WCA Calls On Conservative Churches to Withhold Funds from United Methodist Church

By Emily Miller
Methodist UMC
Congregations affiliated with the United Methodist Church, such as Shiloh UMC in Shiloh, Illinois, face big questions in the months ahead. (Photo courtesy of Shiloh UMC)

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

While the phrase might 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 calling for churches to stop paying apportionments to regional annual conferences it believes are making disaffiliation for churches difficult to impossible amid the United Methodist Church’s slow-moving schism, largely over the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ members.

Those apportionments, determined by each annual conference, fund bishops’ salaries and support the work of the mainline Protestant denomination around the world.

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“I think as long as a church continues to send money to the people who are holding them captive and not allowing them to disaffiliate under fair terms, they’re continuing to fund the misbehavior — and it’s time to stop doing that,” the Rev. Jay Therrell, president of the WCA, told media.

Therrell announced Friday that the association was calling on conservative members of United Methodist churches to lead their church councils to immediately begin withholding apportionments from 19 of the denomination’s 53 annual conferences.

Those 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 their solidarity should consider withholding their apportionments to the denomination’s episcopal fund, which pays its bishops, according to Therrell’s statement.

jay therrell conservative UMC
Jay Therrell. (Courtesy Photo)

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

“We would simply ask them to follow the golden rule: to treat these churches that wish to disaffiliate the way they would want to be treated if they were trying to disaffiliate,” Therrell said.

The Book of Discipline allows through 2023 for churches wishing to leave the denomination over its stance on sexuality to take their properties with them after paying two years of apportionments and pension liabilities. Those provisions were added to the Book of Discipline by General Conference delegates in 2019 alongside legislation called the Traditional Plan that strengthened the denomination’s language barring the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ United Methodists.

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

“For the past two years, progressives have waged a campaign of cherry picking the provisions of The Book of Discipline they will follow while insisting that departing theological conservatives meet the extreme letter of the law. The adage of, ‘Rules for thee, but not for me,’ comes to mind,” Therrell wrote.

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

conservative methodists
Logos for the Global Methodist Church, left, and the United Methodist Church, right. (Courtesy images)

Unwilling to wait two more years, conservative United Methodists launched the Global Methodist Church in May.

Some churches already have been withholding apportionments to the denomination, Therrell said.

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

He called the move “biblical,” saying, “Nowhere in Scripture are Christians called to support a church that is trying to harm its own people.”

thomas bickerton
UMC Council of Bishops President Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton (Video screen grab)

Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, told media he was disappointed by the WCA’s call to withhold apportionments. That money not only goes to the denomination’s bishops and general agencies, according to the United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration website, but also to 11 historically Black colleges and universities, Africa University and ecumenical work with other denominations.

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

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

“When there are lots of accusations these days — and I think all of them are very unfortunate — but when there are lots of accusations these days about the Discipline not being followed, why would you then encourage our churches to not follow the Discipline?” he said.

He admitted it’s a controversial time for the United Methodist Church.

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

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

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

“I just believe that this is not a time for us to engage in these kinds of behaviors, but it’s a time for us to be careful and gentle and loving with one another, rather than being vitriolic and accusatory,” he said.

Emily McFarland MillerEmily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for Religion News Service. 

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7 thoughts on “WCA Calls On Conservative Churches to Withhold Funds from United Methodist Church”

  1. The very fact that this is controversial proves that the Methodist Church is a lost cause. Long ago, the mainlines ceased being real churches, and became lobbying arms of the DNC in the cause of the progressive gospel.

  2. I am skeptical about the intent of this article.

    It presents in fair minded neutral language, but when it expresses the range of punitive actions Conferences are taking against churches that would like to leave, it cherry picks REV Therrell’s comments; which I have read.

    The more onerous requirements are things like forcing churches to acquire insurance policies that are essentially impossible to purchase because of exorbitant prices or they simply don’t exist on the market, and requiring churches to reimburse the conference for up to 65% of the value of their real property.

    Additional 1-2 years of apportionments and obnoxious discernment processes after churches have already gone through that process are the small potatoes. It makes the WCA seem petty, when in fact many of the Conferences have been heavy handed, or have outright refused to allow churches to disaffiliate and instead insisted that they dissolve their church and launch a new one.

    Thankfully, my Conference has been fairly benevolent in letting churches leave to this point; even though there is a laundry list of deceitful and corrupt things they have engaged in.

    1. John Young, the ELCA did the same thing 10 years ago with its churches. Thankfully, my father’s home church was able to get out relatively easily and with all of its property and zero obligation to the ELCA churchwide because it NEVER adopted the ELCA churchwide’s constitution when several branches of Lutheranism merged to form the ELCA in 1988.

      The so-called “bishop” at that time was misinforming the aging church about its obligations and it was the job of the board and (as the board’s then liaison with the attorneys the church hired) to explain that the Bishop’s message was in the interests of the ELCA larger organization and he was like a mid-level corporate manager to that organization. Our church had different interests.

      In the end, it’s all about the property and who gets the clubhouse to keep their club going.

  3. Meredith Nienhuis

    The Mission of the Church is to proclaim Jesus’ Death and Resurrection! And to “make” disciples. The UMC has apostate leadership which does not keep the main thing the main thing – JESUS!

  4. Thomas Williamson

    As a former United Methodist (born and raised) and graduate of a United Methodist college, I endorse the call for evangelical Methodist believers to cut off all funding to the United Methodist Church.

    Actually, funds should have been cut off a long time ago. The UMC went apostate long ago, and during the 1970s the UMC was funding the World Council of Churches which at that time was doling out millions of dollars to violent Communist revolutionaries in Africa.

    At the United Methodist college I attended in 1971-74 I was taught radical “higher criticism” of the Bible in religion classes, and in philosophy class I was taught that there is no God.

    Check out this excerpt from a transcript of a sermon “Invitation to Revolution” delivered by Illinois Wesleyan University chaplain William Luther White in IWU Chapel on September 13, 1972: “The latter third of the 20th Century will surely be remembered in history as a period of widespread revolution. By ‘revolution’ I mean ‘drastic social change.’ Some of it will be peaceful change; part of it will be violent. But ‘major and rapid change’ there must be! . . .

    “Two groups especially today are expressing major concern for the future – the Christians and the Communists. . . . Dedicated Christians and dedicated Communists disagree on many things. They do not disagree about this: drastic change on this planet is imperative!”

    [Note: Not all universities with “Wesleyan” in their name are affiliated with the UMC, but Illinois Wesleyan University is UMC-affiliated].

    1. I attended a UMC church when I was young, and can say one reason I left was due to my disagreeing with some of their doctrines after my own deep study of scripture in my early 20s.
      IMO, the UMC has veered outside of scripture in its stances on gay marriage as well as baptism. I understand why people (or entire congregations) would want to leave. These are not disputable matters.

      However, to say they were giving out millions to “violent communist revolutionaries” in Africa is inflammatory and not fully accurate. The UMC was against apartheid (all Christians should have been, but many Western Christians remained silent) and continued colonialist efforts throughout Africa, and donated money and resources to supporting the communities often oppressed by them.
      For example, Nelson Mandela was labeled a violent Communist revolutionary by many who had issue with him challenging apartheid. Not the full picture, is it?

  5. Thomas Williamson

    Those who wish to research the question of whether or not the World Council of Churches was donating to “violent communist revolutionaries” should check out this article in Time Magazine – “Going Beyond Charity: Should Christian Cash Be Given to Terrorists?”

    https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,948687,00.html

    https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,948687-2,00.htm

    A quote from that article: “According to an official W.C.C. paper, the antiracism grants, admittedly token amounts, allow the council to ‘move beyond charity and involve itself in the redistribution of power.’ The anti-racist money, raised separately from regular W.C.C. dues, is earmarked for welfare purposes, not military spending, but the W.C.C. does not monitor its use. Opponents say the grants amount to a moral endorsement of terrorism. Even America’s pro-ecumenical Christian Century editorialized that because the welfare grants merely free funds for war use, those backing the armed struggle in Rhodesia should be candid about their role as ‘vicarious doers of violence.'”

    It was generally known back in the 1970s that UMC money was going to the WCC and then from the WCC to the terrorists. One UMC church member told me that he had stopped giving to his UMC church because he did not want his money going to the terrorists.

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