How can the WCA complain about progressives not upholding the Discipline when their own affiliated churches refuse to uphold it as well?
A Church in revolt
On April 18th, the Executive Committee of the Church Council at Mt. Bethel UMC in Marietta, Georgia (part of the North Georgia Annual Conference) posted a congregational appeal:
As was shared during this morning’s worship services, the Bishop of the North Georgia Conference has appointed our Senior Minister, Rev. Dr. Jody Ray, to a new assignment that would take him away from Mt. Bethel.
Mt. Bethel’s Staff Parish Relations Committee and Administrative Council, by resolution this week, have informed Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson that Mt. Bethel is not in a position to receive a new senior minister at this time. Please go to https://bit.ly/32stFZe to read and sign the petition that affirms the SPRC’s and Administrative Council’s position.
The Executive Committee gives this reason why they are pursuing this action.
United Methodists around the world are awaiting a vote on the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, a plan that would provide for an amicable and orderly division of the United Methodist Church. And in the spirit of that Protocol, people of theologically diverse opinions and goodwill are striving hard not to disrupt the mission and ministries of those with whom they disagree. We, the people of Mt. Bethel UMC, are honoring that spirit in word and deed.
Let’s dive deeper into this letter, this church’s recent history, and why this WCA-affiliated church (which they’ve been since 2016) is not upholding the Discipline.
01. A lack of participation in the Appointment Process
The letter the Executive Committee wrote entitled “Speak up for Mt. Bethel” includes this motivation for their action:
…In the spirit of that Protocol, people of theologically diverse opinions and goodwill are striving hard not to disrupt the mission and ministries of those with whom they disagree. We, the people of Mt. Bethel UMC, are honoring that spirit in word and deed.
So their claim is that upholding the Disciplinary procedures of moving pastors around (a function of the episcopacy) would disrupt the mission and ministries of the local church. I get why it is a shock to have a pastor re-appointed after…wait, five years ago their pastor was sent there? That’s a while, right?
Oh…check the data…Mt. Bethel had its previous pastor Randy Mickler since 1988. So the church hasn’t participated in the appointment process as much as other churches. In fact, in 2015, they participated in a “hiring process to find their new senior pastor” (see previous HX coverage here) rather than merely accept a new appointment from the bishop. Their new pastor (after a “nationwide search”) ended up being one who was previously their associate.
Anyway, take those points into account, and one can understand why they aren’t used to upholding the Discipline in this way and that this is the second time in six years they’ve attempted to circumvent the power of the Bishop. A traditional United Methodist congregation—with regular turnover of pastors—wouldn’t have the same level of abject concern.
02. A history of withholding apportionments
There’s an additional problem with their letter. Did you read the last line?
…In the spirit of that Protocol, people of theologically diverse opinions and goodwill are striving hard not to disrupt the mission and ministries of those with whom they disagree. We, the people of Mt. Bethel UMC, are honoring that spirit in word and deed.
Hmm, is that true? What about withholding apportionments so much that the Annual Conference is forced to raise apportionments on smaller churches. Isn’t that disruptive to those churches’ missions and ministries? Is that really honoring the spirit “in word and deed?”
Let’s look back. In 2015, Mt. Bethel became infamous for refusing to pay over $200,000 in apportionments (church tithes) out of protest of…checks the meme for the day…the bishops! So three times in seven years, this congregation has defied the episcopacy. Whew!
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.
But when we look at the church’s apportionment giving since 2015 (scroll to multi-year summaries, their church number is 1415)…well…things get pretty ugly.
2015 ended with Mt. Bethel refusing to pay $300,000 in apportionments. Later years weren’t much better. So here’s the headline: Mt. Bethel has refused to pay $1.7 million dollars in apportionments since 2015.
Yeah. $1.7 million dollars. That’s a ton of money. And when you have the ability to withhold that much money without consequence, then little wonder you think you can avoid the appointment process too.
03. Not a victimless violation
However, there is very real harm done when we withhold apportionments, especially $1.7 million dollars of them.
Back in 2015, pastor Rev. Teddy Ray commented some prescient words:
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.
And make no mistake: refusing to pay apportionments doesn’t just keep money at Mt. Bethel, they hurt smaller churches too.
Churches like Mt. Bethel already do not pay all their apportionments. Apparently, they weren’t even apportioned their fair share. The Annual Conference created a special rule that can be invoked so that large and very large churches that are not paying apportionments near the average of like-sized congregations can be brought up to that average. This rule was made when it was observed that churches half the size of Mt. Bethel were paying more in apportionments than Mt. Bethel. Large churches not paying their fair share of apportionments—withholding and otherwise—mean smaller churches have to pay the difference.
This is real money of real impact to the North Georgia annual conference and its churches. That’s $1.7 million dollars that could have brought many to Jesus or expressed Jesus’ care for the vulnerable through many new church plants or missions or ministries. Wouldn’t you be mad if it was your annual conference?
For local churches like mine (and likely yours) that pay 100% of our apportionments and hasn’t had a pastor longer than 5 years in recent history, this seems like a hugely problematic trend. And the fact this church accuses churches like mine of “failing to uphold the Discipline” when they have documented and celebrated instances of the same thing—just a different paragraph—is hypocritical indeed.
The Administrative Board at Mt. Bethel has used both undermining the episcopacy and withholding apportionments as their tactics since 2014. It is unknown what level of impact the senior pastor has on these congregational decisions, and what level of censure or restrictions the annual conference has imposed, if any.
But I’m thankful, actually. We now have a prelude to what life will be like in the Global Methodist Church if churches like Mt. Bethel join: a denomination without accountability and where bully pulpits and bully purses run everything. Looks great for the 1% churches…not so much for the rural churches who think escaping the horror of two men marrying each other merits affiliating to such a system where they will be consumed.
I’m thankful churches now can clearly see the choice ahead of them. May we be in prayer for a peaceful resolution to this leadership dispute and a submission of $1.7 million in back apportionments to settle the accounts and move forward without disruption of missions and ministry to which all are called.
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This essay just confirms that the UMC is a microcasm of America. We will all make our own rules and somehow we convince ourselves it is for a righteous reason. It is painful to watch as I now sadly stand outside the Methodist church of my life.
Jeremy, an insightful critique of Mt. Bethel. Did you do a similar public critique of Glide Church? Under former pastor Oliveto it had no SPRC, Finance, Trustees, Charge Conference, and no Church council. It made no mention of Jesus on its website or as part of its mission statement. It pushed holy communion out of Sunday services and eliminated Christian baptism for a ritual done “in the name of the people.” Successor Jay Williams (with grace and integrity)refused to collude with that dysfunction and left the most prestigious church in the jurisdiction. What I just wrote largely came from Bishop Carcano’s letter to the conference explaining her actions. Does ANYONE know the size of the Glide endowment that walked away with the church, and the value of the land ceded to the secular non-profit that now controls those resources? The 6M paid to Cal-Nevada in exchange for the loss of 17% of its entire membership is enough to buy a 5 bedroom house on Pine st., but anything “United Methodist” in the city is in permanent eclipse. And the pastor of Mt. Bethel was reappointed immediately, arbitrarily and without any consultation with the pastor or congregation…very unlike Bishop Carcano’s approach to Glide. A ‘bully bishop’ is a compliment…a bishop bully, not so much. Fair critique flows both ways…
To complete the analogy to Glide Memorial (which is probably a false equivalence to Georgia), next step for the North Georgia bishop is to continue the process, prescribed by John Wesley, of asserting the episcopal mandate to appoint pastors. And if the church board refuses to cooperate, this latest example is exactly why John Wesley created and invoked the trust clause after the fourth Methodist chapel was started and when the trustees try to select their own pastor. This disciplinary process was followed in California (eventually, because it takes years to reach crisis proportions in the Methodist world) resulting in civil litigation, and we should not be surprised or outraged if and when the trust clause is invoked here.
Don’t hold your breath.
Mr. Bethel has been a bully church for a long time. It reflects the conservatism of its environment. We should not wait for it to secede. We should invoke the trust clause and meet up in court.
I get it. I’m sad, mad, and other unmentionable words but what effect would this have on the pastoral leadership being sent or being retained.
I love the points made, in any case.
Money aka power is the root (love of it) as much as theological differences.
I don’t find this OpEd full of snark, bias, misinformation and worst of all superficial so as to hinder and deflect from serious deep dialogue.
Stop talking about whether apportionments should be paid and stick to stewardship, true Wesleyan accountability, spiritual maturity and God led righteousness.
Major issues skirted by Jeremy:
1) the apportionment system is woefully broken,
indefensible & unethical to justify claims of blind support. Every person UM employing the critical Wesleyan tools of Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience is obligated to challenge our apportionment system as God leads them, not to blindly pay as the denomination or Jeremy tells them they should. Paying 100% apportionments absent accountability & spiritual guidance is nothing to brag about!;
2) the last time I was given (accountable) financial truth, it was revealed that General Boards/Agencies are sitting on between $200 million to $250 million in reserves; so, Gen. Ministries being hurt is a failure of the Gen. Bds/ Agencies. Also, some of our Gen. Bds/Agencies flatly refuse to reveal their reserve figures or an actual stewardship & ministry plan for the reserves;
3) the Donomination has no claim on nor authority (by the BOD discipline) to make stewardship decisions for the local church;
4) apportionments as a “fair share” has never existed in the UMC! Bishop’s, Conferences and DS’s have always exerted discretion and passed out apportionment figures at their discretion and called it “fair share;”
5) Jeremy appears to be unaware of UMC practices in many Conferences that allow large churches to engage in a clergy search process, some in cooperation with this Bishop’s who have a clue and take seriously the consultation process as a modern best practice. Jeremy also seems to be unaware of the research and facts that prove that short clergy tenure is detrimental & actually is a factor in killing churches. A five-year tenure in a large church (& many other size churches) is neither healthy or effective for vital ministry.
6) Whether any of us like, dislike, extend Christian graciousness, agree with or disagree with the rational behind Mt. Bethel saying “now is not the time…;” especially dealing with Covid season challenges, the Council has the right & responsibility to give their reply to the Bishop. How the Bishop responds is her own matter of spiritual maturity & discernment, deeper consultation, and leadership.
I find an OpEd criticizing, belittling, second guessing and demonstrating no intent to understand the Mt. Bethel Council’s struggle as just plain lazy and opportunistic.
I just wish Jeremy would quit the biased UM apologetics, do some real research and use his platform more responsibly. Was the courtesy of talking to any Mt. Bethel folks extended before criticizing them? If not, it makes the OpEd an even worse product.
First sentence correction! I find OpEd…
This! this. Thank you!
Hum. Well stated. No attacking or suspicious speak. Cool.
Andrew “Andy” Adams
I grew up in this church in the 80’s & 90’s and have long since moved out of state. I came across this article thanks to Google after seeing their defiance. I am not up to date in their daily operations.
This is a church that was about to be shut down as late as the late 1970’s. With in 10 years was pushing 1200 members when Randy Mickler showed up. That’s when the church really took off. In the 90’s it became a model for how to grow a church. While it got lucky in its growth because of how much the area around it grew. In addition there are several other congregations very close that have grown to include Johnson Ferry Baptist Church. Mount Bethel didn’t just grow by taking members from other churches and killing them.You have to give Mickler credit.
Around 2000 Rev Mickler was offered a job as Pastor of a Mega UMC I think in Texas. That’s when the Bishop, Congregation and Mickler came to a joint agreement that Mickler could essentially stay permanently until he retired. This meant that Mickler wasn’t having to worry about his next job. So what if apportionments didn’t get paid? What were they going to do fire him?
While the congregation and Mickler having the deal in place allowed for long term growth because they look a lot longer into getting things done. It allowed the congregation to loose connection from the Congregation.
When Mickler retired. It seems like Jody Ray was hand picked because of his similar conservative views. The Bishop allowed this to happen just like with keeping Mickler around for fear of losing a strong rapidly growing congregation. Mount Bethel was allowed to get the minister it wanted and not the one it needed.
They should just be allowed/told to leave the UMC or receive the appointment. They can negotiate any share of the Conferences past service pension debt with the Conference Trustees, and then just go if they chose to depart. We don’t have to wait for the ‘Protocol’ to do what is already in the power of the Trustees and Annual Conference to do.
The congregation can become the first congregation for the GMC or be independent congregational as they seem more inclined to become.
We spend a lot of time and energy in conflict with persons who don’t want to be Methodist and arguing for property that only belongs to the denomination when there isn’t a congregation anymore.
Any opportunity to bring them back fully into the UMC, by enticement or aggressive tactics, is gone. We should stop waiting; ask them to leave and let them go.
We are leaving, thank you.
Here’s the basic test of your comments. If the shoe was on the other foot, what would you say? If a conservative bishop moved a progressive pastor of a large progressive church without the courtesies of consultation, what would you be saying? If your opinion article would be very different, then maybe your opinion is so biased as to make it unhelpful and unnecessarily divisive.
After having Served as a pastor for 10 years in the United Methodist organization and having since left and gone on to pastor in a different denomination, I have some insight into this argument.
First, the appointment process is extremely flawed. I cant speak for every district, every bishop, every DS, etc. but from what I experienced politics played an enormous role in when and where a person was appointed. Seniority played way to big of a role. There were Elders assigned to churches simply because they had “earned” it. Whether it was because it was a bigger church, had a nicer parsonage, or was in a better location. I saw “appointments” being used as punishments, I saw them being used as “rewards”. I also saw appointments being used as a way to control local congregations, If the DS wanted more control of a local church they would simply move the senior pastor, and replace them with a person more inclined to “obey” or more in the same mindset as the DS or Bishop. Very little input was given to the congregation in the appointment process (in my experience). All in all it was one of the most negative aspects of my time with the United Methodist Church and I think many pastors would share a frustration with the process if they weren’t fearful that “causing waves” would get them moved to a different church, I actually heard that from several pastors in my time with the UMC, several people saying, I disagree with this or that but I’m going to keep my mouth shut so I don’t get moved. So anytime I hear of a UMC church resisting appointments it is very understandable to me.
As for apportionments, I feel that if a church wishes to be part of the larger body of UMC it should pay its apportionments, however I think that apportionments should consist of 10% of your yearly budget and nothing more, unless you cant even do that.
However, there is a big caveat. In the article the author writes that if a church doesn’t want to pay the apportionments or disagrees with the larger body it should exit the UMC. I agree with this but the UMC has made it almost impossible to do so. If a church no longer agrees with the larger UMC as a whole and wishes to separate themselves it is almost impossible to do so. The larger organization retains all properties and pastoral staff of the local church. Of course you can always purchase your church building and property from the larger organization, however there is no guarantee that the larger body will be willing to sell the assets back to the congregation, and many congregations do not have the finances to buy their properties back from the UMC anyways. So congregations that disagree with something have very few avenues to go down, withholding apportionments is one of them because money gets the higher ups attention.
I’ll end this by fully acknowledging that not everyone within the organization feels this way, I also know and love more pastors, DS’s, and congregants in the UMC than I can count. It is an organization that is filled with loving and lovely people, but it is also a deeply flawed organization. I think many of the problems originate with the upper levels of leadership, which continually points the finger back to the local churches and puts blame on them. My opinion is that the UMC wouldn’t be in the place it is if the leadership of the organization was willing to accept responsibility and work to bring unity, but it seems to be past that point.
At the root of all of this refinance and contempt for the discipline is a hatred of gay people. Period. Not very Christ-like, last time I checked.
At last. The root. Thank you.
100% wrong. The issue is what and what is not a sin. I do not hate a homosexual or an adulterer or a thief.
Yes. Yes you do. How you think you feel means so much less than the deadly impact of your preaching. Your misguided clinging to heteronormativity is neither biblical nor godly, its merely a hardened heart which chooses false simplicity over actual discipline.
The norm of humanity is heterosexuality. To recognize that fact and preach in the light of that fact is to choose to minister in the light of truth rather than shadows, of rigor rather than rationalization.
UMJeremy – Your comment on “circumvent the power of the Bishop” is laughable. This Bishop and the Council of Bishops has circumvented the Discipline for years allowing practicing homosexuals as pastors and Bishops for years. Until the Discipline is changed they are charged with upholding the Discipline. The General Conference has the authority to change the Discipline not pastors or Bishops. as affirmed by the majority.
In this case the time honored appointment process was followed by the Bishop. Nothing was discussed until 2 weeks ago instead of months. To this day the newly appointment minister to MB has not met or talked with the SPRC except for the chairman reaching out to him by phone Sunday afternoon to make sure he understood the MB position had nothing to do with him or his qualifications and to let him know he and his family were being prayed for as they were inadvertently caught up in the issue.
If you care to read more please see here https://wesleyancovenant.org/2021/04/20/disruption-at-mt-bethel-united-methodist-church-largest-congregation-in-north-georgia-annual-conference/
So, now everybody is disobeying the Discipline. Two wrongs still do not make a right. It just points to the sad state of affairs that the UMC has arrived at. But then, since 1968, it has been nothing more than an experiment in theological plurality that was inadvertently designed to fail. It is simply fulfilling its destiny.
I don’t know your background or experience but I do know you have very strong presuppositions about the state of relations between bishops and congregations in the UMC. There is no longer a UNITED Methodist Church and there hasn’t been one since the 2016 General Conference, we just haven’t held the funeral yet! At the special General Conference it was obvious that some of (the majority of???) or at least those presiding over the conference once the vote was taken and the result was to not accept any of the proposed changes, were not going to accept the conference’s decision. Do you recall a young man (progressive in theology) being called upon more than once in the last hours of the conference? Do you recall another man (also progressive in theology) holding a stack of petitions in his hand and proclaiming that it was enough to ensure nothing else in the conservative agenda was accomplished? Do you recall that at the conclusion of the conference the presiding bishop allowed a woman (again of progressive theology) to make a final statement in which she invited others to defy the decision of the general conference? Respect and loyalty for those person holding the position of bishop has been greatly eroded and what we are seeing here in the Mt Bethel’s circumstance is a congregation taking a stand to say this far and no farther. Not submitting apportionments seems to be the only way a congregation has to get the attention of the annual and general conference. There is one other method, and if the appointment change goes continues then I encourage Mt Bethel to employ it: The Bishop may have the authority to appoint pastor’s to local churches; however it is the congregation that writes the pastor’s salary support checks. I don’t know the prospective pastor nor his theology and so I do not wish him or his family any harm but; the congregation and the bishop seem to be theologically at odds and just waiting on the official ‘split’ to go their separate ways. The graceful thing to do would be to leave the existing pastor in place for the coming year and revisit an appointment change for 2022–the topic is certainly know by all now and there will be plenty of time for consultation. A question that I have not seen anyone ask is why the conference is proposing a new initiative and intending to appoint a pastor who obviously does not agree with the theology of the Bishop appointing him. What is the possibility of this becoming a successful initiative with such a ‘sandy’ foundation?
The absurdity of your comments show a total lack of understanding. The UMC left us.
THANK YOU! Although it is Un-Christian to call out a bully, when the bully threatens the very parent Church that gives it life, it is time to set the record straight. Many years ago, my UMC in another Conference, was assigned a new pastor in a one-for one swap, with our beloved pastor being reassigned to the other side of the state. This was without discussion, “input,” or “negotiation”. My grandfather was a Methodist Pastor, and over his various moves throughout SW Va and WVa, he and my grandmother practically populated those states as they had 9 children along the way. But I digress.
Our congregation accepted the new pastor as we would any other. We were sad for the move, but it was the Methodist way. It was only a few months later that we learned the real reason for the move – the new pastor was under surveillance in his prior home for committing some moral crimes. Apparently the Cabinet felt it was the best thing for them to move him way out of the area and hope that the behavior would stop. It did – until he went back to his old home for vacation, and alas, ended up deceased, essentially suicide by cop.
It does not matter the reason for the reassignment – that is the province of the Bishop, and it is an expected fact of life in the Methodist Church. There is no “negotiation” or “consultation” with the congregations or clergy – except perhaps in rare circumstances when the pastor and / or the SPR/ PPR Committee request that a change be made.
It looks like the church had already decided to leave the denomination, and are just trying to find an excuse to do it now and try and blame someone else for it. So, turn over all your property and assets to the North Georgia Conference and go quietly into the night.
I support the United Methodist Church, the North Georgia Conference, Bishop Sue, and the Cabinet. It is sad.
Well stated Cynthia. Amen!
The name of this web site says it all. The lines are drawn, no need to drag it out. Traditionalists cannot wait to leave! I wish all the best to the Progressives…God Bless you and may your coffers overflow.
The Disipline of the Methodist Church has never hated gays, and states they are to be accepted as members and friends and loved like all Christians. The Methodist doctrine states only that practicing gays not be appointed to leadership positions. This, of course, may Influence a perverted practicing non Christian type of unhealthy lifestyle be accepted just because the Supreme Court of the United States made it a civil right. The issue is plain and simple. You can be legal with a gay pastor, but not Biblically moral and that is the issue. When a person decides his or her children should be influenced by a moral error and accept men marrying men and women marrying women is a sick perversion and an attempt just to empower and encourage that lifestyle.