Mountain Sky-area Methodists who withhold their tithes in protest miss the mark.
Recently, 60-ish Methodists in the Montana area, one of the regions in the Mountain Sky episcopal area under Bishop Karen Oliveto, gathered together. The purpose was to express concern over Bishop Oliveto’s election and strategize how to stop paying her salary, and with it, cease funding the greater United Methodist Church:
“People are very upset…and for [The Western Jurisdiction] to break the rules and expect the members to go along and agree and to give money to them, that is when people are saying ‘uh-uh'”…
[They] heard from others who have left their congregations or have withheld their financial contributions in protest. There are ways to give money but designate it for the local church’s use only, he said — information his group is glad to share.
Indeed, long before this meeting (which included a plenary by a Good News staff person), the withholdings had already begun. Pastors and regional leaders in the Mountain Sky area started receiving form letters that had signatures at the bottom. These form letters outlined their grievances, but ended with this statement:It is not clear whether people who sent these letters withheld their tithes entirely, designated them away from Apportionments, or simply left The UMC.
Money that goes beyond the local church are called “Apportionments,” also called Church Tithes or Mission Shares. Apportionments are part of the covenant of the local church to the greater church.
Payment in full of these apportionments by local churches is the first benevolent responsibility of the church ¶247.14, ¶812
The apportionments for all apportioned general Church funds, as approved by the General Conference, shall not be subject to reduction either by the annual conference or by the charge or local church ¶811.4
Per the Book of Discipline, the first benevolent responsibility of a local church is the paying of apportionments. One could say that, technically, a church is not benevolent unless it pays its apportionments!
The letter-writers and the Montana group (and the Wesleyan Covenant Assocation, overall) no longer want to fund the greater United Methodist Church, out of protest of one Episcopal leader.
A Long Tradition
Letters like these fall directly in line with a 50-year tradition of Methodists withholding tithes in response to LGBTQ and abortion-related issues (see previous post). As briefly as possible:
- In 1969, the United Methodist student magazine motive published an article on LGBTQ issues. Local churches withheld their apportionments in protest (or threatened to withhold) and eventually motive magazine was removed from the GBHEM’s portfolio.
- In 1979, five Nashville-area churches withheld their apportionments in protest of the GBOD’s “Sexuality Forums” which included videos on LGBTQ 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, at the insistence of the IRD’s UMAction rightwing advocacy, decided to withhold its apportionments to the general church agencies in response to the Jimmy Creech trial. 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.
- In 2015, Mt. Bethel UMC in Marietta, Georgia, withheld apportionments out of protest of the Bishops’ handling of Biblical Obedience. Their Lay Leader was recently elected to the Leadership Council of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
- In 2016, Evangelical UMC in Greenville, Ohio, pastored by Wesleyan Covenant Association convener Rev. Jeff Harper, voted to withhold apportionments this year.
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, we’ve done the only major opposition research on the Langford proposal to defund the General Agencies, and we’ve examined the anti-institutional roots of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Click those links for the full arguments.
The enduring argument from these years of conversations 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 that 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.
Ultimately, the article is correct here:
Of every $1,000 a church gives to support the mission of the UMC…less than $1 goes to support the bishop. With a drop in giving, other ministries within the denomination are impacted as well, he said.
A More Methodist Way
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 or as an individual–is not a Methodist way of doing things.
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