Do Two Wrongs Make a Right? Part 2

As the discussion over Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church’s decision to delay paying apportionments for 2015 continues to roil, I want to offer a few observations about another of the arguments I have heard against the idea of withholding apportionments.  I am not advocating the withholding of apportionments, and I have always encouraged the churches I served in pastoral ministry to fully pay apportionments, as they were able.  Nevertheless, I find some of the arguments against withholding worth comment. My first post in this series dealt with the response that “this is not how United Methodist polity works.” Let me address another popular response.

“It’s not loving.”  Withholding apportionments — and in fact any opposition to the affirmation of same-sex intimacy — is not a loving and inclusive way to be. Since the church is called by God to love, we must change our stance and certainly not engage in withholding.

First, this is a faulty definition of love. Love does not mean unconditional approval or the acceptance of all behavior.  Jesus drew clear boundaries of what types of behavior and attitudes are acceptable in his disciples and in the Kingdom of God (e.g., Matthew 5:20, 29-30, 7:13-14, 19-23). Jesus even threw the money-changers and merchants out of the Temple!  Exercising disciplinary action toward someone or holding someone accountable is not a lack of love.

If same-sex intimacy is sin (as the Bible repeatedly claims and Christian tradition maintains), even to the seriousness of placing one’s eternal future in jeopardy (I Corinthians 6:9-11), then how is it an act of love to endorse that sin as acceptable behavior for Christians? Are we not bound by our love for our neighbor to warn against behavior that alienates us from God, just as we warn against greed or lying or adultery or any other sin? Such warnings and accountability were the very ethos of John Wesley’s classes and bands, which were not bashful about rebuking those ensnared in sinful behavior, encouraging repentance and amendment of their ways. John Wesley was notorious for evicting people from Methodist Societies because of unrepented sin.  He conceived of clear boundaries as an act of love (a stance that is affirmed by modern psychology, as well).

Second, this sentiment (“it’s not loving to withhold apportionments”) masks the inherently coercive nature of the way apportionments are currently viewed.  “Payment in full of these apportionments by local churches and annual conferences is the first benevolent responsibility of the Church” (Discipline, ¶ 812, cf. ¶ 247.14).  Apportionments are set according to the budget passed by General Conference, with the only input from local churches coming through elected delegates twice removed. (A local church elects a representative to the annual conference, and then the annual conference elects a representative to the General Conference.) This is a less representative form of government than even our U.S. Congress.

Local churches and laity often feel that they have no say in setting apportionments or determining where their money will go. This feeling of powerlessness is only exacerbated by the current atmosphere of a lack of trust for denominational leaders by church members (see the Apex Call to Action Report from 2010.) Apportionments have come to be regarded almost as a “tax” or “franchise fee” — albeit a tax that does a lot of good, along with the harm that some of it does.

It is not surprising that local church members would express their frustration in the only way they feel is open to them — namely, by withholding financial support from an institution that they distrust and that they feel powerless to change. Prior to 1968, local congregations had the option of accepting, increasing, or decreasing the amount of the apportionment they would pay each year. This gave local church members some sense that they had a say in where their money was going.  (At one time, apportionments were called “askings.”) The way apportionments are given to local churches in some annual conferences today, they are all lumped together into broad categories, and a church could not designate amounts for certain funds and not for others.

For instance, in some annual conferences, a local church could not withhold the apportionments that pay for bishops’ salaries, while still paying other conference expenses. In such a circumstance, the only choice churches feel they have is to pay all or nothing, since even if they pay a portion of the broad category, part of what they pay will go toward a fund they do not support.

So is it “loving” to coerce people into paying for ministries and policies that violate their consciences and their deeply held biblically-based beliefs?  Evangelicals have in the past introduced legislation at General Conference that would restore a measure of power to local churches by allowing them to increase or decrease the amount of apportionments that they accept. I believe that good causes and the mission of the church would receive more support if it was voluntary, rather than coerced.

Finally, there is the element of hypocrisy involved. Some who criticize the church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality as “unloving” do not hesitate to attempt to impose their will on others via demonstrations, disrupting meetings, circumventing democratic processes, and one-sided “conversations.” Are these actions characterized by love?

In the blogosphere, evangelicals are held to a different standard from progressives. Whereas progressives are given a pass on their “unloving” behavior because the ultimate goal is “inclusive love,” evangelicals are castigated as unloving, simply for attempting to maintain with integrity the teachings of Scripture and The United Methodist Church.

Which scenario is more “unloving?”

1. Evangelicals and traditionalists say that the church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is consistent with 2,000 years of Christian teaching, agrees with the clear teaching of Scripture, and moreover leads to the greatest fulfillment for people created in the image of God, both in this life and in eternity. If one does not agree with this teaching, then one is free to join a denomination that propounds a different understanding. When the church proves incapable of upholding its own policies and teachings, some evangelicals and traditionalists determine they cannot in good conscience financially support that denomination.

Or 2. Progressives come into The United Methodist Church as members and are ordained as clergy saying that they agree with the doctrines and teachings of the church and promising to support and promote those teachings. However, on the issue of marriage and sexuality, they come to find they disagree.  Rather than finding a different church with which they can agree, they instead exert every effort to change the longstanding position of the church, despite the church repeatedly declining to change. More than that, they engage in protest tactics and civil disobedience when they do not get their way.  Their aim is to force every United Methodist to change his/her mind to agree with them or to leave the UM Church.

There seems to be a fundamental disconnect here in terms of what kinds of behavior are “loving.”

My next post will address more arguments that I have heard against withholding apportionments.

Comments

  1. As this debate rages on, it become abundantly clearer with each installment that the liberals and the traditionalists are at two polar opposites. Let’s be honest and stop the pretentiousness. There is no middle ground to be found since the two sides could never negotiate a settlement because both would have to give up too much. These ideas being floated for two jurisdictions, for local option, for agreeing to disagree, et al are nothing more than stalling maneuvers or the abject denial of reality. None of these could work because none of these solve the problem of the two totally conflicting positions. They would only continue the problem under a different heading, and actually would likely add many more problems. This is a classic case of a house divided against itself cannot stand. The only thing that will solve this conflict is to go our separate ways. It’s time to make this thing right. Split the Untied Methodist Church an end this 40 year old war.

    • “There is no middle ground to be found since the two sides could never negotiate a settlement because both would have to give up too much.”

      TD you are right on target.

      For those of us who want to follow what the Bible says rather than revise it to say what we want, rejecting the authority of Scripture and of it’s Author is too great a price to pay. Telling people their sins are not sins, when Christ died to free them from those sins lest they be destroyed by them, is too great a price to pay.

      While it looks like you are right, I’m not yet convinced that separation is our only option. But if we want to obey God and His word don’t start taking some significant holy action and soon, that is where we are headed.

    • Ashley Folsom says:

      The General Conference has been very clear about what we believe, and where we stand on these social issues. I believe it’s time for the denomination to stand up for what it says it believes, and those who disagree should go and associate with those who are like minded. I don’t recall anything in Scripture about us being commanded to change the mind of those who adamantly disagree with us. We’re to speak the truth in love, and offer those around us a better opportunity. At the same time, I believe it’s also time that we stopped financial support of those who are so offended by our beliefs. We’re supposed to be “United” Methodists.

  2. david lee says:

    Apportionments seem very much like union dues. “Pay what you’re told and we’ll use it as we see fit. Even if it is to champion political policies you believe are utterly wrong.”

  3. A view from the pew: Was it Peter who said something along the lines of it is not so much the amount given but the fact it is given freely and with a cheerful heart?

    This is something I am struggling with personally. I was taught that it was a good thing to give to the church and I did it cheerfully for many years–my husband and I were above average in giving to our local UMC. Then things went south for us locally; the first thing impacted was our giving. I was devastated the first commitment Sunday I walked out of worship and had been unable to fill out a pledge card. Then I learned what was going on at the denominational level and now I am really no longer sure about blanket giving to the church.

    Currently we do not make a pledge; We drop a random amount of cash in the plate on Sunday and have begun to cherry pick what we support with what I would call a “significant donation”.

    Given your theme about “speaking the truth in love”, is it possible that withholding money is doing just that? I love the concept of Methodism. Walking away has not been an option. Truth is, I want the United Methodist Church to survive and reclaim the reason she is in existence: her unique method and message. But at the same time Wesley was big about never going against your own conscience.

  4. “…how is it an act of love to endorse that sin as acceptable behavior for Christians?”

    My concern also is that in doing this we are telling people they are Christians when they may not be Christians at all. If no change has taken place in their lives, if there is no repentance, then they can get baptized and join the church, but they are not Christians. The core message of Christ is “Repent and believe the Good News”; that is the way of salvation. It is to me the depth of unloving to leave unbelievers in their sins without Christ.

    “Such warnings and accountability were the very ethos of John Wesley’s classes and bands, which were not bashful about rebuking those ensnared in sinful behavior, encouraging repentance and amendment of their ways.”

    The classes, bands and societies are what we desperately need in TUMC, that we might hold one another accountable in love for growth in perfect love. And I don’t mean watered down small groups that try to substitute for them. I mean something very much like what John Wesley started. Accountability has become a dirty word, and we need to clean it up.

    “Second, this sentiment (“it’s not loving to withhold apportionments”) masks the inherently coercive nature of the way apportionments are currently viewed. “Payment in full of these apportionments by local churches and annual conferences is the first benevolent responsibility of the Church” (Discipline, ¶ 812, cf. ¶ 247.14). ”

    No, the first benevolent responsibility of the Church is to minister to the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned, the outcasts, the helpless, the very least of Jesus’ sisters and brothers. How is paying apportionments to support unrepentant homosexuality and abortion on demand doing that in any way? It is not. It is a waste of resources that should be going to making disciples and ministering to the very least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters.

    “Finally, there is the element of hypocrisy involved.”

    A hypocrisy you didn’t mention here, Tom, is that I have not heard a word of condemnation from Biblical revisionists (so-called “progressives”) against the Western Jurisdiction withholding some of their apportionments, and calls by some Biblical revisionists to “divest”.

    “There seems to be a fundamental disconnect here in terms of what kinds of behavior are “loving.””

    That’s because Biblical revisionists define love according to the standards of a narcissistic society and their own sinful natures, and not according to the word of God, which defines love and says God is love. For Biblical revisionists, love seems to equal political correctness.

  5. Kevin welsh says:

    I, a former lifelong Methodist, converted to Catholicism.

    • Scott Johnson says:

      And may the Lord be with you, but with the current Pope, I have the feeling that we are all in this together whether we like it or not..

  6. Please! It’s all about the $$$, and “false” security or you all would would have already left the burning building. What more will it take!!! The IGRC bishop sent the DC to “care’ for me when I high tailed it out of Tampa FL General Conference in 2012. The DC was to take me to lunch and smooth things over! Keep me from running back to tell of all the ungodliness! That same DS told me “do you realize that you are apart of a denomination that believes in pluralism!!! ” NOT ANYMORE!

    Withhold the $$$ or not..God’s judgement is on the UMC. Trust God for your livelihood and security and get OUT! Start churches that believe in the One True God and hold tightly to the authority of Scripture. You are sitting example for your children and grandchildren!!!

    Robin

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