Holding the #UMC Hostage 01 – The Setting

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

“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”

Introduction

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.

Until now.

The Confessing Movement, long a supporter of anti-Global-Church causes in the United Methodist Church, has began distribution of a manifesto detailing

  1. How local churches can redirect their tithe away from the general church and towards other more local funds, and
  2. 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. 

Your Turn

Part 2 is up next with the new manifesto. But until it posts tomorrow…

  1. What’s your perception of the choices that these churches are making regarding withholding apportionments?
  2. 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)
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Comments

  1. Creed Pogue says

    Perhaps you should look at the log in your own eye first. The Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference has had one of the lowest percentages of General Church apportionments paid. In fact, the Western Jurisdiction has the LOWEST percentage of the five jurisdictions. Adding insult to injury, the amount paid by the Western Jurisdiction is not sufficient to support five bishops (much less the six they did have) and pays nothing toward retired bishops or the central conference bishops. (Five bishops cost $1.56 million and Western Jurisdiction only paid $1.2 million to the Episcopal Fund.) Yet, the Western Jurisdiction regularly receives appreciation from GBGM for its contributions toward the Advance. I appreciate that Portland First has seemed to regularly pay 100% of its apportionments but 46% of your fellow churches in the Columbia District didn’t. While the Columbia District paid a higher percentage of the four districts in O-I, the 82.7% paid would be at the bottom for Greater New Jersey and probably most other conferences east of Denver.

    • says

      Given that I just moved to Oregon Idaho and even the Western Jurisdiction in July, I can hardly represent my current Annual Conference or Jurisdiction. I have no vote here or eligibility for conference leadership to even begin to speak towards the issues above.

      And as far as my local church “seemed to” have paid 100% is in actuality “really does” pay 100% as far as the past 8 years that my records go.

      • Creed Pogue says

        The Western Jurisdiction’s pattern of being the worst for paying their general church apportionments and failing to even pay for their own bishops goes back to at least 2000. You want to make a big deal out of a call to stop paying (or selectively pay) in the future while all around you are people who are doing exactly the same thing (for different reasons) today. Why wouldn’t you focus on your local issue rather than try to create another big conspiracy theory?

    • says

      In your blistering critique, did you consider comparing these WJ churches with churches of comparable size in the other Annual Conferences you mention? Even though I am aware of small churches that pay their apportionment, sometimes by dipping into legacy endowments, capacity to pay is a factor to consider as well. Comparing apples to apples might be a better place to start with than equating capacity to intent/desire.

      • Tom Lambrecht says

        Capacity to pay is a good point, Patrick. How are apportionments calculated in your annual conference? In my home conference of Wisconsin, it is based 1/3 on the number of church members and 2/3 on the amount spent by the local church on the local church (i.e., excluding apportionments and other mission giving). That would seem to measure the capacity to pay. I believe that general church apportionments are calculated in a similar way, with a formula designed to measure capacity to pay. I believe there is even a regional cost of living factor in the general church apportionment calculation.
        If capacity to pay is already part of the calculation, then it is really not off-base to suggest that perhaps some regions of the church are underperforming on their apportionment payments. The next important question is why? Are churches failing to pay because they prioritize local expenses or because they disapprove of the way some of the money is being spent? I suspect nationally there is much more of the former than of the latter reason.

        • Johnny says

          You make a good point, but I would also question how useful this manner is of figuring a congregations capacity to pay. Certainly not every member of the UMC is going to be able to tithe exactly the same, and considering that many church buildings in urban areas are very old and require a lot of upkeep, assuming the capacity to pay on number of church members and amount spent on the local church could put certain congregations in a spot where they are assumed to be much more capable than they actually are.

        • says

          @Thomas, I suspect there are a lot of reasons. For some I’m aware of, apportionments become less of a priority when the roof is leaking. For others, it is a way to protest the work of GBCS or a particular political/theological slant they can’t connect with. I’m just not sure that it is wise for anyone to assume one necessarily equates to the other. Not to mention that the comparisons ignore the larger cultural attitude differences in relation to people’s approach to religion.

    • Scott Campbell says

      In the interest of full disclosure, the Western Jurisdiction has the highest per capita giving to the General Church and the Southeastern Jurisdiction has the lowest. The figures are available in the Advance DCA.

  2. says

    “but one that I think contributes more towards the phenomenon of creeping congregationalism than to its intended goal of “making disciples.”

    So who task is it to “make disciples” — the local church or the general church? Last I checked the Discipline also says the local church is the “primary arena for disciple-making.” So when addressing this mission, you’re always going to get congregationalism.

    • says

      The effect of the funds being defunded contributes towards congregationalism more than connectionalism. I don’t think that is disputable. Removing a tithe so that you have more control over it is not connectional, it is congregational. Part 2 will make this more clear. Come back tomorrow :-)

      • says

        Jeremy it’s a bit of a liberal myth to think $$ = meaningful action. Its also a myth of our system to say apportionments = connectionalism. The truth is paying into a system doesn’t necessarily connect churches in a meaningful way. At the end of the day we all remain strangers engaging our local communities in silo. Sadly if we’re dependent on the agencies to be our sole link of connection to one another…well, then we deserve to decline unto death.

        • says

          Ben, I didn’t say that apportionments = connectionalism, I said that giving money beyond ourselves to shared areas contributes towards connectionalism more than congregationalism. Connectionalism is UMCOR, missionaries, boots on the floor, bringing in top resource people to local areas, camps, and so much more. Saying that apportionments = connectionalism is a vast over-simplification of my argument.

          • says

            And couldn’t fewer agencies or less resources force a new sort connectionalism? One based on relationships and shared ministry and not on agencies who work in silo?

      • Creed Pogue says

        So, the fact that the Western Jurisdiction pays the least of any jurisdiction toward the Episcopal Fund, the World Service Fund, the Interdominational Cooperation Fund, etc. says what? It would seem to say that too many in the WJ put their own interests and desires above the connection as a whole. Funding second mile giving like the Advance before first mile giving like World Service would also seem to indicate a desire for immediate appreciation rather than benefitting the whole. I can only imagine how heated you would be if the Southeastern Jurisdiction was at the bottom instead of the Western.

  3. says

    I think it is unfortunate that this is in danger of being nothing more than a redux for the sexuality discussion. I support the idea of defunding the General Agencies, but it has nothing to do with sexuality issues or any social or theological matters. It’s a stewardship issue. The General Boards and Agencies have their constituencies out in force at GC to block any attempt to reign them in. As Gil Rendle notes in Back to Zero, the private mission of various constituencies and agencies has taken over the public mission of the UMC. The days of siloed organizations insulated from each other and without accountability from the top need to be over so we can align our resources with the goal of reclaiming momentum as a church whose primary focus is to make disciples for the transformation of the world.

    • says

      Part II addresses that while this is in the same genre it has a different motivation than the past. However, the methodology shares the same tenets as the past.

    • Creed Pogue says

      Calling out other people for something that people you agree with are doing is simply hypocrisy. Rather than decry a proposal for future selective giving, shouldn’t attention be given to the selective giving that is already happening? What does the Western Jurisdiction want? Jeremy has been active with #DreamUMC which seems sympathetic with desires for autonomy by jurisdictions. That isn’t exactly compatible with connectionalism.

    • Carolyn says

      One thing that strikes me about the withholding of apportionments is that it seems to always be about sexuality in some way: either who has sex with whom, or what happens when someone has an unwanted child (the result of a sex act committed in concordance with or against the will of the one bearing said child). There are things in our church that have been far more scandalous to the Gospel, such as investing in corrupt companies or failure to abide by the church’s non-violence teachings. Why do people get so upset when sex is involved, but not about other moral issues? Why are people willing to withhold money for only certain issues? Because it is so important to them to get their way, and they think withholding money will do that?

  4. Creed Pogue says

    The December 2012 Financial Commitment Report which shows payments by conference is not yet available on the GCFA website. But, 2011 is probably a good indicator. Fortunately, two conferences (Alaska and Desert Southwest) paid 100% while Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone paid 95%. But, Pacific Northwest was apportioned $1.09 million and only paid $880K (81%) but also contributed at least $619K to the Advance–doing second mile before completing first mile. California-Pacific was apportioned $2.73 million and only paid $1.74 million (64%) but also contributed $1.52 million to the Advance. California-Nevada was apportioned $2.04 million and only paid $1.2 million (59%) but also contributed $968K to the Advance. Oregon-Idaho was apportioned $761K and only paid $454K (60%) but also contributed $301K to the Advance. Those four conferences contributed $3.4 million to the Advance while shorting their general church apportionments by $2.35 million. Here is a setting, a blueprint and a showing of effects. What conclusion should we draw from this besides a lot of people in the Western Jurisdiction aren’t walking the walk?

  5. Amy says

    Jeremy,

    I understand that Creed Pogue has been slightly harassing in this thread, perhaps you want to ignore him/her. But that last comment makes me do a double take. Is it possible a lot of folk in the WJ have been doing this anyway, redirecting their funds toward causes they see as more effective than General Agencies, but they have done so quietly, w/o manifesto and maybe even w/o organization? That’s problematic too.

    My first response to the manifesto is that Andy Langford is impatient. Efforts to reform the General Church structure were struck down at GC but they are far from dead. The idea of designated giving is dangerous in a local church and every level above. I don’t want church members saying their pledge must go for the electric bill only and not that pesky pastor’s over-generous pension plan. I doubt Rev Langford does either. Congregation members give in response to God and then trust the work of the finance committee and leadership to spend the money wisely. If they don’t like it, get on the finance committee, don’t withhold or redirect money. The same principle applies to the General Church level.

    • Creed Pogue says

      I’m sorry Amy if bringing facts into a discussion is “harassing.” So much for dialogue or “holy conferencing” if you simply decide to ignore those you disagree with or who make arguments that you aren’t able to answer. I put my full name on my comments because I am accountable for what I say.

    • says

      Amy, thanks for your question and prodding my response. :-) I really don’t have any comment yet because I don’t know why the WJ chooses designated giving over proportional giving. I’ll look into it and hopefully have some context. Contrary to others, most of what I put out is well-researched or deliberated, and I simply haven’t been aware enough of the discrepancy to research it. I agree it is problematic as I see the apportionment as a tithe not a designated offering.

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