All these sentiments expressed in the political world reflect a desire to keep our finances close by and our focus on our local communities.
Recently, I’ve noticed at least three situations that cause me to wonder if that same sort of “keep mission and money local” mentality is taking root in the United Methodist Church. Like the Tea Party protesting the tax policies of the Obama administration, this kind of mentality seems to protest sending church voices, leaders, and money beyond their borders to the rest of United Methodism.
The mentality has three embodiments that I’ve noticed so far:
- Only Local Witness – Focus on local missional concerns at the expense of global witness. When one Annual Conference was debating Resolutions on Israel/Palestine, the comment was made (summarized): “why do we do this? What possible change could come from us passing this Resolution about a country half the world away? We are past our heyday of global influence. Why not focus on suffering and injustice in our own communities?” Such a mentality reflects that there is suffering and injustice in our own communities–why not focus all our energies on fixing up our own house before we speak–perhaps flaccidly–on global issues.
- Only Local Leadership – Focus on annual conference leadership at the expense of global church leadership. At one Annual Conference, the Bishop stood and told the gathered body that the Bishop would no longer participate in any General Board or Agency that did not have a local presence in their Annual Conference. This means that if the conference did not have a Conference Board of Church and Society, then the Bishop would not attend the General Board of Church and Society’s events or meetings. Such a mentality reflects that only those general church structures that directly benefit and operate in our backyard are worthy of sending our lay and clergy leadership to–from the Bishop on down.
- Only Local Money – Focus on money going to local/conference funds rather than general church funds. Hacking Christianity did a unique blog series on a Proposal by Andy Langford to divest in the General Church budget and to divert that money to local/district/conference funds. By doing this, they would be effectively removing money from all general church efforts–even those that do good work by both liberal and conservative ends of the denomination. Such a mentality reflects that apportionments are seen not as tithes but as payments to errant parts of the church and local churches should divest in the global church out of protest–even if the good parts get hurt in the process.
I understand this mentality. Indeed, it follows the efforts of the Call To Action: to focus all our resources on creating vital congregations. Any resources that did not do this should not be spent in those areas. And the entire church should re-align its money and ministry to achieve this goal of strong local units.
I don’t disagree with the need for vital congregations and that they are the primary arena of the church. But I wonder now if this movement towards aligning all resources to be locally-based is being usurped by those who want to keep all our resources local instead of seeing the resources return locally.
In other words, there’s a big difference between paying a $5,000 church tithe and seeing every penny return in resources from the global and regional church…and deciding to keep that $5,000 for one’s self. And there’s a big difference between sending clergy/lay leadership to the general church to support everyone…and deciding only to provide leadership to groups that directly benefit one’s region (to one’s own estimation). The formers are connectional and believe we are all in this together…the latters are congregational and believe we need to take care of ourselves first before the rest of the Body.
I hope I’m wrong, so let’s put this out there: what do you think? Is this kind of Tea Party Methodism starting to take root where the global church situation is seen as not worth our voice, leadership, or money? And are you worried that this sort of mentality is taking root at the financial, justice-seeking, and….the episcopal areas of the church?
Have you seen this sentiment expressed in your annual conferences? If so, report below!
Thanks for reading and commenting.