Mt. Bethel UM Church Withholds Apportionments

Withholding Apportionments in the United Methodist ChurchOne of the largest congregations in The United Methodist Church withheld over $200,000 of its apportionments in 2014 in response to what it believes to be “wholly unsatisfactory” inaction on the part of the Council of Bishops to recent controversies within the denomination. The congregation will make no further payments in 2015 without the explicit approval of the church’s administrative council.

Mt. Bethel UM Church, located in Marietta, Georgia, is the largest UM congregation east of the Mississippi River and is part of the North Georgia Annual Conference. The church, widely known for its local, national and global missions programs, and for Mt. Bethel Christian Academy, a K-12 Christian school, operates three campuses in the Marietta area.

Its administrative council voted to place its apportioned funds in an escrow account until the Council of Bishops (COB) fulfills the requests made in the “Integrity and Unity Statement” published by over 120 leading pastors and theologians, and endorsed by nearly 8,500 clergy and laity across the UM connection. All bishops received a copy of the statement in July 2014 and it was formally presented to the council at its November 2014 meeting in Oklahoma City.

“The administrative council’s decision was unanimous,” said Ferrell Coppedge, lay leader at the nearly 10,000-member church. “We thought the silence from the Council, especially after some pastors and even a bishop openly broke their vows, was inexplicable, unhealthy and unwise. Their lack of response to the ‘Integrity and Unity Statement’ was wholly unsatisfactory given the gravity of the issues it addressed and the reputations of the leading pastors and theologians who presented it.”

In 2012 delegates to the UM Church’s Western Jurisdictional Conference adopted a resolution stating that its clergy and churches would engage in ministry as if the passages regarding the practice of homosexuality and the prohibition against clergy presiding at same-sex services were no longer applicable.

Since then, UM pastors across the connection have openly presided at same-sex services. Most notably, Bishop Melvin Talbert presided at a service celebrating the marriage of two men at a church in Birmingham, Alabama in October 2013. Thus far, breaches of the church’s covenant have been met with few or no consequences.

Not long after Bishop Talbert performed the service in Birmingham, congregants at Mt. Bethel expressed their dismay to church leaders, and some decided to leave the church in the middle of a building campaign. “It became apparent to us,” said Coppedge, “that the [COB] does not recognize how these very public acts of defiance, like Bishop Talbert’s, undermine the health and vitality of churches like Mt. Bethel. Surely, they will have some understanding and appreciation for the measured actions Mt. Bethel has taken in good faith.”

On December 30, 2014, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky announced that the complaint filed against Bishop Talbert had been resolved. The complainants, Bishops Rosemarie Wenner and Debra Wallace-Padgett reached a “just resolution” with Talbert. Talbert expressed “regret for felt harm and unintended consequences that his actions caused,” but he also claimed in the resolution that “his actions were just and right.” He was not required to acknowledge that he had broken the covenant he had required other pastors to uphold when he was an active bishop. The reaching of a “just resolution” allowed him to avoid further investigation and adjudication of his case, and therefore any penalty that might have been administered had be been found guilty of presiding at a same-sex service.

The COB will meet again this April and not long after their gathering many annual conferences will begin electing delegates to the 2016 General Conference. “We hope and pray,” said Coppedge, “that the General Conference will reaffirm our Biblical stand on these matters and that bishops will fulfill their responsibility to hold pastors and their colleagues accountable. We are praying for the future of the church.”

Originally published in Good News Magazine, the independent evangelical United Methodist organization which promotes “orthodox Wesleyan Christianity”. Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and analyst for Good News.

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33 Comments on "Mt. Bethel UM Church Withholds Apportionments"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Brian
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Withholding funds makes no moral statement. It only harms our Connexional ministries and hampers the work of the Church in the places where our witness is most badly needed. This is a misguided attempt to grab attention. I will be disappointed if this is the kind of action that causes Council of Bishops to respond. “Render unto Caesar…” The almighty dollar may belong to Caesar, but the apportionment more than cold hard cash, it is a tithe unto God. If Mt Bethel is prepared to see the Church split, let them make such a statement. This is not the way… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

I don’t think there’s enough right-wing United Methodists to make much of an impact.

Jamie Hamrick
Guest

Good for them!!!! Our leadership has no accountability. We stopped our apportionments to the General church this year because of inept leadership. Millions of people do not have a relationship with Christ and all we can do is focus on a topic that has nothing to do with salvation. Yes–I do believe that it is not God’s will but so is a great deal of the stuff we do in our lives. Can we not get back to the Commission?

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

we could do that right now if the right-wing would let go of their irrational heterosexism/

Troy Horton
Guest
Let’s just get the split over with. Conservative christians can live with sinners in the church or else we’d all have to leave. It’s not an issue of who is in or who is out, it is an issue of what is sin and what is not. The bible and 2000 years of christendom have been pretty clear on it. If I can’t live with teachings about sin that convict me personally then it is more a problem with me than with the church. Fornication and homosexuality aren’t any different than other sinful acts. Contrary to popular culture, sexuality isn’t… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
The concept “homosexuality” is a sin is not unlike saying it’s a sin to be redheaded. As for the “like angels” analogy, that seems to contradict the notion of angels who walked the earth and fathered children with earth women noted in Genesis, but, scripture is pretty much a Roasarsch test where some see what they want to see, mmm? As to the “split,” while many of us who favor full inclusion of our LGBT brothers and sisters would not be said to see our right-wing brethren wreak their mayhem elsewhere, we worry about their children and want to be… Read more »
Troy Horton
Guest

Crud. I’ll need TO do some more study.

Troy Horton
Guest

Good point on the Angels in Genesis by the way. I’llneed you do some more study.

Troy Horton
Guest

If it were true that homosexuality were no different than being red-headed then there wouldn’t be an argument, nor a reason to split.

As far as a split goes, I have no problem with the discipline as written in this case. If there are parties within the connection can’t abide by it, then convince enough people to change it or go elsewhere. if it changed I think I’d have to go elsewhere as I wouldn’t be able to support the umc in good conscience. It’s difficult enough to support with the abortion issue.

Wes Andrews
Guest

The old, tired and ineffective “us vs. them” talk is really ineffective. The “right” aren’t all bad, and neither are the left. It is those (the progressives) who disrespect that are the most injurious….

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

How is “respect” not shown?

Cully
Guest

One wonders if even the action taken by the leaders of Mt. Bethel UMC will somehow grab the attention of the Bishops. It seems many small congregations have urged or even begged the Council to take notice, but, with no or very poor results. Does not/ should not the Book of Discipline apply equally to all who call themselves “United Methodist” or is there, within the confines of this denomination, an elite class as well?

Wes Andrews
Guest

Russ, I agree. The Council of Bishops, the agencies and the institutions have in no way earned the right to have a penny of our tithes and offerings. Their actions continue over and over again , year after year to prove contempt for Scripture, our due process, and the laity.

Michael Butler
Guest
I just feel sad that we are holding the salvation of Christ ransom to so many people. We can’t literally do that, but we feel we can control who enters the Kingdom of God or bully people into following the “rules” that we have set up. “Matthew 22:36-40 (New International Version (NIV) 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love… Read more »
James D. Ulrich
Guest

here we have the fundamentalist modernist controversy all over again. Christians are attacking each other from their own narrow perspectives rather than willing to discuss issues on the merits and respectfully disagree on the minor points to share the common ground. We haven’t been destroyed by evolution and the 5 fundamentals, and we shouldn’t be by gay marriage, about which the whole Bible is silent.
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Paul W.
Guest
From an historical perspective, the tension between theological conservatives and modernists/progressives has never been resolved in the Methodist church. In the 20’s and 30’s, in most mainline denominations, the result of the fundamentalist/modernist conflict was that both sides simply divided (or, in several cases, threw one side out). In the Methodist Church, however, both sides have remained together in a state of uneasy tension, with the bureaucracy and clergy much more theologically liberal than the laity. The UMC has managed to hold things together for a very long time with both sides seeing more good in staying together as opposed… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Paul’s key sentence seems to be this one: “For theological conservatives, supporting homosexual behavior is a clear violation of God’s moral law, an attack on Scriptural authority, a position that, if accepted, would violate our consciences and place our very souls in danger, and is 100% non-negotiable.” To believe such, significant cognitive dissonance is required. Consider, for instamnce, the sneering reference to other’s capacity to love as “behavior” is not reality-based. Likewise the assertion whatever he thinks he is talking about (how would one define “homosexual behavior,” anyhow? Gay men decorating for a dinner party? Lesbian housepainters climbing scaffolds? Neil… Read more »
Kevin
Guest

Well said Paul. It sure looks like the lack of trust between the two sides is too difficult to bridge. That said we may be surprised by what the future holds for us. Let’s hope so.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

It is the right-wing engaging in behavior emblematic of a lack of “holiness,” with their sneering and actively seeking to harm our LGBT Brothers and Sisters. If they would stop, then everything would be all right.

Mark
Guest
Paul, I think that is a pretty objective assessment of the situation. Thanks for taking the time to put it together. Contemporary liberals–both theological and secular (de facto bedfellows)–feel that they have some special enlightenment to the point that the rules do not apply to them. Therefore, they give themselves license to behave like childish bohemians in order to get their way. Had they any integrity they would admit that their actions contradict the BoD and Scripture and would leave and start their own churches (which would immediately resemble post-Christian churches like the mainline Episcopal or Unitarian).
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

That certainly sounds appealing – any liberal UMCer who does not have a stirring sense of envy at the unbounded love in churches like UUs and ECUSAs would have to be in denial. The idea of being part of such exemplary bodies is certainly animating. However, the animating contest of freedom in the UMC calls louder. In fleeing oppression we should leave none behind.

Wes Andrews
Guest

Paul W. and Mark, both comments are spot on!

Cully
Guest

And so, has the time for a division of the denomination finally arrived? It will be extremely interesting to see if the rhetoric continues. For one, I believe that the members AND leader of this denomination lack the desire and intestinal fortitude to begin the formal process in an atmosphere that surely feels like the split has already been accomplished. And the Father weeps……………………..

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Interesting comment. Thanks.

Roger B. Tanquist
Guest

God created several of my friends and family members homosexual.
In time we’ll see much greater acceptance of all God’s children. In the meantime, I share the pain that excluded persons feel. Can the conversation be expressed in love rather than determined retribution? What would Jesus do?

Wes Andrews
Guest
Roger, God creates human beings but because of the fall all are born with a “sin-orientation.” Humans tend to choose self over God. God did not create the LBGT!QI orientation, that is a result of the fall. God did not create the orientation of heterosexual folk who exploit each other sexually, either. The great news is that while all have fallen short, and while we were yet sinners separated from God, God offers each person his grace, love and forgiveness But it is up to us to receive and accept that forgiveness with the desire to invite Jesus to be… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

While it is true people are born with a “sin orientation” to be LGBT and in a physical relationship with someone else is not related to same.

Shawn
Guest

How fitting on Dr. King’s day, a church would do something such as this. Perhaps they never heard Dr King’s “Means must be pure as the ends we seek”. This is not constructive for either side.

Mark
Guest

The issue gets down to this question: Is it better to withhold apportionments because the Book of Discipline is NOT being upheld (conservative church approach), or is it better to withhold apportionments because the Book of Discipline IS being upheld (liberal church approach)?

As an aside, it is most interesting that when liberal congregations withhold apportionments they get nowhere near this level of publicity or indignation. The beat (double-standard) rolls on.

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