Weighing options and considering costs

walter-bio

Fenton

By Walter Fenton –

Bishop Scott Jones of the Great Plains Episcopal Area recently cautioned the board and top staff of the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) to carefully consider the financial and legal implications the sexuality debate will have on the future The United Methodist Church.

The same day (August 21) Jones advised the GCFA, a joint meeting of its board and the finance committee of the Connectional Table (CT) approved a bottom-line budget of $611.4 million for general church funds 2017-2020. That amount represents a 1.4 percent increase over the $603.1 budget approved at the 2012 General Conference.

The Economic Advisory Team, a group of eight United Methodist economists and financial professionals recommended a budget of $628.4 million based on a number of macro-economic factors and specific data like anticipated rate of giving per worship attendance over the next quadrennium. That amount was not accepted, but could be approved at a later date.

According to the advisory team, UM Church average weekly worship attendance in the US will continue to decline at an annual rate of 1.6 percent. Despite that continued slide, the team predicted that the apportionment payout rate from annual conferences would increase from 89 percent to 92 percent starting in 2017.

The unknown factor, as Jones pointed out, is how will the fallout from the sexuality debate effect attendance and giving? With 39 of 59 annual conferences reporting, unofficial numbers currently point to a 2-2.5 percent loss in average worship attendance between 2012 and 2013, a potentially troubling development for the general church’s budget needs.

“A number of clergy have reported to us that more church members are designating their giving, making it clear that their tithes and gifts should not be used to support bishops or general boards and agencies that advocate for liberalizing changes to the church’s teachings on same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy,” said the Rev. Tom Lambrecht, vice president of Good News. “They also tell us that some members are simply leaving the church because they are tired of the over 40-year sexuality debate.”

Jones encouraged the GCFA staff and board to talk with their counterparts in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Episcopal Church and Presbyterian Church-USA. All three of the denominations, along with the United Church of Christ, have experienced significant attendance and financial fallout once they liberalized their standards on same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy.

In a paper titled, “Finding a Way Through: Options for the UMC and Homosexuality,” Jones outlined various options that could be considered at General Conference 2014. The plans range from liberalizing the church’s teachings on same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy to a division of the church. Whatever the case, Jones believes GCFA would be wise to consider all the potential ramifications for the church’s financial future.

Comments

  1. Victor Galipi says

    Weighing Options and Considering Costs Good News My Response

    Thank you for this information, Walter. We must indeed carefully consider the financial costs of our present course, and indeed of any of a number of courses we might choose as a denomination.

    A number of options are laid out for us in a very helpful way in the paper by Bishop Scott Jones, “Finding a Way Through: Options for the UMC and Homosexuality”. All of them will involve financial and other costs. The question is, what price are we willing to pay?

    My firm belief is that the price we cannot afford to pay is the sacrifice of the integrity and inspiration of Scripture. Because if we do, we cease to be a Church; and by Church I mean not an institution, but the Body of Christ. Nor do I believe we can afford to pay the price of sacrificing our commitment to our covenant. Because if we do, we sacrifice what makes us The United Methodist Church, with our Wesleyan and Methodist flavor.

    In light of these my beliefs, I have some thoughts about the nine options Bishop Jones outlines in his paper, in the hopes that these might help us to weigh the options and count the costs.

    Option 7 – Full Inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Persons.

    This option would be the ultimate breaking of our covenant together, not only our covenant in the BoD but also in the word of God, which we vow as members to uphold. At least seven passages of Scripture clearly declare that homosexual practices are sinful, and that there is the need to repent of them just like all other sins. it does no good to fly in the face of the plain words of Scripture and over 2000 years of church tradition in understanding the word of God. It does no good to try to rationalize and re-interpret these Bible verses according to current cultural norms and political correctness. The Bible says what it says, and among other things it says that it is not subject to or a matter of one’s own interpretation (2 Pet 1:19-21). Once we start interpreting the Bible to say what we want it to say in one area, this can be done with the entirety of the word of God. In which case we have no written source of guide of our faith, and can do pretty much whatever is right in our own eyes.

    But at that point, are we still a church?

    Option 1 – Continuing discernment with no substantive change:

    The time for this is past. There is already substantive change, with a growing number of clergy, now including a bishop, openly defying our disciplinary covenant. So let’s choose what kind of substantive change we are going to have, as a denomination.

    Options 4, 5 and 6 – Local Church, Annual Conference and Jurisdictional Empowerment:

    These plans leave decisions about whether or not to keep our covenant and the current language of the Book of Discipline in the hands of local churches, annual conferences, and jurisdictional conferences respectively. In the jurisdictional plan, the five geographic jurisdictions in the U. S. A. would be replaced with two ideological ones, traditional and progressive.

    These three plans all have the same problem, which is that they not only perpetuate the problem of covenant breaking but make it even worse by giving approval to some to break the covenant. Since the covenant is based on Scripture changing the covenant is still breaking the covenant.

    Option 8 – Amicable Separation by Annual Conference:

    “…with permission of the jurisdictional conference, an entire annual conference could leave to form or join a new methodist or united church. Local churches that do not want to follow their annual conference into the new church would be allowed to separate under ¶2548.2 and join a United Methodist conference”.

    The question is, which annual conferences leave: the ones who want to keep the current language of the BoD, or the ones who want to change it? In terms of counting the costs, who gets to keep the resources of the denomination and who has to start from scratch?

    Option 2 – Proclaiming the Heart of United Methodism with Enhanced Exit Procedures:

    This option has a few very good points. There is a renewed emphasis on “the heart of United Methodism” which is defined in terms that are Biblically sound, and sound very Wesleyan. There are to be no changes made in the Book of Discipline, but there is to be an exercising of discipline for those who defy the Discipline. Finally, there is an excellent exit plan for churches that declare they in good conscience cannot remain in TUMC.

    The only drawback is “new efforts at continuing conversation and discernment”, which seem contradictory and unnecessary to this option. We should declare who we are as United Methodists according to the Scriptures and the Book of Discipline, discipline accordingly those who break the covenant, and provide a gracious way out for those churches that believe they cannot keep the covenant. We have had over 40 years of “dialog” and “holy conversation”, which in reality has often been unholy, contentious, divisive, and damaging to our witness in Christ. We do not need more of this.

    3) Integrity and Unity Led By Bishops.

    The Bishops, at the close of their Fall 2014 meeting, would issue a public statement to restore our unity and integrity. This includes “The Council’s commitment to promote, defend and uphold the church’s biblical teaching that marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman”; a commitment to fully enforce the Discipline when clergy members disregard the Discipline; a directive to Annual Conferences not to circumvent the Discipline; a public censure of bishops who have declared they will attempt to prevent disciplinary trials; and a commitment to “appoint as counsel for the church individuals fully supportive of the church’s teachings and the necessity for organizational accountability.”

    This option, it seems, would work well with option #2, instead of “continuing conversation and discernment”. If the Council of Bishops can agree to take this action.

    9) Amicable Separation into Two Different Denominations.

    “The United Methodist Church would divide into two different denominations with an equitable and gracious division of general church assets. Each annual conference would choose whether to align with the Progressive Methodist Church or the Traditionalist Methodist Church. Congregations that did not want to follow their annual conference would have a period of time in which to change conferences.”

    This is a good option, though there might well be conflict over what “an equitable and gracious division of general church assets” would look like. It does also divide us. While some “traditionalists” and “progressives” might want division in order to stand out clearly as who they are and what they stand for, divisions are not that clean and simple. There is also, of course, the question of whether or not we are capable of separating amicably. There are no doubt some among us, traditional and progressive, who do not want amicable separation, but prefer to make noise and be noticed, and to have all or nothing.
    +++
    In conclusion, I believe a blend of options 2 and 3, minus the “new efforts at continuing conversation and discernment” clause, will be perhaps the least costly for us, at least in consideration of what prices we do and don’t want to pay.

    In this blended option, the bishops would lead the denomination in making it clear where we stand, on the side of our current Book of Discipline. Since those clergy and churches that don’t follow the BoD could be strongly disciplined under this plan, the exit option for them is more than generous, if they will accept it.

    If the bishops will not agree to and lead us in a plan like something like this, I believe the only option is an as amicable as possible separation into two denominations.

    My hope and my prayer is that we are capable of separating amicably, but my hope and prayer is also that it will not come to that, but that we will together commit to keep our covenant and give the best possible opportunity for those who will not to “depart in peace”.

    Whatever course we choose, we need to be counting the costs. Jesus told us to count the cost of discipleship. Is it worth it to us to follow Him, wherever He leads us, whatever He tells us in His word?

    • Edith Parker says

      Who believes the Bishops can be counted on for integrity and honesty to uphold the Discipline? I certainly find that laughable. I will not trust this bunch at all…very sad to say that. And the conference will determine how individual churches go in a separation into Traditional and Progressive? I can see ahed on that one and the big progressive church will crush the traditional ones even though it is the traditional ones that are carrying the costs…Scott Jones choices list favors the Progressives in every option. The only hope lies in the shrinking finances of the present denomination…Have no money? Now that begins to present lots of cuts in programs and staffs and jobs…now that begins to hurt. At the present time, prayer is the only hope for traditionalists and control of the purse strings which belongs to them anyway. E Louise Parker, Fort Worth Texas

      • Edith, I am trying to believe the best about our bishops, since I have only met a couple of them very briefly and don’t know any of them beyond a few particular statements, decisions or actions made by some of them.

        I do believe that how the Council of Bishops handles the Bishop Melvin Talbert “case” (which hasn’t even gone to trial yet) will be at this point the strongest indicator of what we can expect from our bishops. In my opinion things are moving way too slowly for such a clear cut case of disobedience which happened almost a year ago now. If the Bishops do not soon publicly censure and discipline and send to trial one of their own who has broken covenant, my trust will continue to decline, a great deal, and I will be far from alone in that.

        Another major indicator of what to expect from our Bishops will be in how they, in their Fall meeting next month, respond to the Integrity and Unity Statement which is being sent to them with thousands of signatures of clergy and lay members across TUMC. For me, and for many others, it will be critical that they immediately express public agreement with this statement or at least make a similar statement to the effect that they will fulfill their ordination and membership vows to uphold the Discipline and teach Biblical truth.

        I still think that Option #2 minus any continuing conversation is the best option I’ve heard, and I believe it has no chance of happening without Option #3, which is why I believe we need both. In Option #2 the only option for a church or members who don’t want to follow the Discipline is to leave. It might be unlikely that Option #2 could happen but it is possible and worth praying and working toward. Otherwise, I believe the only suitable option is separation, which is highly unlikely to be amicable.

        Edith, divestment, or “shrinking the funds” by cutting back on giving, is certainly an option. However, if we do that, current leadership is likely to just cut back in other areas besides the ones you or I might hope they would cut back. Also, there will always be a number of wealthy progressives quite willing to give to support their causes. Funds can always be designated–by anyone, with any particular view on any particular issue.

        So I am praying for and working for repentance, renewal and a return to the word of God in our denomination, from the bishops to the pastors to the people in the pews. As I’m sure you are as well. Thanks for your reply.

  2. As a member of a small rural church (ave. attendance 100) I am amazed the GCFA has their heads so far in the sand they cannot see the financial writing on the wall. I for one have no interest in financing the progressive/liberal campaigns they use our hard earned monies for. There is definitely more money being earmarked in our offerings. I feel blessed our Bishop Jones has bravely taken a position and offered food for thought. I pray for him and the 100 ministers from Crossroads for Godly wisdom. We cannot/must not stray away from the Biblical guidelines.

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