A liberal regional body of the United Methodist Church rejected a proposal to cut funds intended to help churches overseas, despite their support for a plan that maintains the denomination’s stance against homosexuality.
The leadership of the California-Nevada Annual Conference released a statement last week rejecting the withholding of apportionments and also a proposed disaffiliation with the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC.
In addressing nonpayment, the Conference leadership stated that withholding funds from the Central Conferences, or United Methodist bodies outside of the U.S., would be racist.
“In fact, 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,” the Conference said.
“The logical end of this flawed thinking is to punish congregations that do not conform to presumptive standards. This is the embodiment of Jim Crow laws.”
They also said that such a move would be “a misdirection of our pain that evades any notion of a redemptive outcome.”
“Many ministries, and the work of boards, and agencies of the church are deeply impacted by non-payment. Understanding all of these ramifications is beyond a comprehensive analysis and will certainly result in some unintended consequences,” they stated.
“Defying our apportionment covenant and relying solely on the excuse of ignorance or oversight of this impact, lacks integrity and courage in this form of resistance.”
Regarding the issue of disaffiliation, the Conference leadership stressed that it would harm the western church and also argued that if any should leave, it should be conservative groups within the UMC.
“Some members of the Wesley Covenant Association, Institute for Religion and Democracy, and others have been planning this deconstruction of the connection for almost 40 years. The schismatic endgame of this strategy is apparent,” stated the Conference.
“… facilitating THEIR exit should be the primary goal rather than having us waste valuable time and energy planning what is ultimately the will of the WCA and IRD.”
The aforementioned conservative groups took issue with this representation, with WCA leader the Rev. Jeff Greenway telling the United Methodist News Service that his organization does not support schism, but notes that progressive activists within the church are making unity “untenable.”
“We add our voices to a growing and diverse chorus of United Methodists who are calling for a different way to live into the future where we can stop hurting each other and live in integrity,” said Greenway to UMNS.
“We continue to call for persons of good faith from divergent perspectives to find a way to stop the fighting and allow different expressions of Methodism to be born out of this crisis. The WCA is prepared to support that kind of effort if it is fair, gracious and generous.”
John Lomperis of the IRD, who is also a UMC General Conference delegate, explained to UMNS that “the vision of IRD’s UM Action program has been for our beloved denomination to be renewed in faithfulness to our official Doctrinal Standards and our very Wesleyan covenants.”
“I do appreciate how this statement calls out the essential neo-colonialism of other liberal American leaders who have recently openly talked about using their wealth and privilege as weapons of coercion and punishment against central conference brothers and sisters who dare to think for themselves,” said Lomperis to UMNS.
In February, the UMC held a special session of General Conference in which delegates voted 438-384 to approve a “Traditional Plan” to address the church body’s years-long debate over whether to change its stance labeling homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
The approved plan called for stricter enforcement of the rules against same-sex weddings and the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals, while allowing for a “gracious exit” for congregations that cannot accept the UMC’s official positions.
In late April, the United Methodist Judicial Council, the UMC’s highest court, upheld most of the Plan, which is set to take effect in the United States on New Year’s Day 2020, and overseas 12 months after the 2020 General Conference.
In response, many annual conferences, especially in the United States, passed resolutions denouncing the Traditional Plan and expressed their intentions to refuse to enforce it.
The Great Plains Annual Conference, which is centered on Kansas and Nebraska, passed a resolution by a vote of 586-396 rejecting the Traditional Plan.
“We reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and will resist its implementation,” read the resolution in part.
“We will work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts, and commit to being in ministry together.”
Some conferences have also ordained openly LGBT clergy in defiance of the UMC Book of Discipline rules and have elected theologically liberal delegations for the 2020 General Conference.