While it feels like a good idea to withhold a church tithe to the denomination out of protest, the collateral damage is too much to make it a reasonable tactic for reasonable United Methodists.
By the numbers…
One of the largest congregations in The United Methodist Church withheld over $200,000 of its apportionments in 2014 in response to what it believes to be “wholly unsatisfactory” inaction on the part of the Council of Bishops to recent controversies within the denomination. The congregation will make no further payments in 2015 without the explicit approval of the church’s administrative council.
Mt. Bethel UM Church, located in Marietta, Georgia, is the largest UM congregation east of the Mississippi River and is part of the North Georgia Annual Conference.
First, Good News needs to update their numbers or get better maps. Mt. Bethel is the sixth largest east of the Mississippi, after Ginghamsburg (Ohio), Community Granger (Indiana), Frazer Memorial (Alabama/Florida), St. Luke’s (Indiana), and Cokesbury (Holston). It’s the 14th largest United Methodist Church in America.
Second, more to the point, it is the largest UMC in the North Georgia Conference. Mt. Bethel’s apportionment in 2013 was $480,000.00. Their apportionment amounts to 2% of the entire apportionment of the North Georgia Conference (the largest regional conference in the United Methodist Church with 930 churches).
All these numbers sound intimidating–and to some, they are. But to those with an awareness of history, this is not a new action and such actions have had limited ethical acceptance–and for good reason.
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 LGBT Inclusion in the UMC to withhold or threaten to withhold Apportionments. (see previous post)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 (HMMM…), 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”).
- 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.
- 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.
- In 2014, the only named schismatics over LGBT inclusion were from the largest churches, constituting $4,200,000.00 in apportionments.
Historically, usually in 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.
One final note on this history is that this is at least the second time that Mt. Bethel UMC Marietta has chosen this path, and it is interesting that they have had the same pastor since at least the 1998 decision. They have had the same pastor for over 17 years: little wonder they want to be more congregational than connectional.
…and a bad one.
Withholding church tithes is a big topic here at Hacking Christianity. We’ve taken to task the large churches that seek buyout power, we’ve taken to task progressives who see this as a tactic for divestment, and we’ve done the only major opposition research on the Langford proposal to defund the General Agencies. Click those links for the full arguments.
But the overriding argument is this: withholding a church tithe is NOT a line-item veto. While withholding a payment is at least arguable if you are just withholding from that one cause, the way how the UMC is set up is that our ministries are bundled together. Read here for at least six different ways how withholding a congregation’s ability to pay apportionments hurts real people. There’s just too much collateral damage to good ministries and works to defund the UMC in this way.
Because most of their apportionments are used within conference, they’ll hurt their own conference (who tend to be on the same side of the issue) much more than they’ll hurt the GC (where the decisions they’re upset about are being made)…If a full congregation is so unhappy with the UMC that they refuse to keep their part of the covenant, it’s time for them to hand over their property and stop being UMC.
The United Methodist Church is a shared life together: our resources benefit causes we agree with and causes we disagree with. Folks have to ask themselves if the collateral hurt is worth protesting a particular hurt.
In conclusion, there’s a ton of Methodist ways to express disapproval. We can express our disagreement through conversations, through prayer, through speaking out against individual official UMC actions, electing people to positions of power to influence policy, writing petitions to General Conference, being elected to serve those meta-church agencies, refusing a bishops’ re-appointment, writing petitions and getting signatories…hey, we are a Methodist church and there’s a method to do almost anything, including express dissent. But withholding of apportionments–refusal to pay a tithe as a church–is not a Methodist way of doing things.