’t go to those bastions of homo-liberal agendas General Agencies. As one conference leader said:

    Churches are already refusing to pay parts of their apportionments for theological reasons. Paying 100% of apportionments, even with a diversion toward preferred ends, would be progress in some places.

  2. In the report, Andy asks for more differentiating of funds rather than putting them in smaller number of unified funds. This slicing up of resources may, according to one conference treasurer that I interviewed, actually lead to a higher percentage of smaller funds being paid in full. This phenomenon is already in place as that treasurer noticed that smaller funds are usually paid off whereas larger funds are simply “chopped away at.” 100% paid of an item means more to some churches than a higher percentage on World Service Fund, so that’s a practical consideration.

Disadvantages: Collateral Damage

The primary problem is one with big bold letters: this isn’t a line-item veto like Langford’s proposal would have you believe. While not giving to an effort because of theological reasons is at least arguable if you are just defunding that cause, the way how the UMC is set up is that our ministries are bundled together. While evangelical’s ire is usually focused on the General Board of Church and Society for their perceived liberal stances, and at the Global Missions for valuing lives-made-better over souls-saved, defunding the World Service Fund would radically affect efforts that are, at every numerical target, making disciples of Jesus Christ:

  1. Missionaries rely on the World Service Fund for 38% of their support, which is more flexibly spent on areas of need than locked-away in Advance Specials.
  2. Camps and Retreat ministries are funded at the conference level and from campers, but for special outreach to at-risk populations, they can receive WSF-funded grants. For example, in my Oregon-Idaho conference, a camp for AIDS patients got a grant from GBGM/UMCOR as part of the Global AIDS fund initiative; Native American camps receive Native American ministry plan funds, just as examples.
  3. Defunding the World Service Fund would remove almost $12million dollars from ethnic national causes in America and beyond.
  4. Defunding the World Service Fund would deplete the availability of the $5million dollars that General Conference 2012 set aside for theological education in the Central Conferences, which comes out of the World Service Fund.
  5. The way that funds are bundled now, there would be (in the short term) some unexpected consequences of the divestment. For example, in previous years in Oklahoma support of the Oklahoma Indian-Missionary Conference clergy’s salary and pension was bundled with World Service Fund (WSF). So by not paying the WSF line item, churches were denying a living wage and pension to their neighboring ethnic clergy (please note, this is not the case in 2012-present).
  6. Denying funds in this way denies the will of General Conference. The General Agencies are tasked with certain activities and programs by the will of the General Conference. They are the executive branch which puts into place the will of the legislative branch, which is the voice of the people. As one General Church staffperson shares:

    None of our general agencies could function well at all were it not for funding received via WSF. It’s not a question of streamlining– but actual capacity. Most agencies have already cut both programming they directly cover and staffing pretty close to the bone. Withdrawing WSF would basically make it impossible for them to deliver anything close to what the Discipline requires them to do.

The United Methodist Church is a shared life together; our resources benefit causes we agree with and benefit causes we disagree with. Our church tithe supports these equally and each church gives in faith that the vast proportional of the dollar will go towards where they believe in. But some cannot get over the 22 cents of every dollar that leaves the local church and believe it is either (a) the devils work or (b) unfaithfully spent. And they want local churches to decide that they know best for the denomination and want to defund its shared work towards its shared mission–if that’s not an embrace of Congregationalism over Connectionalism, I don’t know what is.

Your turn:

Tomorrow’s post is the last in this series with much more informed opinions, but here’s some questions:

  1. What other advantages do you see to this plan?
  2. What other collateral damages do you anticipate happening if this plan becomes widespread?
  3. How might we better strengthen a connectional church rather than dissolve into congregationalism? Or is that okay?
Join us tomorrow for the final post!
(Image Credit: “Clean Money” by flahertyb on Flickr, shared under Creative Commons License)
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Comments

  1. says

    I’m very curious about your argument of congregationalism vs. connectionalism. In tough economic times, congregations are cutting staff, local missions, and programs in order to stay afloat. They are trying to figure out how to do more with less — some are succeeding at this and others are not. Is it being “congregationalist” when local churches ask annual conferences and the general church to move in a similar direction? Is it “congregationalist” to ask for a reduction of apportionments (or just permission not to pay 100%) so that more work on the ground can be accomplished? And is it being “congregationalist” to push for some agency accountability at the local level when it seems no one at the top level is interested in making a move toward more accountability?

    Call me crazy but I’m a little skeptical because I read a lot of strawman agendas in these posts and very little about the many other (very sane and justified) reasons local churches would support such a move. Maybe, just maybe, there’s more to this than the same tired liberal vs. conservative dichotomy we reach for every time there’s a dust up in the UMC?

    • says

      This proposal, as I’ve shown in the previous post, doesn’t “ask permission” but instead unilaterally takes it without a congregational vote or clergy input necessary. And I would claim the “collateral damages” are all “sane and justified” concerns:
      – I don’t think it is sane to defund the work of our missionaries who are sent there in faith.
      – I don’t think it is justified to remove money from ethnical outreach.
      – I don’t think it is sane to overturn GC2012’s clear desire for theological education overseas.
      – I don’t think it is justified to defund because of one concern and not care if other concerns go unfunded as well.
      – I don’t think it is sane to expect defunding to do anything other than remove any ability for the GAs to be able to accomplish what GC2012 expects them to accomplish.

      In the previous post, I showed how this time it IS beyond the liberal v. conservative dustup as I showed that Langford is concerned about structure and not about liberal agendas. Other snide comments aside that I sneak in there, the defunding is what this article is about, not liberal v. conservatism.

      • John says

        I believe that Ben G. has a point. The collateral damage argument seems to be basically that we have to send a dollar to the General Agencies because a penny or so of it actually goes to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Every penny of that apportionment money is a sacrificial gift to God from members of my church family. It seems to me that, as a finance committee member, I am accountable to them and to God to ensure that those funds are best used for His kingdom. Our church is at the stage where we may have lay off staff to pay our apportionments. It seems a reasonable question whether the apportionment funds will do more to make disciples for Jesus Christ than our staff members are doing. The collateral damage argument sounds remarkably like the “Washington Monument Strategy” employed by our Federal Government agencies. (If we cut a penny of the National Parks budget, they will have to close the Washington Monument.) Perhaps even with reduced budgets the General Agencies can still accomplish the activities that will make disciples while not funding the “hobby horse” activities that they slipped into the details of the budget that the overburdened General Conference had no time to address. What, in fact, does GC2012 expect the General Agencies to accomplish other than more of the same? Who keeps track of whether the General Agencies actually accomplish what the General Conference expects? As I mentioned in the comment on Part 2, I see no evidence that the General Agencies are effectively accountable to anyone but themselves.

      • says

        The problem is the perceived “agendas” you seem to advance. Maybe I’m reading too much into your “inserted snark?”

        But the big issue for me is the perceived notion that agencies automatically need all the money they receive or else they cannot function and local churches are greedy for questioning the way agencies spend their $$. For many of us have been forced to learn and adapt to doing ministry with less money, I think it’s good to question why it seems an impossible task for agencies.

        By the way I have tons of respect for all of the agencies who submitted smaller budgets at GC2012 in response to such questions. I know that was tough and I respect them all for trying. All except GBCS who was the only agency not to reduce their submitted budget…

        • says

          I also appreciated the agencies who downsized their boards and I also was frustrated with GBCS for not going that way either. I know that “representation” is probably their rationale, but I would have rather funds freed up for advocacy than board membership.

          I would be the first to say that it is not my intend to say that churches are greedy, but…well, my comments are coming in part 4. I’ll save you the horror of reading them twice. :-)

        • Carolyn says

          Ben, I’m interested in your statement, “the big issue for me is the perceived notion that agencies automatically need all the money they receive or else they cannot function”. This directly contradicts Jeremy’s quote of a General Board member, “None of our general agencies could function well at all were it not for funding received via WSF. It’s not a question of streamlining– but actual capacity. Most agencies have already cut both programming they directly cover and staffing pretty close to the bone. Withdrawing WSF would basically make it impossible for them to deliver anything close to what the Discipline requires them to do.”

          My question is: why do you believe that the General Boards/ Agencies don’t need every dollar they are given, when the person who was quoted says they do? Do you believe that this person only said that so s/he can keep her job?

          This is a totally serious question. No snark involved.

  2. Donnie says

    Out of curiosity, Jeremy, how would you feel if you knew a portion of your tithe was going to support beliefs you find repugnant?

    • says

      It already does. I have enormous frustrations with UMCOM and UMPH. I just find “Methodist” channels for my frustration, not defunding things unilaterally. That’s not the Methodist way…

      …and I would say more, but those are in part 4, so I don’t want to repeat myself :-)

  3. Creed Pogue says

    Sometimes it isn’t a matter of what you don’t know, but instead what you do “know” that just ain’t so.

    The United Methodist Publishing House aka Cokesbury receives ZERO apportionment funding.

    Global AIDS funding is through the Advance. Native American funding is usually through the Native American Ministries Special Sunday. This is similar to the confusion about UMCOR which receives funding for its administrative expenses from the One Great Hour of Sharing Special Sunday not apportionment dollars.

    The total funding for Asian American Language Ministry, Korean Ministry, Hispanic/Latino Ministry and Pacific Island Ministry is about $7.4 million not $12 million. It appears that all of the effort is within the USA.

    Missionaries are receiving about $6 million out of the $28 million of WSF allocated for GBGM. One is forced to ask about the priorities of the remaining $22 million a year.

    All of this sturm und drang ignores the basic fact that conferences like mine in Greater NJ and yours in OR-ID cannot do what Rev. Langford is suggesting even if we wanted to. Unless your remittance form is set up to provide a variety of choices, then the apportionment dollars that are paid are going to continue to go where they have been going.

    You also continue to ignore the basic reality that the Western Jurisdiction doesn’t even meet the basic connectional responsibility of paying for their own bishops and haven’t for a long, long time (since 2000 and likely before that). For 2012 (the Financial Commitment Report is now available from GCFA), the Western Jurisdiction fell $242K short of paying for their own bishops and contributed ZERO toward the central conference bishops and the retirees. What is connectional about that? When is the multi-part series on this coming out???

    By the way, the Northeastern Jurisdiction contributes $826K toward episcopal connectionalism, the South Central Jurisdiction contributes $1.69 million, the North Central Jurisdiction contributes $1.76 million, and the Southeastern Jurisdiction contributes $3.98 million(!) while we subsidize the Western Jurisdiction bishops by $242K???

    Pacific Northwest only paid 84% (3% better than 2011) of its apportionments falling $187K short while sending $388K to the Advance. California-Pacific only paid 81% (17% better than 2011) of its apportionments falling $516K short while sending $857K to the Advance. California-Nevada only paid 68% (9% better than 2011) of its apportionments falling $630K short while sending $536K to the Advance. Oregon-Idaho only paid 74% (14% better than 2011) of its apportionments falling $189K short while sending $229K to the Advance. This is obviously selective giving by the churches and their members. What are the pastors and bishops doing about it? Accountability seems to be absent.

    It would seem far more worthy of attention to address the fact that the Western Jurisdiction has declined so much that the North Georgia Annual Conference alone has more members than the whole Western Jurisdiction. There are too many eyes with logs in their eyes west of 100 degrees longitude to complain about splinters in others.

  4. Jeni Markham Clewell says

    I know that the details of this are very complicated. We have disagreement in our church about issues and structures, process and polity. Nothing new. Conflict is not outside of God’s dream, but collaboration isn’t either. John Wesley reduced it to a beautifully turned phrase, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.” I believe I read somewhere that the love of money is the root of all evil, so why so much confrontation? We have brilliant financial advisors who can help make this work, but we may have to COMPROMISE. It doesn’t seem to be a popular notion in church or government right now, but it’s the way.

    • says

      I think the frustration is that some congregations feel like they have been “compromising” for too long. And when that frustration hits, some congregations will likely choose a non-connectional way to deal with it such as this proposal. I’m trying to show the collateral damages from such a movement.

  5. Chris says

    The damage is done by a church (specifically the General Conference) that continues to support and fund ministries that should be cut… deeply and drastically cut.

    The damage that is done is caused by those very agencies. They are not doing themselves any favors. There is no “perceived liberal agenda.” There IS a liberal agenda. One example, last month for the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade, GBCS and UMW released a joint statement celebrating Roe and calling for more reproductive justice to support abortion. That isn’t perceived. That’s REAL. they could have balanced that by joining the March for Life the Friday after the inauguration but they didn’t. Instead they showed up on Saturday for a gun-control rally.

    This collateral damage isn’t damage caused by local churches refusing to pay certain line-items. This damage is done by General Boards and Agencies that refuse to (at least) keep a balanced approach to their political and social advocacy or (at best) uphold the Truth of Scripture in their work. Don’t blame the local churches for protesting through economic boycotts. Blame those agencies who alienate good people and send them to find other means to do God’s Kingdom work.

    To top it off, churches are held hostage by other policies, like the Trust clause or threats to move pastors, etc. because of their protest. There is injustice in the system. But you are seeing it through your own “perceived liberal agenda” or should I say your real liberal agenda.

  6. says

    Haven’t read Part 4 yet. Seems glaringly obvious at this point, though, that the real problem might be the bundled funds. I know it’s an extreme metaphor to use, so please forgive me, but a common terrorist tactic when under attack is to take shelter in a hospital or school, where they will be surrounded by innocents. It would seem that we have so structured some parts of our denomination such that programs which all would see as faithful are bundled with programs that many would see as harmful. In that case, you can’t destroy the harmful without hurting the helpful so…you can’t destroy the harmful. But you can’t be ambivalent to what you see as harmful, either. You have to speak and be heard. And the best way to speak and be heard, for many congregations, is with money. Money talks. I’m interested in the option that makes more line items and separates things out. I would also be interested in something where individual churches are given the option to choose which funds they want to support. If they don’t want to support something, either they’re stupid, or the program is no bueno. Either way, everything is brought out into the light…

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