Buyout Power: Will Large Churches trump #UMC Bishops? [1/2]


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. 

Large Churches v. Bishops: A case study

Bishop Grant Hagiya of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area recently wrote about one of the critical mistakes that the church had made–and it may not be the one that you think of first:

As our United Methodist Church downsizes, one of the critical mistakes, in my judgment, was the removal of one Bishop in each of the Jurisdictional Areas. Actually, this General Conference action was motived politically more than economically or strategically. The Commission to study the Episcopacy in 2004 discussed the idea, but did not bring it forth in legislation, and it seemed that General Conference was not going to act on it.

If the people who studied it most closely thought it was a bad idea, then why did it happen?

Near the end of General Conference, a large church pastor from Texas made the motion to move to one less Bishop for each jurisdiction, and it did pass and was to be enacted two quadrennium from that point. That large church pastor confirmed that he made the motion in order to punish the Western Jurisdiction for costing the general church more money than it brought in. However, this action affected the whole church, and we Bishops that have had to take on huge territories and numbers all believe it was a foolish action.

So in 2004, one large church pastor targeted the Bishops in another jurisdiction, but actually caused incredible strain and difficulty to the entirety of the United Methodist Church.

Edit: In the comments, Beth Ann Cook refutes the origin of the motion mentioned above. The correction doesn’t challenge the integrity of the line of conversation but does offer helpful information. 

History Repeats Itself

Sadly, 2004 is not the first time this happened: large churches have been using their money and people as levers to cause change for the United Methodist Church since 1969. While one might think that large churches would be sharing practices that made them successful (and the best of them do), a history of the dark side of these levers can be read here: “Holding the UMC Hostage.”

Briefly, when churches came together in the past to criticize the church’s leadership, they would generally advocate for change without pressuring the church about withholding money specifically. None of the previous big-name documents (like the 1987 Houston Declaration, 1997 More Excellent Way, 1999 response to the Sacramento 68, or the 2002 Renaissance Affirmation) advocate withholding of funds or schism.

The dramatic shift happened in 2011 when FaithfulUMC was created, gathering signatures to call on the Bishops to speak clearly on the repercussions for the clergy who had pledged to perform same-gender weddings. They sent a second letter in 2012. While that’s an appropriate expression of their opinion, the clergy letter included a troubling section regarding withholding apportionments (read it here: “FaithfulUMC: Holding the UMC Hostage?“). The 2011 petition eventually got 2,770 signatures, which was numerically a massive fail as the Houston Declaration–which was written before the Internet–got 30,000 actual signatures back in 1987. Update: Thomas Lambrecht says the number was actually 16,500 before spammers took over the FaithfulUMC website.

In early 2014, the same group became the Schismatic 60 who came out with a press release advocating for schism. As HackingChristianity articulated at the time, the focus and the timing of the spectacle of that letter was aimed squarely on the Bishops, due to the group hiding the numbers and naming only those pastors whose churches gave around $4.2million in apportionments. A second press release a month later increased to 80 unnamed Schismatics and used spectacle to manipulate the Bishops again, including adding a Foundation director (a money manager for an entire region of the UMC) to their named list. We pledged to ignore them until they named themselves.

Schism…or another letter…

It’s now late in 2014, and the Schismatics have demurred down to another letter written by their renamed group “Methodist Crossroads.” As expected, this is the same group as FaithfulUMC in 2011 and the same list of large church pastors (minus a few large church pastors as they saw what the 2011 group became) and retired culture warriors. I haven’t the time to do the math this time for the first 100 signatories, but there’s many large church pastors in that list.  The content is similar to previous letters.

Why did the Schismatics backed down from their plan to advocate schism?

  • Perhaps they see the Bill Arnold/David Watson plan as their ticket out of the UMC with their $12million in apportionments which they can quietly support without the fuss and drama.
  • Or they are waiting until after the General Conference elections in Spring 2015 as they know any overt schismatics won’t be easily elected.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Part Two forthcoming…

TL;DRIn summary, this is the same group of people that have been doing this action since 2011. Each time, their targets are the Bishops. Each time, their numbers increase only incrementally. Each time, they get louder and more press-savvy. I pray for cooler heads to prevail.

It’s important to trace the lines here for United Methodists because, like the Texas pastor in 2004, a little leverage can go a long way in the UMC. We’ll finish this line of inquiry in Part 2 tomorrow, but in the meantime, your thoughts?

  • When you see large church pastors putting pressure on Bishops, how does that make you feel or think?
  • What effect–if any–do the actions of bishops and areas far geographically removed from these large church pastors actually have on their ministry and mission?

Thanks for your comments!

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  1. Thomas Coates says

    Itinerancy is a check on this power. I am a part of a large UM local church who greatly suffered when the pastor was accused of sexual misconduct. Had the pastor itinerated after 6-10 years, the pain and shock could have been significantly less to our congregation, and the one the pastor could have moved to– it’s likely they would not have been able to re-develop a cult-like following.

    I believe itinerancy is the answer to the problem of UM “megachurches” who withhold or threaten to withhold apportionments and who advocate for schism. God raises up gifted and Spirit-led pastors who can replace the clergy at these churches, and the current clergy can utilize their talents elsewhere within the connection– uplifting the whole, with a check on power.
    Of course, these moves require bishops with the gifts and graces to help the local church understand such moves, but it’s more damaging in the long term to keep these pastors at the same local church than it is for the bishop to move them and appoint another pastor.

    • Wayne Cook says

      Amen and amen. Itinerancy is a good system which I believe in deeply. If used properly it could prevent the cult like followings that often end in disaster. The excuse for leaving pastors for many years is the congregation is growing. I often wonder if the congregation/ Kingdom of God is growing or is the pastor growing their own kingdom?

  2. Thomas Coates says

    Also, Jeremy, I by no means am advocating for this, but I’m curious if the Book of Discipline provides a complaint process for clergy who will not to itenerate, advocate for the non-payment of their apportionment or do not pay it, or, related, call for schism (“order and discipline”) of the UMC. Has your research turned up any information on these? Do bishops have any leeway on these issues or do they have to (“shall”) file charges against clergy suspected of these things? If so, are bishops, including those sympathetic to schismatic opinions, doing this?

    • Wayne Cook says

      Wouldn’t that fall under 2702.0 d and e “(d) failure to perform the work of the ministry; (e) disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church”. If these Elders want to files charges against others for disobedience shouldn’t they have charges filed for failing to pay their apportionments and supporting their bishops?

  3. Beth Ann Cook says

    Hang on a minute! You’ve got some incorrect facts.

    If you go back the GC journal from Ft. Worth you will find that this is not MERELY some kind of partisan political move between the SEJ and the WJ. This motion had a lot to do with stewardship.

    How do I know that? Because I was the one who made the motion on the floor of the GC in Ft. Worth. Please note that I am a fiscally conservative, female, small membership church pastor from Indiana and not a male mega-church pastor from the SEJ.

    I have always been proud that the relatively small churches I have paid 100% of their apportionments. But this has not happened without a struggle. I have voluntarily taken pay freezes, been forced to cut staff, and also cut programming. You may remember that Indiana has been one of the hardest hit places in the economic downturn. Under the leadership of Bishop Mike Coyner, INUMC has worked hard to reallocate a larger portion of our resources to local churches. When I put my name into the hat as a candidate for 2008 GC delegate I expressly stated that I wanted to see the same thing happen at the General Church level. I held true to the promise in how I conducted myself at GC.

    The intent of the motion was not to “punish” the WJ bishops but to hold the line on increases in the Episcopal fund while reallocating monies to areas where the UMC is growing. If you dig back through the record, you will find that I made the motion in conjunction with an effort to spend more on growing episcopal areas in Africa (specifically the Congo). Bishop Hgaiya’s huge episcopal area pales in comparison to North Katanga–and he has a good transportation system. Africa doesn’t.

    Further more, I served on the Episcopal Legislative Group that year and had spent 2 months digging into denominational finances as it related to the Episcopal fund. This proposal came to that LG as a recommendation from the study commission. It is true that the motion was defeated in the LG. It was reversed on the floor of GC after I made my motion. The LG did, however, pass another measure for cost savings in the Episcopal fund that went through on the consent calendar. That measure raised the age cap for mandatory Episcopal retirements.

    It is also worth noting that the impact of the motion downsized our jurisdiction (NCJ) as well as the WJ. Also worth noting is that the SEJ has VOLUNTARILY done with one fewer Bishop than they would be allowed for YEARS. Why? To keep more resources at the local church level.

    If you want a witness to all of this from the progressive camp, I encourage you to ask Kent Millard. Kent is theologically 180 degrees from me. He is now retired. At the time served a Large Membership Church (St. Luke in Indianapolis). Kent and I happen to agree on the need for more resources to remain at the local church level. We both believe that disciples who transform the world are primarily made at the local church level not through church bureaucracy. He will probably remember all of this. Especially since after I sat down the other Indiana delegates ribbed me about going to the microphone to downsize bishops. They said that I had just guaranteed that I would be appointed to “Potato-Run” out in the boonies the next year. (Before entering ministry I was in Human Resource Management and did downsizing so I didn’t think much of doing denominational downsizing.)

    As I recall the motion was seconded by a large church pastor from the SEJ– Steve Wende. Since I was an unknown first-time delegate and Steve was well known, I’m sure he stuck out more in your Bishop’s mind.

    Blessings and peace,
    Beth Ann

    • Skip Spangler says

      Beth Ann,

      There is one thought that I find troubling among the many fine thoughts you offered: the notion that it is inherently good and obviously worthy that monies be reallocated to areas where the United Methodist Church is already growing.

      Shouldn’t the United Methodist Churches in the areas that are already growing be invited to allocate monies to areas where our church takes its next faithful missional steps irrespective of an already existing growth?

      Trumpeting the virtue of reallocating monies to areas where the United Methodist Church is already growing strikes me as blessing the very thing Jeremy argues against. I have a learned much from the wisdom gained along the way by congregations and pastors whose ministries are thriving. They have my deepest respect. But, that respect does not extend to my entitling successful churches to the keys of the denomination or the biggest piece of missional funding.

      • Creed Pogue says

        Remember how big, scary graphics were bad when NW TX youth used them but are now back on Jeremy’s latest? The hysteria really needs to be calmed.

        It is a shame that we aren’t discussing issues based on their actual merits but on who the perceived proponents and opponents are. ALL jurisdictions (except SEJ) lost a bishop. In NEJ, we took our castor oil in 2008. Everyone else did it in 2012.

        Why should there be five bishops in the Western Jurisdiction when there is only one in Northern Georgia which has almost 10% more members and is still growing while with five bishops the WJ is simply melting?

        Why should the rest of us subsidize the Western Jurisdiction which doesn’t even pay for its five bishops much less make any connectional contribution toward the central conferences and the retirees?

        I am not sure where the Bishop is actually getting his information but the changes were embodied in the Episcopal Study for 2008 on page 10:

  4. Beth Ann Cook says

    Let me clarify that I’m not saying we shouldn’t spend money in areas that are declining. My comments were specifically directed to the allocation of the Episcopal Fund. (I don’t believe that an increased number of Bishops in declining areas will do much to turn that trend around. I think a good argument could be made for spending more in those areas on church planters, congregational development specialists, clergy training, or grants for churches to do outreach, etc.)

    The specific situation being addressed in Ft. Worth in 2008 was that we were told there was not enough money to provide an extra Bishop for Congo. We were basically told that the Episcopal fund was a finite pie.

    Congo has seen dramatic increases in both the number of churches and church members. This along with the lack of good transportation and communication infrastructure made for a desperate need for more Bishops. I basically suggested that we slice the pie differently to allow for more of it to be used outside the USA.

  5. Beth Ann Cook says

    Creed thank you to the link for the Episcopal Study. This study was created by GC 2004 and brought this formula change as a proposal to the Episcopal Legislative Group that I served on in 2008.

    It did not pass in committee. I can’t remember if we pulled it from the GC Consent Calendar with signatures or if it was too close to go on the consent calendar. In any case that action was overturned on the floor of GC. I made the original motion to tie the vote on this proposal to the motion to add a Bishop in the Congo.

    I strongly disagree with Bishop Hagiya that this was a mistake. (Of course I’ve never seen anyone whose work load was increased by downsizing who appreciated having that happen.)


  6. says

    Jeremy, I just wanted to correct your information about the FaithfulUMC letter to the bishops. When the letter was sent to the bishops, it had over 2,500 clergy signers and over 12,000 lay signers. Your number evidently didn’t include the lay signers. These signatures were gathered in less than two months, a much shorter time frame than the Houston Declaration had to gather its 30,000. I believe by the end of the third month there were over 16,500 signers total, before spammers started adding many bogus names to the website.

    Also, I believe Beth Ann misspoke when she claimed Steve Wende for the SEJ. He is actually a pastor at First UMC in Houston, part of the SCJ. So that may be what Bishop Hagiya is remembering.

  7. Creed Pogue says

    From the 2008 General Conference legislative tracking:

    Episcopal Areas (81432-SU-¶405)
    Petition Status: Calendar Item
    Petition Text: Submitted Text ADCA p. 459
    References: Book of Discipline: ¶405
    Committee: Superintendency
    Financial Implications: No
    Submitted by:
    Task Force to Study the Episcopacy
    Carolyn Briscoe
    Washington, DC, USA

    Calendar Item Status << Back

    Episcopal Areas (SU20-¶405-N)
    Calendar Item Status: Committee Voted (Printed in DCA p. 2179)
    Calendar Item No: 790
    Petitions on Calendar: 81432
    Consent Calendar: Not assigned to a Consent Calendar.
    Committee Motion: Recommendation to Reject
    Committee Vote:
    For: 44 Against: 13 Not Voting: 0

    Vote Date and Time: 4/26/2008 9:44 PM

    Plenary Action Status << Back

    Last Vote Action: Vote on Main Motion
    This motion was Adopted, with 457 votes for and 401 votes against.
    Plenary Motions:

    4/29/2008 10:14 AM
    Amend the Main Motion by Substitution REJECTED 0-0
    I move that the number of active bishop be reduced among the jurisdictional conference in the US in order to reduce US demand upon the Episcopal fund. The reduction in the number of bishops in each jurisdiction will refelct the needs for bishops in the report of the Task Force to Study the Episcopacy on page 1526 of the Advance DCA. This reduction in US demands upon this fund will free up over $10 million per guadrenniem for episcopal leaders in areas of the world where our membership is expanding. This reduction will be effective no later than 2012.

    4/29/2008 10:29 AM
    Amend Amendment REJECTED 351-540
    I move that we use the data on p. 1534 rather than 1526 to allow resources for the U.S. Church.

    4/29/2008 11:14 AM
    Commit or Refer ADOPTED 478-196
    Refer back to committee to review and bring back to plenery before ending of GC 2008.

    4/29/2008 7:46 PM
    Amend the Main Motion REJECTED 156-620
    ¶405.2 The method for determining the number of bishops assigned to the jurisdictions shall be based on the number of clergy appointed within the jurisdiction, including full and part-time local pastors. The jurisdictions shall be entitled to one bishop for each 1100 appointed clergy, with the exception that each jurisdiction shall be entitled to a minimum of six (6) bishops to accomplish the mission of the area.

    3. The effects of the legislation shall take place September 1, 2012.

    4/29/2008 8:14 PM
    Amend the Main Motion ADOPTED 435-394
    Page 459 of ADCA

    I move to amend petition 81432 by adding a 2.e that shall say: "In the event a reduction in Episcopal assignments in a jurisdiction is required by the above formula, any funds made available will remain in the Episcopal fund to support new Episcopal areas in the Central Conferences."

    4/29/2008 8:36 PM
    Vote on Main Motion ADOPTED 457-401

    • Creed Pogue says

      the original petition:

      Episcopal Areas (81432-SU-¶405)

      Insert the following new paragraph as a substitute for existing ¶405:

      ¶ 405. Provision for Episcopal Areas—
      1. In central conferences, the number of bishops shall be determined on the basis of missional needs, as approved by the General Conference on recommendation of the Commission on Central Conference Affairs.
      2. In the jurisdictions, the number of bishops shall be determined on the following basis:
      a) Each jurisdiction having 300,000 church members or fewer shall be entitled to five bishops and each jurisdiction having more than 300,000 church members shall be entitled to one additional bishop for each additional 300,000 church members or major fraction thereof.
      b) A jurisdiction shall not have the number of bishops to which it is entitled reduced until and unless the number of its church members shall have decreased by at least ten percent below the number of church members which had previously entitled the jurisdiction to its number of bishops.
      c) If the number of church members in a jurisdiction shall have decreased by at least ten percent below the number of church members which had previously entitled the jurisdiction to its number of bishops, then the number of bishops to which it shall be entitled shall be determined on the basis of missional needs, as approved by the General Conference on the recommendation of the Interjurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy, provided however that said jurisdiction shall be entitled to no less than the number of bishops to which it would be entitled under subparagraph a) above.
      d) If a jurisdiction, as a result of the provisions of this paragraph, shall have the number of bishops to which it had previously been entitled reduced, then the reduction in the number of bishops to which it is entitled shall be effective as of September 1 of the fourth calendar year after said reduction has been determined by the General Conference.


      With increasing challenges in financial demands of the worldwide Church, we must match episcopal leadership and good stewardship to the reality of the Church’s structure and declining jurisdictional membership. This would create estimated 2013-1216 savings of $4,800,000.* (* $6,000,000 if the SEJ continues not to create a 14th episcopal Area.)


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