WCA calls on conservative churches to withhold United Methodist Church dues

(RNS) — “Let our people go!” reads a statement shared over the weekend by the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a network of theologically conservative United Methodists.

Although the phrase may be borrowed from Moses in the book of Exodus, the WCA is not exactly calling for a series of escalating plagues.

Nevertheless, the outcry is not without threat.

The organization is asking churches to stop paying dues or distributions to regional annual conferences that it says make church disaffiliation difficult, if not impossible, amid the slow-running schism of The United Methodist Church, largely in cause of ordination and marriage of LGBTQ members.

These allocations, determined by each annual conference, fund bishops’ salaries and support the work of the world’s leading Protestant denomination.

“I think as long as a church continues to send money to people who hold them captive and does not allow them to disaffiliate on fair terms, it continues to fund misconduct – and it is time to ‘stop doing it,’ the reverend said. WCA President Jay Therrell told Religion News Service.

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Therell announced Friday (August 12) that the association called on conservative members of United Methodist churches to get their church councils to immediately begin withholding stipends from 19 of the denomination’s 53 annual conferences.

These conferences include Baltimore-Washington, California-Nevada, California-Pacific, Eastern Pennsylvania, Florida, Greater New Jersey, Illinois Great Rivers, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Mountain Sky, New England, Northern Illinois, Oregon-Idaho , Peninsula-Delaware, South Carolina, Susquehanna, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania.

Members of other annual conferences wishing to show solidarity should consider withholding their stipends from the denomination’s episcopal fund, which pays its bishops, according to Therrell’s statement.

The WCA president wrote that the 19 annual conferences add “onerous and punitive requirements” to the disaffiliation provisions in the denomination’s bylaws, the Book of Discipline. He told RNS that such efforts range from requiring churches to pay more than two years of apportionment to requiring them to complete a six-month period of discernment before they can disaffiliate.

Jay Therell. Courtesy of Therrel

“We would simply ask them to follow the golden rule: treat those churches that wish to disaffiliate as they would want to be treated if they tried to disaffiliate,” Therrell said.

The Book of Discipline allows churches wishing to leave the denomination over its stance on sexuality until 2023 to take their assets with them after paying two years of repartition and pension debts. These provisions were added to the Book of Discipline by General Conference delegates in 2019 alongside legislation called the Traditional Plan that strengthened denominational language by banning LGBTQ United Methodist ordination and marriage.

Many LGBTQ United Methodists and their allies vowed to resist and remain in the denomination after the traditional plan was approved. Instead, it is conservative United Methodists who are leaving the denomination after a third postponement of the 2020 General Conference of The United Methodist Church.

“For the past two years, progressives have waged a campaign to select which provisions of the Book of Discipline they will follow while insisting that departing theological conservatives abide by the extreme letter of the law. for you, but not for me” comes to mind,” Therrell wrote.

Delegates were due to consider a proposal to split the denomination at the 2020 General Conference meeting. The proposal, which could still be considered at the 2024 General Conference, would allow churches to disaffiliate from their properties to form new conservative expressions of Methodism.

Not wanting to wait two more years, conservative United Methodists launched the World Methodist Church in May.

Some churches have already withheld stipends from the denomination, Therrell said.

“In many ways, the WCA is catching up to where many more local churches have already been,” he said.

He called the decision “biblical,” saying, “Nowhere in scripture are Christians called to support a church that tries to harm its own people. »

RELATED: What happened to the United Methodist proposal to split the denomination?

Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, president of the Council of United Methodist Bishops, told RNS he was disappointed with the WCA’s call to suspend the distributions. This money not only goes to bishops and general denominational agencies, according to the General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church websitebut also to 11 historically black colleges and universities, Africa University, and ecumenical work with other faiths.

President of the Council of Bishops, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, Friday, April 29, 2022. Video screenshot

President of the Council of Bishops, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, Friday, April 29, 2022. Video screenshot

“Our payouts represent the best way for The United Methodist Church to be connected in mission and ministry around the world, and when we are not faithful to our payouts, it affects the most vulnerable people in the world. world who need the support that our church can provide through repartition dollars,” Bickerton said.

The bishop, who oversees the New York Episcopal Area, also said the Book of Discipline makes it clear that a local church’s first connectional responsibility is to pay its allowances in full.

“When there are a lot of accusations these days – and I think they’re all very unfortunate – but when there are a lot of accusations these days about breaking Discipline, why would you encourage- you then our churches not to follow the Discipline?” he said.

He admitted it was a controversial time for The United Methodist Church.

In addition to the call to suspend distributions, more than 100 churches are suing the Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church to immediately disaffiliate from the denomination.

But, Bickerton said, provisions in the Book of Discipline allow annual conferences to add requirements for churches wishing to disaffiliate before the Dec. 31, 2023, deadline. He doesn’t believe any are punitive, he said. it says, but rather contextual – not all conferences are the same.

The bishop said he hopes United Methodists will take the high road and “be the church that God has called us to be.”

“I just believe that now is not the time for us to engage in this kind of behavior, but now is the time for us to be careful and gentle and loving towards each other, rather than being vitriolic and accusatory,” he said.

Jerry B. Hatch