Rookie Mistake

Bishop Laurie Haller, Iowa Annual Conference Communications

By Walter Fenton-

Writing to churches and clergy in the Iowa Annual Conference about financial challenges the conference faces, new Bishop Laurie Haller wrote, “Some of our clergy and congregations are making the decision to withhold apportionment payments to protest those who advocate for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in The United Methodist Church. This intentional action weakens our mutual covenant to be in ministry together here and around the world despite our differences.”

Bishop Haller is woefully misinformed if she thinks churches and clergy are withholding apportionments “to protest those who advocate for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in The United Methodist Church.”

Those who support the church’s sexual ethics, its teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards have never contested the right of LGBTQ+ people and their allies to “advocate” for changing the church’s teachings. They are not naïve; they understand people in a large denomination will not always see eye-to-eye on every matter. They know we have a polity, an orderly way of going about discerning God’s will, and they have willingly engaged in that process for decades. If this were not the case many would have started withholding apportionments long ago, perhaps as far back as the early 1980s.

Here, for Haller and other church leaders who are now learning about the crisis within our denomination, are just some of the actual reasons why some clergy and laity are withholding apportionments, particularly in annual conferences like Iowa. 

  • After the 2012 General Conference some LGBTQ+ people and their allies adopted a strategy of ecclesial disobedience. They disregarded the will of General Conference and our Book of Discipline by presiding at same sex weddings, and in a few cases UM clergy openly acknowledged they were in same-sex partnerships. But these acts only led a few congregations to withhold apportionments. 
  • In October of 2013 retired Bishop Melvin Talbert joined a growing list of clergy to preside at a same-sex marriage. His defiance gained national attention, and forced clergy to respond to perplexed and sometimes angry laity who could not understand how a bishop could preside at a same-sex wedding when the church explicitly said clergy are prohibited from doing so. This provocation led other congregations to withhold apportionments. 
  • In tense executive sessions at the Council of Bishops’ November 2013 gathering it instructed its president to file a complaint against Bishop Talbert. It took four months before the complaint was filed, and then another nine before the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops quietly reported on the late afternoon of December 30, 2014 that a “just resolution” had been reached in the matter. The resolution was widely regarded as a sham since Talbert was in no way held accountable for his breach of church law. This mockery of the Discipline led still other congregations to withhold apportionments.
  • In July of 2016 the Western Jurisdiction and its bishops wittingly decided to plunge the denomination into a constitutional crisis by electing, consecrating, and assigning as a bishop a person they all knew had presided at nearly 50 same-sex weddings and was party to one herself. And so, as a matter of conscience, many congregations across the connection have decided to withhold apportionments, particularly churches in the annual conferences over which this bishop presides. They have refused to be complicit in a willful rebellion against the church’s polity and good order. And as many warned, the conferences in the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area are facing serious financial challenges, and in one case, the conference has candidly called it a “financial crisis.” 
  • Finally, in an incident closer to home for Iowans, the Rev. Anna Blaedel requested a point of privilege at the 2016 Iowa Annual Conference to announce to the gathered assembly, “I am a ‘self-avowed practicing homosexual.’ Or, in my language, I am out, queer, partnered clergy.” A complaint was immediately filed against her, but was dismissed, without comment, by Bishop Julius Trimble. Bishop Haller just recently reappointed her.

Haller seriously misjudges and mischaracterizes people who stand at the church’s center when she says they are withholding apportionments “to protest those who advocate for full inclusion of LGBTQ people.”

Nonsense. They are withholding apportionments because of bishops and church leaders who refuse to defend the church’s teachings, its polity, church law, and now even the rulings of its judicial branch.

Faithful United Methodists have decided they can no longer support, in good conscience, a dysfunctional institution. And they certainly have no interest in financially supporting bishops who mock their values and the church they have faithfully supported for years.

Recently, Bishop Haller characterized the aforementioned Rev. Anna Blaedel’s actions as “holy disobedience.” If she takes the time to patiently listen to people at the center of the UM Church who are withholding apportionments, she might come to realize they are acting out of “holy obedience.”

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergy person and an analyst for Good News. 

Comments

  1. Licensed Local pastor says:

    It would be nice if for once these progressive Bishops actually would get in touch with their jurisdictions and the real reason apportionments are being withheld. This is not a “rookie” mistake this is arrogance based on ignorance of what the laity want in a Bishop, to uphold the scriptures and the Book of Discipline and not dabbling in apostasy.
    .

  2. Fred B. Moretz says:

    I wonder why Bishop Haller is now concerned about “covenant” being broken by “clergy and laity” withholding apportionments and it negative results. She and others are unconcerned when the “covenant” taken by we Elders is broken in their own “holy disobedience.”

  3. Patti Atkins says:

    Well said….

  4. William says:

    “Full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church” has become the usual and customary code language of the left for the ERASING as SIN the practice of homosexual sexual relations and the redefinition of marriage. Instead of advocating for JUSTIFYING GRACE — repentance, foregiveness, salvation, and a new life in Jesus Christ, which is the usual and customary way of the church for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world for the rest of us sinners, this endeavors to make a HUGE exception for this self-identified group. Not only is an exception is being sought, but a celebration of this exception would follow. This is obviously the GREAT stumbling block to finding a solution to our schism.

  5. I heartily disagree with the sentiments of this article. In the piece, you write that Bishop Laurie is “woefully misinformed” in thinking that it is in protest to those advocating for full inclusion. Then, you precede to five examples of how bishops and leaders have been advocating for inclusion / disobeying discipline / acting as if those parts of the discipline didn’t exist and how people are withholding apportionments in response. In essence, you gave the proof against your main point.

    The letter that was sent to us, as leaders of the Iowa Annual Conference, was written not only by Bishop Laurie, but by the entire appointive cabinet in response to what they are hearing and seeing within our conference. Our cabinet in the last few years has taken numerous opportunities to be in conversation and to listen to people across the spectrum of the vast theological differences we embody in Iowa. It was honest and I applaud it and appreciate their candor. We are having to make tough decisions within our conference as a result of reduced finances and transparency about both the rationale, process, and results are important.

    I, for one, believe the disobedience towards the discipline and covenant breaking on either side (for inclusion or the withholding of apportionments) are equal and valid forms of protest. Both groups are trying their best to live faithfully in the midst of this church that we share. I understand and respect why people choose to act out of that faithfulness through that disobedience to our covenant and frankly, I’m completely unsure as to how we might remain in covenant with one another. Only God knows. And perhaps God will provide a way through together and perhaps God will provide a way for us to bless one another as we move in new directions apart. Until then, we live in the midst of the reality of a divided church and how the decisions in one part of our body can and do impact those in other parts.

    • Julia Poulsen says:

      Amen.

    • Former UMC says:

      You missed the point. The point was the withholding isn’t due to “advocacy” of inclusion but rather a result of literally acting upon rebellion against the Discipline and General Conference. “Advocacy” = words, action = sticks and stones. Talk all you want, but once you act to engage in an ordination forbidden by the General Conference, that’s a different story. This distinction was plainly asserted in the article, evidenced by the fact that orthodox people have been putting up with talk since the 60’s. It’s the fairly recent actions that have brought the UMC to the precipice. I think what we have here is a Left that became so accustomed to kid gloves they didn’t think their hubris would be called out financially.

  6. Don McFarland says:

    Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation
    Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.

    We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting the rightful claims where people have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law.

    Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.

    Source: The UMC / What We Believe / Basics of Our Faith / Social Principles & Creed / The Social Community.

    As a people called Methodist we can’t make this claim as long as we exclude our LGBTQ brethren.

    • Judy Wadding says:

      Absolutely

      • “As a people called Methodist we can’t make this claim as long as we exclude our LGBTQ brethren.”
        I see no call for exclusion; only an upholding of church law, which is biblically based. The only violence and coercion I see is coming from the LGBT community, who want to do violence to our Book of Discipline, and coerce the rest of the church to accede to their demands. Let’s get real!

    • Former UMC says:

      You are confusing theology with civics. And mistaking God’s justice for “simple” justice.

    • John Cobil says:

      Since when is being ordained clergy a “right”? If that is true, then there can be no requirements. You are equating upholding contract rights and opposing violence with appointing leaders. I firmly believe that an alcoholic should be afforded legal contract rights and should be protected from violence, but I don’t think I want him as my pastor until he sobers up.

  7. Edit to my previous comment:

    I misstated that this letter was signed and sent by the entire appointive cabinet. This letter was in reference to a change in staffing being necessary because of reduced apportionment income. The Extended Cabinet and Field Outreach Ministers were part of the decisions and understanding of the rationale. They did not sign this particular letter.

    The appointive cabinet did, however, all write and sign a letter that came only a few weeks before, also about apportionments.

  8. Paige Smith says:

    I am waiting for the UMC to take the same stance on “marriage” and “sexual ethics” as it does on the LGBTQ issue. Divorce and the remarriage of adulterous spouses is accepted, as is cohabitation.
    None of these distress me, but shoild distress the Church as much as or more than LGBTQ questions.

  9. Fred Garrott says:

    Paige has hit a hot button. The breakup of the home and divorce is devastating to civilization. The absence of fathers in the home is perhaps the most deviststating problems we face. In my 70 plus years I do not recall hearing a sermon on this. And, 55 percent of the millinials are single parents….trouble is coming our way! Divorce recovery classes send out the message that divorce is an accepted and supported action.

  10. Withholding apportionment – refusing to participate in shared ministry is an act of unfaithfulness. Please, let’s continue to be faithful together.

  11. John M. Stephenson says:

    Can’t have it both ways Bill. As a member of the laity, I see nothing but faithlessness on the part of a significant percentage of Bishops who refuse to honor the unambiguous positions taken by General Conference on the Book of Displine and now the unambiguous ruling by the Judicial Council. Why then should you be surprised about those Churches who try to follow the Book of Discpline and Judicial Rulings who now feel it’s acceptable to withhold apportionments. We are either together in Covenant or not. It seems clear to me we are no longer in Covenant on the important issue of marriage so why not get on with the inevitable. I pray God can find a way forward for all of us to stay “unified” (an oxymoron if there ever was one), but we are fast approaching the Rubicon. It won’t be the end of the world, or Western Civilization, or Christianity or the Weslyan movement if the denomination splits. After all, we are Protestant and have a history of breaking away when the institutional, established Church becomes dysfunctional. A larger and larger percentage of the laity is getting quite tired of the dithering.

  12. Dear Rev. Dawson,

    Polling the clergy and laity to try and solve the issue is a waste of time. The only poll that counts is the one that God gives us through the scriptures. He is the only one with the authority to set Christian polity. The scriptures are quite clear. Homosexuality is a sin. It is only one of many sins, including heterosexual adultery, but it is still a sin. To believe that it is not a sin is to either believe that the Bible is not the word of God or to believe that the scriptures contradict themselves. I have read with an open mind the reasons for not calling homosexuality as sin and none of them stack up biblically. If you can show me in scripture where homosexuality is not a sin, I would love to hear it, but so far all I have heard as justification is scripture that is interpereted or stretched beyond reason.

  13. Scott,
    Since even a number of our bishops, who are supposedly our Biblical experts, cannot present Scripture to show that the practice of homosexuality is non-sinful, they too must rely only on the “INTERPRETATION” argument. Of course, using interpretation as the basis for this conclusion would, therefore, require expanding it to include all sexual immorality as non-sinful.

    Christian marriage, which has become the focal point in this whole debate, should settle the entire matter if the UMC is, indeed, a church of Jesus Christ. No amount of interpretation maneuvering, subterfuge, or conjecture can change what Jesus unequivocally said about marriage in his condemnation of divorce as recorded in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. Of course, He was emphasizing what God’s created order for marriage entailed and rebuking those who would mock it by granting easy divorces or harm it through other means. Thus, it is through a man and a woman in marriage as they become one that sexual relations are allowed and held high esteem per God’s law. Even for this post-sexual revolution age, that still makes all other sexual relations outside of marriage sinful.

    Now, if the progressives can present Scripture that refutes this, I am most open to reading it verse by verse and considering their position, as I am sure scores of others would do likewise.

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