In Part 1, I explained some (but by no means all) of the pressures that have made redirecting denominational apportionment payments into an escrow fund seem like an attractive option for some evangelical United Methodist congregations, and how this situation could have been avoided by some faithful and courageous leadership by our bishops.
It is worth further noting how negative reactions to such an action by more theologically liberal United Methodists are actually quite hypocritical.
There is no moral consistency in decrying such apportionment escrowing by evangelical United Methodists, like those at Mt. Bethel UMC, as an unacceptable strike against the integrity and unity of our denomination’s covenantal covenant, without being as vehement in protesting the liberal covenant-breaking noted in Part 1.
And activists in the any-means-necessary “reconciling” movement, who have themselves long been doing whatever they can to violate, tear apart, and undermine our denomination’s official doctrine, covenantal standards, and mutual trust, have zero credibility in now suddenly professing concern for our denominational covenant, connection, and unity.
Furthermore, anyone who would be at all more forceful in condemning or calling for action against an evangelical congregation for threatening the financial pipeline (from which they and their favored pet causes benefit) than they are in seeking concrete action against the theologically liberal threats noted in Part 1 to Christian faithfulness, morality, and mission according to our United Methodist doctrinal standards, betray a rather materialistic misplacement of priorities.
Even according to institutionally idolatrous standard of treating apportionments as the only part of our denominational covenant worth enforcing, or at least by far the most important part, there remains quite a bit of liberal hypocrisy.
Some who would lambaste an evangelical United Methodist congregation escrowing its apportionments seem willing to give a free pass to theologically liberal United Methodist congregations taking the more dramatic step of simply not paying their apportionments.
For example, here in the Chicago area, several liberal, “reconciling” congregations “withheld” (in the sense of simply not paying) between 93 and 100 percent of their assigned apportionments in the last year for which records are available: Bethany UMC of Fox Valley in Aurora, along with Edison Park UMC, Broadway UMC, Epworth UMC, and Irving Park UMC in Chicago. Those five congregations alone were responsible for $97,554 in unpaid apportionments.
It is also important to note that these congregations are also breaking covenant in another significant way: by being formally affiliated with the sexually liberal Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). RMN is our denomination’s largest unofficial caucus promoting theological liberalism. It is perhaps best known for its self-righteous protests disrupting each of the last several General Conferences, and promotes church acceptance of not only homosexual practice but also pre-marital cohabitation, open bathrooms, and “polyamory” (concurrent multiple sexual partners). A series of UMC Judicial Council decisions, as recently as 2011, have clearly forbidden such formal congregational caucus affiliations. Since that time, evangelical United Methodists have honored this part of church law, discontinuing the practice of having congregations formally affiliated with the Confessing Movement and/or Transforming Congregations, while RMN has defied it.
Here represents another failure of our bishops, thus pointing back to evangelical concerns with apportionments. Including one who is now retired, I can count on one hand the number of bishops I have heard of ever doing anything to prevent congregations in their areas from affiliating with RMN. To be fair, there are some additional annual conferences in which there are no RMN congregations listed, but it is unclear how much this is due to the bishop doing anything vs. simple lack of local interest. Meanwhile, other bishops have actually expressed pride in their congregations that thus violate church law.
I have reported earlier on how one of the heroes of the “reconciling” movement, the Rev. Steven Heiss of the Upper New York Conference, has led his congregation into dramatic decline, is burdening his entire conference by rather obnoxiously forcing regional leadership to deal with his childish defiance of church standards on marriage, and while being such a burden on the rest of the connection, his congregation only paid slight over half of its fair share of apportionments.
Nationally, one of the liberal caucuses, Amy DeLong’s “Love Prevails” (aka, Love Bullies) group, has a stated mission that includes urging liberals to “divest” their money – as well as their presence, service, and even prayers – from any part of the United Methodist Church not submitting to their agenda. And this is the group that has enjoyed the uncritical support and enabling of the main older liberal caucuses (the Methodist Federation for Social Action and RMN) as well as sympathetic bishops and the majority-liberal faction of the Connectional Table.
At the big-picture level, there is great, not always neatly predictable unevenness in how much of their assigned share of apportionments different congregations and annual conferences actually pay.
But no one doubts that by far the most theologically liberal of our denomination’s five U.S. jurisdictions is the Western Jurisdiction, where United Methodists who actually believe in our denomination’s official doctrine are marginalized, sometimes rather harshly. And the hard statistics are crystal clear that the radicalized Western Jurisdiction has for years consistently lagged far behind the other four jurisdictions in the percentage it pays of its assigned share of apportionments.
Furthermore, in their political machinations, theologically liberal United Methodists have (so far successfully) defended a system in which even if the Western Jurisdiction paid 100% of its assigned apportionments, it would still have the dubious distinction of being the only U.S. jurisdiction uniquely privileged with more bishops than it pays for itself, while also being the only one contributing nothing to support overseas bishops.
I recently came across an amusing argument from a noted liberal caucus figure trying to dismiss concerns about how, in proportion to actual membership, the (mainly white) Western Jurisdiction has over nine times as many bishops as central Africa (where about half of black United Methodists live). The main parts of the argument, which I pass on for readers’ amusement are:
- Western Jurisdiction “progressives” are somehow doing better in paying apportionments than the other regions, even though every other U.S. jurisdiction has been paying a significantly higher percentage of their respectively assigned apportionments, because Western Jurisdiction leaders have successfully shrunk their membership to such a tiny point, especially relative to other jurisdictions, that even 20% non-payment of apportionments in the West amounts to less absolute dollars that 10% nonpayment in any other jurisdiction.
- The Western Jurisdiction’s oversupply of bishops means that its bishops have time to hold the presidencies of three UMC denominational agencies (more than any region other than the Southeast), the presidency of the global Council of Bishops, the vice-presidency of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters (which exerts powerful influence in determining which petitions related to our global church get ultimately adopted), and the single official slot for representing the Council of Bishops on the powerful Commission on the General Conference (a body arguably more powerful than General Conference itself) – but somehow none of this amounts to “any real influence at all.”
More seriously, I would love to see anyone now criticizing Mt. Bethel UMC for escrowing apportionments demonstrate some moral consistency by criticizing those theologically liberal United Methodists who have done so much to undermine our denominational connection (in addition to not paying their own assigned apportionments), as well as Western Jurisdiction liberals who are not doing their part in paying for bishops.
But I won’t hold my breath.