01 – The Setting | 02 – The Blueprint | 03 – The Effects | 04 – The Conclusion
“The Methodists are one in all the world.” – John Wesley
“A member of any local United Methodist Church is a member of the denomination and the catholic (universal) church” Book of Discipline ¶215, “The Wider Church”
One of the jokes is that if you mistype “United Methodist” you end up with “Untied Methodist” which is apparently how some local churches feel on occasion. They feel like the Global Church structures can do no right, and they resent paying a yearly tithe (“Apportionment”) to the general church that funds the global work that the combined resources allow. They would rather be “untied” from that obligation or have those global church structures fall off into the sea altogether. And throughout our history, local churches have voted, schemed, and outright defied calls to pay the assigned amounts of these required funds.
Thankfully, such acts of rebellion against the global church have been sporadic and not well organized and usually didn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things.
- How local churches can redirect their tithe away from the general church and towards other more local funds, and
- How angry laity can make these changes without the consent of their pastors and their district superintendents—without connectional accountability, in other words.
The full document is a well-researched blueprint (and an honestly well-intentioned one written by a non-Confessing Movement devotee), but one that I think contributes more towards the phenomenon of creeping congregationalism than to its intended goal of “making disciples.”
The following is a series of articles containing original and unoriginal research into the history of these contrite churches who rail against this church tithe, an examination of the Langford proposal, the effects if it were to become widespread practice, and finally my recommendations of how we can better be a connectional church and resist the tendency of frustrated people towards creeping congregationalism.
This is not a new idea
It is important to first note that the idea of withholding the church tithe is not a new thing. It is a regular tactic of those opposed to General Board initiatives (particularly 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, at the insistence of the IRD’s UMAction rightwing advocacy, decided to withhold 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. 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?
- In 2011, as a response to the clergy who pledged to offer same-sex marriages, the authors of the FaithfulUMC petition repeatedly threatened that if the Bishops did not condemn those clergy that the denominations’ largest churches will begin withholding apportionments.
- As an interesting note, while that Petition may claim 4200 clergy signatories, starting at around 2800 there’s a whole lot of Rev. Dr. Online Poker and Rev. Dr. Female Viagras…someone needs to turn on a spam filter. Given that they previously had an illegally displayed picture on their page, their web managers need some serious guidance…
Historically, usually 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.
Part 2 is up next with the new manifesto. But until it posts tomorrow…
- What’s your perception of the choices that these churches are making regarding withholding apportionments?
- Why would churches withhold their money today? It is an ethical/tenable choice in a Connectional church?
Post your thoughts below!(Image Credit: “Clean Money” by flahertyb on Flickr, shared under Creative Commons License)