Exclusionary Politics, Money, and Statistics

It’s all about the money. That could have been the title of the latest opinion piece from Mainstream UMC. And of course, beneath the issue of dollars is the issue of power and control. The central question is whether, in the name of including LGBTQ persons in marriage and ordained ministry, the church is willing to exclude millions of United Methodists outside the U.S.

Underlying a bewildering onslaught of statistics in the Mainstream piece is this message: We moderates and progressives contribute the money that funds this denomination, so we should control the church. The subtext is that traditionalists (what the piece calls “WCA conferences” in an attempt to target the Wesleyan Covenant Association) are disloyal to The United Methodist Church because they allegedly contributed a lower percentage of apportionments and a lower total of dollars than moderate and progressive annual conferences. The implication is that these disloyal traditionalists should just leave the UM Church, since they do not want to support it financially anyway, and stop trying to force their outmoded theology on the rest of us.

The Rev. Dr. Mark Holland uses this latest blog and fundraising letter on behalf of Mainstream UMC to cast this spin on the reports of election of delegates to General Conference compared with the amount and percentage of apportionments paid by each annual conference.

Of course, the reality is more complicated and nuanced. Any serious analyst of annual conference apportionment giving would agree. There are solidly traditionalist annual conferences that pay full apportionments, including one annual conference that pays 113 percent – the highest rate of any annual conference. And there are progressive annual conferences that pay lower percentages than most. The reasons for conferences not to pay full apportionments range from not receiving those moneys from local churches to the decision not to cannibalize annual conference resources to support the general church to ideological concerns on both the progressive and traditionalist ends of the spectrum.

Contrary to Holland’s rhetorical sleights-of-hand, there is no such thing as a “WCA conference” or a “WCA bishop.” The WCA does not control annual conference finances, nor has it called for the withholding of apportionments (contrary to some progressive leaders who have called for such withholding). Giving decisions are being made by hundreds of thousands of individual United Methodists and thousands of congregations. There is no organized movement on the traditionalist side to withhold or redirect apportionments. Again, this is contrary to recent moves after St. Louis by some progressives, including at least one annual conference that makes official provision for withholding general church apportionments.

The reality of our current situation makes Holland’s flashy color-coded maps of the United States seem overblown.

Regardless of the numbers, fair-minded people should thoroughly examine the underlying presuppositions of Holland’s argument.

One presupposition is that those who give the money ought to call the shots. Money represents power. What makes many U.S. progressives and moderates nervous is that in the next eight to twelve years, the membership growth in Africa will be at a tipping point when it overshadows the decline in North America. At that point, the Africans may control budgetary decisions in how the church’s money is spent. This fear of losing control of the money is prompting many centrists and progressives to reconsider the value of belonging to a global church.

(In my experience, African church leaders are very grateful for the financial support for mission and ministry that U.S. churches provide. Primarily concerned with clergy training, orphanages, hospitals, and schools, they have no desire to take advantage of that support and our goodwill by demanding what we cannot provide. Their desire is to work in equal collaboration, not as junior partners in our relationship.)

Make no mistake about it, money, justice, and control should be openly discussed. These are biblical and ethical issues addressed throughout the Scriptures. However, it is ironic to hear concern about finances and power articulated at the annual conference and global levels, yet denied at the local level. For years, traditionalist church members have been repeatedly told to give their money to the church and trust the church to know how best to spend that money. Any attempt by local members to channel their giving in ways that church leaders deem “unacceptable” is frowned upon and often actively resisted. Local church members are not able to control how their money is spent. They have only one choice: give or not give (and of course the amount).

After many years of seeing their money fund causes and political stances by the church that they do not agree with, many traditionalists have chosen to redirect or to reduce their giving. Now in response to the St. Louis General Conference, many progressives are exercising the same choice to protest a stance by the global church that they disagree with.

How this plays out in the current conflict in our church is that some progressives and moderates apparently believe it is poor stewardship to give money to support parts of the church they believe are doing harm to LGBTQ people and their allies. They are exercising a choice that many traditionalists have made for years, being unwilling to support parts of the church that violate their consciences.

Holland states, “There seem to be a lot of local churches in these [more traditionalist] conferences that are simply not invested in our global mission. Leaving is just the next step.” Does that mean that progressive annual conferences and local churches currently withholding the general church apportionments are not invested in the church’s global mission? Is the Rev. Adam Hamilton not invested in the church’s global mission because his church is reportedly withholding half its multi-million-dollar apportionments until the end of the year? Are the half-dozen annual conferences that formed task forces to explore the possibility of leaving The United Methodist Church not invested in the church’s global mission?

Holland’s characterizations ring hollow when the tables are turned in his rhetorical exercise.

Good News supports the proposition that United Methodists should not be compelled to financially support ministry that violates their consciences. But Holland should not pretend that traditionalists are the only ones who do so, nor that exercising conscientious stewardship is disloyalty to the denomination that means we should forfeit our voice.

It is not disloyalty to the church that is causing people to withhold or redirect their giving. It is mistrust in the leadership of the church and the decisions made about how to spend money. UMCOR universally receives overwhelming support because it spends its money to help those in need – a cause nearly everyone agrees on. Givers want to be good stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them, and are increasingly unwilling to write “blank checks” to the church.

That leads to the second controversial presupposition in Holland’s piece: the speculative claim that progressive/moderate annual conferences fund 78 percent of the global church’s budget and his belief that progressives and moderates should therefore determine the beliefs and direction of the church.

To put it simply, that is not how The United Methodist Church works. Responsible centrist and progressive leaders know this is true. Dollars are not votes. The rich do not get to dictate to the poor. The wealthy West does not get to overrule the voices of Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.

Holland has already made his feelings clear when he wrote about “Five Reasons to Consider a U.S. Church” that would break apart the global UM Church along national lines. His latest piece continues the same line of reasoning, using the resources of the U.S. church to discount United Methodists in other nations. In many circles, that perspective comes across as boilerplate colonialism. It is one thing for those who have resources to set a boundary on what they are able and willing to afford spending. It is another thing to use those resources to dictate how the church should operate. We rightly decry this abuse of power in local churches. Why not in our global church?

Finally, it defies logic to blame the WCA for a shortfall in current apportionments and then criticize the WCA for raising funds to help make up the shortfall. Here, Holland is confusing apples and oranges. The shortfall in general church apportionments is not a new phenomenon. Reasonable centrist and progressive leaders know that to be true. It is caused by local churches and annual conferences across the theological spectrum for a variety of reasons, and it affects the total ministry of the church.

What is new is progressive and moderate individuals and annual conferences who had previously committed to fund specific mission work in Africa and Russia suddenly pulling the funding after the 2019 General Conference explicitly in response to the church’s decision to maintain the traditional biblical stance on marriage and sexuality. It is this shortfall that the WCA Central Conference Ministry Fund is designed to help remedy. The WCA did not cause the shortfall but is doing the responsible thing by attempting to supply assistance to central conference mission work that is jeopardized by progressives and moderates exercising their conscience-driven decision.

The big picture takeaway from all of this is that we have a demonstration of the impossibility of various parts of the church living together and sharing a common mission. Many U.S. Methodists have come to the point where they can no longer financially support those parts of the church they believe cause harm to LGBTQ people and allies. At the same time, many other U.S. Methodists can no longer financially support a church structure that not only fails to defend a traditional biblical sexual ethic, but also actively supports disobedience and defiance of the church’s requirements, decided globally by the only body with the authority to speak for the whole church.

Some moderates and progressives can discount our non-U.S. members as less than equal or not worthy of full participation in the processes of the church. However, our brothers and sisters outside the U.S. bring a needed corrective to the cultural myopia that afflicts our theology and practice of ministry. And we can do the same for them. As such, central conference leaders and members are valued and equal partners in the global ministry of The United Methodist Church, regardless of how much money each of us brings to the table.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Thank you for this post. Extremely well reasoned, thoughtful, fair. Again, thank you.

  2. Amen! Adam Hamilton baffles me. It seems so far beneath him to advocate withholding apportionments from the UM Africa mission because he and his leftist friends didn’t get their way on a socialist political agenda item at General Conference. I used to view Adam Hamilton as a UM leader of the highest order of integrity, and he has produced some of the best discipleship materials available. But he has chosen to sacrifice his integrity and credibility on the altar of democrat party politics, namely the radical gay lobby. Sad and deeply disappointing. He used to deftly balance left and right politics while keeping the Gospel and scripture front and center. It’s dumbfounding how he has left that behind to become a left-wing political activist. The only way I can figure it: After his meteoric rise, he began to exult in his newfound acceptance among the leftist power broker circle in the UM bureaucracy and our UM seminaries, and they swallowed him up like a mouse strutting through a cornfield full of snakes. It’s both saddening and maddening to see him cast down his credibility and integrity before millions and millions of UM and other Christians globally. For what? Approximately 2% of the American population who clearly identify as same-sex attracted (And 98% of that 2% who would likely never ever darken the door of a UM Church in their lifetimes anyway…no matter what General Conference does)? Can you say, insanity? It goes to show the insidious power of our leftist UM establishment who are willing to “fall on the sword” for their leftist/socialist political agenda items. The Gospel and the Great Commission? Well, they’re ok…provided they fit nicely into our leftist socialist political platform. Otherwise, they’re optional. Really?

  3. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

    As Paul warned Timothy in his final letter to his protege in Ephesus – People will not put up with sound doctrine, especially when there is fame and praise for turning to myths that validate an easier path. To stay true to sound doctrine means rejection and persecution of this world for the message of the Bible is anathema to the world, so those who seek to remain true to God’s Word must be persecuted, which is exactly what is happening. Those who are doing the persecution are doing so because, in their mind, they are right. They say their aim is to do no harm, yet all the while, they are doing harm. They are blinded. As Isaiah has in Isaiah 6:9-10

    9He said, “Go and tell this people:
    “ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
    be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
    10Make the heart of this people calloused;
    make their ears dull
    and close their eyes.
    Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.”

    Their eyes are closed and their ears are dull, so they cannot understand what they are doing, or they would turn and be healed. In order to pursue their objective and gain acceptance in this world for turning astray, they have traded an open heart for closed eyes and dull ears so they cannot perceive the harm they are doing.

    As Paul continues in his letter to Timothy – logos, ethos, pathos. Remain firm in your logic/argument, be ethical and be passionate. These are the ways to stand firm and to fight back against the forces of evil/this world.

    • I’m fine for the same-sex-attracted community to battle for recognition and acceptance. I would expect them to do so—and applaud them for doing so. They are all around us, made in God’s image, of sacred worth, Christ died for every one. The same-sex-arttracted community has battled for decades, even centuries, for the loving embrace of the greater heterosexual populace within and without of the church. But the way to garner societal acceptance is not by forcing the church to change or renegotiate the definition of marriage from Genesis 2 and Matthew 19. It just isn’t. The way to garner societal acceptance is not by forcing Bible-believing Christians to conscientiously embrace same-sex sexual practice.
      Ultimate acceptance comes only from God. It’s a gift that comes through faith. Like Paul Tillich said, “Accepting that you are accepted”, same-sex-attracted and all or whatever. Accepting that you are accepted by a force and love and life far greater than any one of us, and far beyond every one of us put together could ever begin to conceive. That force of acceptance was revealed in Jesus Christ, once for all.
      I hate to say it to my leftist friends, but the church’s sacramental endorsement of same-sex marriage and the church’s sacred endorsement of same-sex sexual practice could never ever yield the kind of acceptance for which the same-sex attracted—and every one of us—long to know and experience at the core of our being. For that kind of acceptance is uniquely a gift from God, apprehended by faith: Accepting that you are accepted. That’s a gift that goes infinitely beyond all this world could ever offer. It’s the greatest gift. Re-defin8ng the institution of marriage can never proffer it.
      My home church offered prayer gatherings and household blessings for same-sex couples with children. The pastor had attended same-sex union ceremonies to offer prayer (as a spiritual shepherd to same-sex couples with children). There are ways to bless, love, and care for the LGBT among us and in our congregations without either redefining the institution of marriage or condoning same-sex sexual practice. One thing’s for sure: We’ve come a long way as a society and church toward recognizing, loving, and caring for the same-sex attracted. For far too long, that phenomenon was swept under the rug to the grave and devastating detriment of some thoroughly wonderful human beings—and committed Christian human beings. We have a long way to go, nonetheless, we have come a fantastically long way! True love always includes boundaries; boundaries are essential to true love, God’s love.

Speak Your Mind

*