Buyout Power: Will Large Churches trump #UMC Bishops? [2/2]



In the United Methodist Church, there’s always been some power struggles between Bishops (who have power over states/regions in the UMC) and large churches in their area. What is different today is that these large churches are organizing, targeting, and pressuring Bishops who are not even in their regions. 

Yesterday we traced the history of the “dark side” of the relationship between large church pastors and Bishops. Read Part 1 here and read on for Part 2…

Buyout Power…

Continuing from yesterday’s conversation, why are these churches extending their power conflict from the local disagreements to challenge bishops who are not part of their direct administrative relationship?

While there are many factors–some more charitable than others–there’s one that hasn’t been articulated as much, and I know readers come to the Hacking Christianity community for those novel approaches.

We look to an unlikely source. Dr. Tom Oden (one of the intellectual forces behind the conservative Confessing Movement) wrote in his 2006 book Turning Around the Mainline a criticism of the Episcopal Church and he made a seemingly Freudian slip:

Their wealth tempts them to presume they still have legitimate control and buyout power over the organizational apparatus of the entire Anglican Communion. (page 86)

Buyout power is relatively understandable when it is a direct relationship: when a megachurch pays a huge apportionment, they expect some privileges from the presiding authorities. We’ve written before about a megachurch in Oklahoma that changes the number of appointed positions (that is, Bishop-selected) rather than hired positions (church-selected) based on whether they like their bishops. That’s a direct power struggle that is understandable (though difficult) in our United Methodist system.

…over distant people?

However, the struggle has mutated into the current situation whereby large church pastors are targeting bishops in regions other than their own in the name of the clergy covenant.

  • They are writing against Bishop Talbert who officiated a same-gender wedding.
  • They are writing against Bishop Hagiya who resolved two charges against clergy in the PNW.
  • They are writing against Bishop McLee who dismissed the charges against Ogletree and Tweedy.
  • They are writing against Bishop Carcano who offered asylum to reinstated clergyperson Rev. Frank Schaefer.

Given that all of these bishops are in the West and North and the supermajority of the complainants are in the South, you see my concern about distance. And while one could point out that the Bishops that are receiving the most grief are all ethnic minorities, I’m sure that has nothing to do with it. 😉

This new tendency to target bishops who are distantly removed from the large church’s area is a direct result of that action supported by one large church pastor from Texas in 2008.

  • By increasing the number of churches each Bishop is over, the cordial relationship with large church pastors becomes more distant and power variables increase.
  • By increasing the distance between clergy, the covenant becomes a list of commandments rather than a relationship.

While one can certainly point fingers at the Biblical Obedience movement for forcing action and reaction from the Bishops, the stage was set by the support of a large church pastor in Texas who was mad at a region that was not his own and decided to use his position to act on it…and it all went downhill from there.


It’s important to trace the lines here for United Methodists because, like the Texas pastor in 2008, a little leverage can go a long way in the UMC.

In short, large churches engaged in a power struggle with their bishops is nothing new. What is different today is that it isn’t large churches that are struggling against their own bishops. It is large churches railing together against Bishops who are not even in their jurisdiction (and thus have no administrative effect on their operations) while wielding threats to withhold incredible amounts of money from the United Methodist Church.

But more importantly, the temptation of buyout power of large church pastors is incredibly seductive. I honestly fear this group of pastors has overreached, and in doing so, they threaten the UMC’s financial position and our clergy covenant moreso than any progressive pastor marrying two dudes could ever do. We need to pray for and encourage our Bishops to stand strong against these incredible forces and find a way for us to live together as a unity in diversity.

Your turn:

  • Should the biggest contributors to our United Methodist financial system focus beyond their accountability structure on bishops elected by other jurisdictions?
  • Have pastors who have done same-gender weddings done as much damage to the UMC as $12 million potentially taken from its ministry and missions?

Thanks for your thoughts and I hope you enjoyed this series.

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  1. Jon Altman says

    Jeremy, have you responded to the challenge to the origin of the motion about reduced numbers of Bishops that was lodged yesterday?

    • says

      The origin story needs editing. But the support story (and why the pastor wanted to punish the West) stands on its own and is the greater point.

      However, editing the post will have to wait until I’m back from vacation. Editing wordpress from an iPhone breaks things.

      • Creed Pogue says


        The problem is that acknowledging that the facts don’t support his polemic ruins the whole two-part series. It was more important to spew out invective rather than take the actual facts into account. It might be considered an attack on an ethnic minority if he questioned how did Bishop Hagiya come up with his “facts.”

        Instead of looking at the decrease in “mid-sized” congregations and the increase in “small” congregations that cannot support a full-time ordained elder and asking if we are systematically working toward smaller ones (as Lyle Schaller has expressed), it is much more satisfactory to attack the largest congregations.

  2. says

    A couple thoughts: one itineracy has been mentioned. I am fully itinerant. I have in 24 years of ordination served two churches, and as DS while in one of those churches. I believe long term pastorates are mostly a gift to the church, the denomination, and the community. I have moved when the Bishop has asked me to move.

    2nd. The large church. We have grat responsiblitlity. Ihopeto serve inthe current appointment for along time. My home in doing that will allow for my church to influence the region, the conference, the jurisdiction in positive ways. We must help other churches grow. We must grow leaders. We must model health in mission, ministry, and worship. We must learn from others, be leaders of leaders.

    3rd. On the issue of large territories or numbers of clergy to serve. As DS I had 150ish church’s I my district, while serving the local church. You have to create new systems. With the encouragement of the larger churches in my district we created a system of teaching churches. We entrusted the elders to use their call andbe elders in the region.

    I still believe our best years are ahead together, male, female, clergy, lay, democrats, republicans, gay, straight, trans, sinner and saints. Together we and do so much more. Let’s make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our world.

    Grace and peace.

  3. says

    Jeremy you asked, “Have pastors who have done same-gender weddings done as much damage to the UMC as $12 million potentially taken from its ministry and missions?”

    While it’s obviously a loaded question, my answer still has to be “yes.” Their actions are like more and more little holes appearing in a dam. Each one in and of itself is seemly insignificant, but eventually all these little holes cause the entire dam to collapse.

    That’s exactly what’s happening in the UMC. Those who choose to violate their covenant and those who refuse to hold them accountable for their actions are creating holes in the UMC connection. The talk of schism and the possible loss of the $12 million are an direct result of their disobedience.

    Personally, I thank God for these large church pastors who give voice and power to we who see a minority of people causing great upheaval in our church. If it weren’t for them, progressive bishops and clergy would run willy-nilly over the Discipline.

  4. says

    John, using your analogy of a dam leads me to different conclusions. A dam isn’t designed to hold all the water back. It is built on a solid foundation and is specifically designed to have a spillway for overflow. Little holes are insignificant to its effectiveness. At G C there was a resolution by Hamilton and Slaughter to allow for some spillover in the structure. There were those who would be dammed if they would allow it. That’s the problem. None of us on our side are interested in blowing up the dam of our connection.

  5. says

    Bud, I don’t see the difference between filling the dam with lots of little holes and seeing it collapse or blowing it up in one fell swoop. The end result is the same, the dam is destroyed. I’m not sure how you can say that your side isn’t interested in busting down the dam, when it’s so obvious to me and many others that’s exactly what you’re doing.

    I don’t agree with Slaughter & Hamilton but I respect them for using the legislative process to bring about the change they desire. If that’s what your side was doing, there would be much less conflict. However, when GC is disrupted by protests, and when clergy disobey the Discipline and when bishops refuse to enforce the Discipline, then that’s a whole other story. That’s what is destroying our connection, not a difference in opinion.

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