Recently, a bit of a stir has been caused by talk of some orthodox United Methodists potentially redirecting apportionments in response to the failure of our apportionment-funded denominational leadership, especially in the Western Jurisdiction, to uphold our church’s biblical standards on marriage and sexual self-control.
But what is the big picture of how various United Methodists are doing in paying their assigned share of the apportionments, which are skimmed from local-church offering plates to pay for our bishops and denomination-wide structures?
An answer was given to the board of directors of the UMC’s largest denominational general agency, the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), when they met April 10-12 in New York.
At the level of our denomination’s roughly five dozen geographic annual conferences in the U.S., the wide range of apportionment underpayments does not follow the most neatly predictable pattern. In 2013, only about one-third of all annual conferences, including at least two in each of the UMC’s five U.S. jurisdictions, paid fully 100 percent of their assigned share of denomination-wide apportionments. One notable factoid: between 2012 and 2013, the California-Nevada Conference, long a hotbed of clergy rejection of Scriptural authority and United Methodist doctrinal standards, dropped from paying a mere two-thirds (68 percent) of its assigned fair share of denominational apportionments to paying only 58.2 percent.
At the jurisdictional level, the disparities remain rather striking. In both 2012 and 2013, the Western Jurisdiction, whose leaders are becoming increasingly notorious for their efforts to disrupt and break covenant with the rest of our denomination, continued its years-long track record of falling well behind all other jurisdictions in paying its assigned share of apportionments.
Last year, the Western Jurisdiction paid 83.1 percent of all of its assigned denomination-wide apportionments, while the other four U.S. jurisdictions paid between 87.5 and 93.9 percent of their respective shares.
The difference is even more profound in payments to the Episcopal Fund, which pays for our bishops. In 2012 and 2013, the Western Jurisdiction only paid between 81.5 and 86.9 percent of its share of the Episcopal Fund, while the other four jurisdictions consistently paid over 90 percent of theirs.
We have previously reported on how even if it paid 100 percent of its apportionments, the Western Jurisdiction would still rely on the other four jurisdictions to partially pay for its proportionate oversupply of bishops (and consequently increased denomination-wide influence). The Western Jurisdiction stands alone among the U.S. jurisdictions in contributing nothing for the support of bishops in non-U.S. regions, where United Methodists are increasingly stepping up to the plate to support their own bishops despite facing much more difficult financial circumstances than what American members enjoy.
Assuming that GCFA’s figure of $1.25 million is still valid as the average four-year cost for each U.S. bishop, the data also shows that of all the millions that the Southeastern Jurisdiction, with its 13 bishops, pays into the Episcopal Fund, nearly half goes to support bishops outside of the Southeast.Using the same rough cost-per-bishop estimate, the latest figures show that in terms of actual (rather than assigned) payments into the Episcopal Fund, nearly one-third of the South Central Jurisdiction’s payments, one-third of the North Central Jurisdiction’s payments, and one-seventh of the Northeastern Jurisdiction’s payments go outside of their respective conferences. Thus there is a direct relationship between the relative degree of orthodoxy of a jurisdiction and where it ranks in terms of how much it pays for other regions’ bishops.
The artificially inflated number of Western Jurisdiction bishops – for transparently political rather than financial or missional reasons – may even perversely incentivize further such mooching. If the rest of the Western Jurisdiction follows California-Nevada’s lead in withholding more and more apportionments, they may figure they can just save their own money and rely on the rest of the church to keep treating them to more bishops than their meager numbers merit.
A scanned version of my copy of the relevant official documents I received at the GBGM meeting can be read here.