The following is an entry in the Big Data and the UMC series: how data can help disrupt false narratives in the Church.
It is often said that the Western parts of the United Methodist Church cost the rest of the UMC too much money. The real numbers tell a different story…
A Portion too little?
For years, there’s been a persistent narrative on the comments of this blog. Here’s an example:
[T]he Western Jurisdiction doesn’t even meet the basic connectional responsibility of paying for their own bishops and haven’t for a long, long time (since 2000 and likely before that). For 2012 (the Financial Commitment Report is now available from GCFA), the Western Jurisdiction fell $242K short of paying for their own bishops and contributed ZERO toward the central conference bishops and the retirees. What is connectional about that? [source]
The West has been decried as the worst part of Methodism. Not only are we the home of biblical obedience, not only are we flaming progressives, not only is one of our bishops facing a complaint for violating the Discipline, but we cost too much.
The majority of that may be true. But the last accusation? That one dies today.
To understand the accusation, the United Methodist Church requests Apportionments from each local church, which is a “church tithe” given for local, regional, and global ministry support. Everything that makes the United Methodist Church a denomination–all the national agencies, Bishops, regional leaders, and infrastructure–is funded from these apportionments. Each “portion meant” for others is calculated on a complex equation that involves church budget, pastoral charge, and other factors. Each local church is allocated a certain amount of money that is expected each year, and then Annual Conferences then report how much of that allocation they actually pay.
So that’s what the comments harp on: the West does not pay their full apportionment, and they are costing the rest of Methodism too much.
A Speck In My Eye…
Beyond the commentators on this lowly blog, the caucus group the Institute on Religion and Democracy raises money and hackles off the narrative that the West is skimming money off the rest of Methodism. Quote:
Last year, the Western Jurisdiction paid 83.1 percent of all of its assigned denomination-wide apportionments, while the other four U.S. jurisdictions paid between 87.5 and 93.9 percent of their respective shares.
The difference is even more profound in payments to the Episcopal Fund, which pays for our bishops. In 2012 and 2013, the Western Jurisdiction only paid between 81.5 and 86.9 percent of its share of the Episcopal Fund, while the other four jurisdictions consistently paid over 90 percent of theirs.
…Thus the Western Jurisdiction is by far the least committed to the doctrine, covenant, and financial support of the United Methodist Church.
Really? Let’s see the numbers (and these are taken from the actual, scanned copy that the IRD referenced).
|Jurisdiction||Episc. Fund Paid||Episc. Fund Owed||Variance|
You might have to swipe sideways on your mobile device to read the whole chart.
Yeah, being short $200k is not good connectional giving.
But out of curiosity, how do we do compared to the rest of the jurisdictions?
|Jurisdiction||Episc. Fund Paid||Episc. Fund Owed||Variance|
This is a textbook case of percentages hiding the true numbers. The truth is that while the West is short percentage-wise, the actual numbers are quite incredible: the Southeastern Jurisdiction is short an amount grossly larger than the West–indeed, more than the Northern and Western Jurisdictions combined.
To me, this is the same trick politicians use when they say that the Police Lieutenant on your block is a taker from the system (“Look at how much pension they’re getting!”) while drawing attention away from the millions of dollars denied to the public by corporations who pay no taxes.
The IRD raises money by pointing out perceived inequalities in the system to perpetuate a narrative of the West costing the church too much. Too bad there are now people willing to call them on their funny math.
…A Log in Yours
Indeed, it seems the schoolyard taunt “if you point a finger at me, there’s three pointed back at you” applies to this conversation about cost and connectional giving. If people are so willing to throw the West under the bus for their perceived shortfall on Bishop support, what about the whole Apportionment? The entire church tithe requested from each region?
Based on the recently-released 2013 numbers obtained from GCFA (see disclaimer), the Western Jurisdiction’s shortfall for its entire apportionment is:
|Jurisdiction||Apportionments Paid||Apportionments Owed||Variance|
Holy carp. The West is short $7.5 million? That’s a ton of cash. Little wonder the rest of Methodism wants to cut it off! Fall into the sea, heathens!
….But when you look at the rest of the jurisdictions:
|Jurisdiction||Apportionments Paid||Apportionments Owed||Variance|
Holy carp. When it’s ranked among the other jurisdictions, it’s actually the lowest sum of cash short? While the burden isn’t as heavily on the Southern jurisdictions (I’m looking at you, North Central), the numbers are staggering. Look: the Southern jurisdictions are short almost the entire apportionment of the Western Jurisdiction. The entire apportionment!
The above isn’t to pick on the South. It is to show that while churches, pastors, and narratives from caucus groups like to point fingers at the West, the real numbers show a very different story. If a single jurisdiction paid their full apportionment, they would benefit the global church incredibly, and would have the moral high ground to demand equivalent giving by the rest of the connection.
Our Brother’s Keepers
“Mission work around the world, whether it be a new university in Africa or bicycles for Cuban pastors, is the work of “the connection,” as opposed to the work of a single congregation.” – UMC.org
Connectional giving is incredibly important. Our church tithes pay for discipleship resources, mission administration, our episcopal leadership, Taylor Burton-Edwards tirelessly answering every conceivable ecclesial question on Facebook, UMCOR eradicating malaria, interdenominational efforts, and tons of other things that would be beyond the ability of any local church. We are all in this together as a denomination, and that means everyone gives into the common pot while holding accountable the leadership charged with distributing those funds in a missional way.
Hacking Christianity takes financial obligations by the worldwide United Methodist Church seriously, and we are willing to call conservatives, schismatics, progressives, and church reformers alike on the importance of connectional giving.
The takeaways from this conversation are twofold:
- The South–and to some extent, the North–have great power but also great responsibility. If they are going to be champions of connectional obligations, they should be prepared to model such obligations.
- The West, though in real numbers it has the least power, nonetheless has the responsibility to give back to the connection. Our worldwide covenant affirms gifts beyond just money, so we need to be better about intentionally supplying the global church financially, spiritually, and missionally.
“The statistical data included herein were provided at no charge by the General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church (GCFA) and may be obtained directly from GCFA, PO Box 340020, Nashville, TN 37203-0029. This data is proprietary and is owned by GCFA and may not be used in any commercial or exploitative way, to make a financial profit, or in a manner that defames the United Methodist denomination or its agencies or organizations. GCFA does not endorse any particular use of the data or accept responsibility for its interpretation or analysis by another.”
Proud to be from a conference (Iowa) that pays 100% of our apportionments!
Giving both percentage and dollar figures and the implications of each is the fair way to go. Thanks. But what comes to my mind is the farmer’s equivalent to schoolyard taunts that begins, “Don’t wrestle with a pig . . . .”
Jeremy, you forgot to mention the “i” factor in the apportionment formula – that makes this reality true: that this was accomplished with the Western Jurisdiction paying the highest rate of apportionments per United Methodist, followed by the North Central, Northeastern, South Central and then the Southeastern paying the lowest rate per capita UMC member! Nice job Western Jurisdiction! Hey, maybe being progressive and relevant works…
I would encourage anyone with doubts about the leadership of the Western Jurisdiction to check out a great interview he did with us on the WesleyCast, in which he is asked about the reputation of this region and how it serves the rest of the denomination. The link is here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wesleycast/id878663703?mt=2
I’m not sure anything was debunked here. The quotations you provided by antagonists were proven out in your data. While your slant was different, the truth still stands that a lower percentage is paid by our jurisdiction, and we don’t pay for our own bishop. The other part of the critique leveled at our jurisdiction is that we are overrepresented in the denomination despite our small numbers (in affiliation and giving). While I do think it is probably helpful for someone to point out that none of the jurisdictions are 100% faithful to our connectional giving, some legitimate complaints have been made about the Western Jurisdiction that aren’t really answered here. I do think it will be helpful in the future, though, to point out the stuff that Steve Clunn notes above. That’s a helpful counterbalance to the legitimate claim that our jurisdiction does not add to the life of the connectional ministries of our denomination in a manner commensurate with the amount of influence we exercise.
The “overrepresentation” argument is dealt with in this post: here
I would love to know in what areas of the church the West exercises influence far beyond its due course. Having 1-2 votes on General Boards, 5 Bishops out of 60, and 30 votes at General Conference when the next-smallest jurisdiction has 86 (and the largest has 188), and I’m really trying to see where the West has outsized influence.
The IRD is a political group…and they have staff dedicated to rupturing each of the mainline denominations…
Jeni Markham Clewell
Information can be distorted and used to present any reality we want, considering the perspective. I appreciate Jeremy trying to take the focus off the numbers (or on the numbers – depending on your perspective) and putting the focus on our faithfulness in tithing. This isn’t about being right or wrong, being right or left. It’s about faithfulness. And it looks like we have all fallen short. Hmmm…. I heard something about that once.
GC delegates are generally not over represented as they are already passed out based on membership. At least as to all US jurisdictions, percentage of GC delegates in 2016 lines up pretty closely with membership (2012 figures).
Bishops are a different story. I believe there are 66 UMC Bishops, 46 in the US.
North Central has 11.1% of members, 13.6% of Bishops. Northeast is very close, and South Central has 14.4% of members and 15.1% of Bishops. SE is a bit low as to “Bishop influence”, but still in the same ball park (23.9% membership, 19.7% Bishops).
The aberration is the West. 3% of UMC members are there but they have 7.6% of Bishops.
The West has 5 Bishops. If the number of western Bishops was to correspond to the western membership, there would only be 2 western Bishops. The Council of Bishops would have to be expanded from 66 to 167(!) if 5 western Bishops was to be truly representative of western membership numbers.
Pretty clearly the West, with 5 Bishops when they should only have 2, has an outsized influence in the Council of Bishops.
Mike, thanks for your comment. I appreciate you referring to both the raw numbers and the statistics as it is easier for people to draw out two contradictory statements:
1. The Western Bishops have 5 seats on the council, out of 66.
2. Thus it’s “pretty clearly the West, with 5 Bishops when they should only have 2, has an outsized influence in the Council of Bishops.”
I’m really unsure how 5 out of 66 is any real influence at all. If only in diversity: the West doesn’t have a single straight white male Bishop, so it may be when it comes to racial or gender conversations, we do have an outsized influence.
I’ve referred to the reason why General Conference doesn’t have perfectly proportional representation here.
I think the suggestion that the West has too many bishops also fails to address the practical work of the office. Regardless of the current number of church members and congregations in the area, imagine sending only two bishops to oversee and shepherd ministry and make pastoral appointments in an area this size:
The Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church encompasses the eight westernmost regional conferences of the United States, including United Methodist churches in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, Guam, and other territory in the Pacific region.
If this were the case, I’m sure some would complain about how much the duo of Western bishops spends on travel, but since we require elders to itinerate, it seems the least we can do is give them bishops who have some familiarity with the landscape over which they will send them.
The difficulties presented by the geography of the Western Jurisdiction could be resolved thru the use of communication equipment. If a need for 3 extra bishops is still perceived, then call them “super DS’s” but do not give them a vote in the Council of Bishops. The problem I was addressing is too many Bishop votes given the small size of the West. Each Bishop in the West represents 0.6% of all United Methodists. Each Bishop in the Southeast represents 1.8% of all United Methodists. The value of the vote of the West UMC member is 3X that of a Southeastern member. No matter how you slice it, that is not equitable.
I guess I just see the fixing of appointments and a bishop’s work within an annual conference as far more important than a vote on a body that seems to have very little influence and even less power.
The Council of Bishops was never intended to be representative of anything, other than the people elected bishop.
In the end, though, 3% of members being under the ministry of 7% of bishops isn’t too bad. Think about the U.S. Senate. The 6 senators from the three biggest states (CA, TX, NY) serve as many people as the 62 senators from the 31 smallest states. And that’s a system designed to be representative!
We do have a disagreement, and I suppose each of our positions have been adequately set out. However, the US senate is not analogous. The Senate was never designed to be representative. When the US Constitution was drafted in 1787, the Great Compromise was reached. In it, the House of Representatives was designed to benefit the larger states by apportioning its membership based on population. In the Senate, each state was given 2 votes, thus protecting the interests of the smaller states.
Sorry, I missed this post earlier. But, all Jeremy has done is switched the numbers to a perspective that makes him feel better. Bottom line: the Western Jurisdiction is the only one of the five that does NOT pay for its own bishops and contributes NOTHING toward the connectional obligations for retirees (including Bishop Talbert) and the central conference bishops.
Even with the unrepresentative reductions in delegations, travel costs for this General Conference will still be higher than ever before (as will the carbon footprint) because 95% of the delegates will have to travel over 1,500 miles to attend.