This concludes a three-part series examining a claim from the liberal Mainstream UMC caucus, reportedly spread among African United Methodist leaders as part of a recent trip made by representatives of the liberal Uniting Methodists caucus and the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), that “78% of money for the global UMC is coming from Annual Conferences that reject the Traditional Plan.”
Yes, this raises huge questions about neo-colonialism and prioritizing money vs. core faith values.
But in terms of the dubious 78-percent statitistic and related suggestions that after a denominational separation, the liberal denomination would have more money to support the global church, the record must be set straight about three core questions:
- How liberal is the United Methodist Church in America?
- How are American United Methodists currently funding the global church?
- What do the facts of today suggest about the future of American support for the global church?
Part 1 introduced this series and examined how the dominance of liberal views in the U.S. church has been exaggerated, and American United Methodists are actually much more evenly divided than is often claimed.
Part 2 further explained the inaccuracy of the 78-percent statistic, given how most U.S. funding of non-US central conference ministries is outside of apportionments (on which Mainstream UMC’s calculations are exclusively based), most of these general-church apportionments do nothing for central conferences, and how the historically most liberal American conferences paid nothing to support non-American bishops.
The third question inevitably involves some speculation.
But there is no uncertainty about the fact that no matter what, American United Methodism will face a large financial decline in the rather immediate short-term future. Major denomination-wide budget cuts were planned, out of necessity, even before the widespread expectation of the denominational division and before the Coronavirus epidemic. We are already seeing money dry up.
So the hard truth is that previous levels of levels of U.S. giving to central conferences is already becoming a thing of the past.
Then as our denomination prepares to divide, behavior already seen from American leaders in each major faction suggests very different approaches from those who would be in the more globally oriented, evangelical/traditionalist denomination vs. those in the more U.S. centered, theologically liberal/progressive denomination.
Key areas to examine are reactions to the last General Conference, decisions within official denomination-wide structures, and what would change after the split.
After the 2019 General Conference adopted the Traditional Plan, strengthening prohibitions of “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions,” we saw American United Methodists take two starkly contrasting postures towards central conferences.
Numerous liberal leaders threatened and acted to defund central conference ministries, as collective punishment for non-American United Methodists’ traditional biblical theology and disapproval of homosexual practice, with encouragement from the top. Leaders of liberal-dominated California-Pacific Annual Conference, took the extraordinary, illegal step of setting up a new system in order to basically defund normally apportionment-supported global ministries judged to be insufficiently supportive of the LGBTQIA liberationist cause. Adam Hamilton, a founding leader of the Uniting Methodists and UMC Next liberal caucuses, gave voice to those “talking about whether they can, in good conscience, continue in mission partnerships with churches, annual conferences and others who lent support to the Traditional Plan.” One Mainstream UMC board member issued “A Case for Divesting from Africa.”
To be fair, liberal Americans are divided. California-Nevada Conference Bishop Minerva Carcaño forcefully warned that “attempting to control Central Conferences through withholding funds is manipulative and coercive.” She observed that “this withholding is primarily expressed in Caucasian congregations whose perception is that their entitlement to control others with money is an expression of white privilege.” But as finances tighten, pro-divestment sentiment will surely grow among liberal Americans.
In contrast, the traditionalist Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) established the Central Conference Ministry Fund, with the express goal of raising money to help central conference ministries hurt by such divestment. IRD/UMAction and other traditionalists encouraged donations. The WCA has said that while it may not be able to make up for all such divestments at this time, the WCA “does believe it should do what it can.”
Then we can look at decisions of the Connectional Table and General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA), both of which would be inherited by the more liberal denomination and both of which systematically under-represent non-Americans on their governing boards. In their April 2019 agreement for the next denominational budget, they chose to cut the Central Conference Theological Education Fund (CCTEF) by a greater percentage than the main fund solely for American theological education, the Ministerial Education Fund (MEF). But these cuts were from a current quadrennial budget that already devotes over ten times as much money to theological education in the USA as is spent in other countries. As our denomination passes the tipping point of having half of our membership live outside the USA, the liberal agency leadership is seeking to make this imbalance even worse.
The CCTEF was even more poorly funded until a heavy push from the Africa Initiative and the U.S.-based Renewal and Reform Coalition succeeded in getting the 2016 General Conference to increase it from roughly $5 million to $10 million every four years (still a tiny fraction of the nearly $106 million budgeted for the U.S.-only Ministerial Education Fund). The official transcript (pages 2818-2821) shows that this decision came after three traditionalist Americans spoke positively about it.
But even this modest increase met strong liberal American opposition. The same transcript records two liberal American delegates speaking against the increase, which only passed by a narrow 406-379 vote. Later, the liberal Mainstream UMC caucus characterized this modest increase as a “cash-grab” by greedy Africans and appeared to mock the size of the apportionment payments by the Liberia Conference in West Africa. But Mainstream UMC neglected to acknowledge such details as how Liberia’s gross national per-capita income is less than two dollars a day while America’s is over 113 times higher, and how last year, the Liberian apportionment payment Mainstream UMC appears to mock was 100 percent of its assigned fair share of apportionments, while the liberal-leaning Great Plains Conference of Adam Hamilton and Mainstream UMC leader Mark Holland paid a much lower percentage.
So might things change after the separation?
The UMAction Steering Committee has recently formally committed ourselves to working to ensure continued strong financial support for faithful non-U.S. ministries.
The hard truth is that both of the two main denominations will start with significantly diminished funds. This will force the acceleration of promoting self-sufficiency around the world.
Generally, partnerships will be more likely to continue among those who remain in the same denomination. But there may be plenty of situations of an American congregation ending up in the liberal denomination and a central conference ministry in the traditionalist denomination (or vice-versa), but their partnership would continue thanks to strong relationships and/or restrictions on assets. After all, the General Board of Global Ministries and congregations already have plenty of partnerships with non-UMC ministries.
Some liberals as well as traditionalists have withheld apportionments as a protest, though I and other renewal leaders (in contrast to some liberal leaders) have not called for this. But we must also acknowledge how the current system imposes a terrible dilemma on traditionalists: the only clear choices are often either both funding what is good and necessary and sending money we know will be abused by some UMC leaders to actively undermine our church’s own official biblical standards, or funding neither.
Getting into an orthodox Methodist denomination would neatly remove what has driven principled apportionment withholding by some traditionalists. They would have confidence that their apportionments would no longer be used to prop up bishops spreading the belief that Jesus Christ was a sinful bigot or denominational agencies defending unrestricted abortion and the LGBTQ liberationist cause. In planning the new global evangelical Methodist denomination, there is a strong commitment to not continuing what is seen as ineffective bureaucratic waste, which would free up more money for ministry around the world.
It is more complicated with the liberalized post-separation UMC (psUMC). On the one hand, this denomination would, at least in the United States, allow same-sex weddings and partnered gay clergy, and incrementally strip members’ ability to object. This would diminish one main reason driving principled apportionment withholding by some American liberals.
On the other hand, much would remain unchanged. Liberals now urging divestment from Africa, Russia, and the Philippines sincerely believe that it inflicts great harm on LGBTQIA people to give any money to non-American bishops who will not let clergy in their area perform same-sex weddings. If it is immoral for them to send money to non-U.S. church leaders who they judge to “further exclusion or judgment against LGBTQIA persons” anywhere, why would it suddenly become moral after the separation?
Furthermore, Mainstream UMC’s Advisory Board has already publicly declared “we cannot affiliate with those who” support the values of the Traditional Plan. It is widely agreed that delegates from Africa, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe overwhelmingly voted for the Traditional Plan.
So theological traditionalists from those three regions who chose to affiliate with the liberalized psUMC should expect many Americans in that denomination to continue resenting their presence and divesting from their ministries, no matter how many sales-pitch assurances they hear now claiming otherwise.
In the long term, both of the diminished denominations will seek to grow.
But there are several reasons to be more optimistic about the traditionalist denomination’s growth in America. While the American UMC has long been losing members, we have seen a general trend of faster decline, with some variations, in more liberal conferences. Every single U.S. denomination that has adopted the liberal sexuality policies that the psUMC would have has suffered catastrophic decline without recovery, while every sizable and growing denomination in America is more theologically traditionalist. Within the UMC, we have seen a consistent trend, of the majority of the fastest-growing large U.S. congregations having senior pastors known to be evangelicals.
The latest big survey of American United Methodists’ views found that of those who self-identified as theologically “progressive-liberal,” nearly one third (31 percent) are universalists, believing that “all people will die saved,” and nearly half (46 percent) believe that “there are ways to salvation that do not involve Jesus.” In contrast, among those who are theologically “conservative-traditional,” only 11 percent are universalists and most (86 percent) believe that “the only way to salvation is through a relationship with Jesus.” This contrast obviously spurs among the latter a much more urgent motivation to evangelize.
To recap: Among the Americans who would dominate the liberalized psUMC, we have already seen trajectories of systematically marginalizing and underfunding the ministries of non-American United Methodists, punitive moves to further divest from central conference ministries, and reasons to expect such behaviors to continue. Among the sorts of Americans who would end up in the global evangelical/traditionalist denomination, there is a track record of fighting to increase denominational funding for central conference ministries, current fundraising for central conference ministries hurt by liberal American divestments, and a hopeful foundation for future growth.
In discussing the future of the two denominations, I would frankly prefer to focus on other matters than money, and am deeply uncomfortable with the paternalist and neo-colonialist attitudes tainting such discussions. Non-American United Methodists need to be respected as equals, and we all have so much to offer each other.
Furthermore, regardless of my preferences, as we all decide which denomination to continue within, I want my central conference brothers and sisters to have a right to self-determination, so that they can make their choices without any manipulation, misinformation, or coercion, and have their choices respected by all of us.
But avoiding misinformation means that if people are going to talk about such financial questions, we need to at least be honest about the facts here.