Laity Ad Hoc Committee Report Exposes Abuses Of Power And Money In UMC
|From: George Don Spruill firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent: Thursday, March 09, 2000 1:41 AM Subject: [Jude] St. James UMC Ad Hoc Committee Report, dated March 1, 2000
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Attached is the St. James UMC Ad Hoc Committee Report, which is the result of roughly seven or eight months work.
Allen Cadora and I had been in dialogue for the last nine or ten months about concerns that we had with the United Methodist Church. We both felt compelled to do something to inform the membership of the critical situation within the denomination.
We were joined by Bruce Hoff, Tom Jones and Don Riggin in forming the actual investigative committee.
We reviewed the work of three other groups; Marietta First United Methodist Church Ad Hoc Committee, Christ United Methodist Church (in Memphis, TN) Barnabas Committee and Concerned Methodists 1997 Stewardship Report for the 1996 year. All of these reports came to similar conclusions.
Our report speaks for itself, so I will not make any comments on it, other than this. I have been studying the situation within the United Methodist Church for over two years now. I have watched with sadness and dismay at the disobedience of ordained elders and bishops of this church. Everything in this report is fact and was gleaned from information made available by the United Methodist Church itself with one exception. The excellent article written by Dr. William Abraham of Southern Methodist University contains some conclusions that Dr. Abraham makes and can be considered opinion. (I believe that his reasoning is sound, and I agree with his conclusions.)
The final report is signed by Allen Cadora, Tom Jones and me. Bruce Hoff and Don Riggin did not agree with the findings of the report and did not sign it.
I ask you to take the time to read this report for your own information, so that you will be better informed. General Conference 2000 will be a very lively "convention" indeed. Many groups which are not in agreement with the historical positions of the denomination have been working and lobbying to change the Discipline at this May meeting. If they are successful, there will be lots more people leaving the United Methodist Church this year than the 30,000+ that we've recently been losing annually.
Be an informed churchman or woman and read this report.
Laity Ad Hoc Committee Report
Date: March 1 , 2000
For some time there have been complaints of the leadership and of actions by United Methodist Church hierarchy and of the absence of accountability of United Methodist Church programs. Most Methodist lay members, however, have been either uninformed or unconcerned about UMC issues which have had little or no impact on the operation of their local churches. This viewpoint has prevailed at St. James. When concerns about these denominational issues were brought before the St. James Church Council, most Council members had either not heard of the issues or did not agree that there were reasons for concern. The St. James Church Council elected to bypass discussion but was receptive to individual church members researching the issues on their own. As a consequence, lay members of St. James volunteered to join together as an unofficial ad hoc committee to investigate some of the major issues which confront the denomination and to report alternatives that are available for congregation members to consider. The ad hoc lay members discovered that the diversity of positions and opinions of its members were as wide as those of the congregation as a whole
The original objectives of the ad hoc group were to determine and report the facts about the United Methodist Church policies and hierarchy; about the workings of UMC governance and politics; and about how the concept of the "connectional church" affects St. James and its members. The following report sets forth the findings of the ad hoc committee and is submitted without recommendation for the purpose of informing members of St. James United Methodist Church. In the interest of offering the opportunity for different or opposing viewpoints, members of the ad hoc committee approved the right of a committee member to attach to this report any addendum that a member thinks appropriate or to submit alternative report provisions or qualifying conditions.
To produce a meaningful report that could be completed by March first in order to permit St. James members sufficient time to consider report content and take any appropriate action before General Conference, the ad hoc committee limited the subjects of the report to the following topics which are prominent in preparations for the General Conference 2000 in Cleveland in May:
(a) A summary background on the current status of the
United Methodist Church and the events that led to the current situation;
(a) Background: Where Are We and How Did We Get Here?
For background on United Methodism which helps in understanding the situation in which Methodists find their Denomination, we recommend a thoughtful, academic article entitled "United Methodists at the End of the Mainline", which was written by William J. Abraham and which appeared in the June/July, 1998 issue of First Things Magazine. Mr. Abraham is the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. In order to read Professor Abrahams entire article, one may visit the First Things Magazine WEB site at http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9806/abraham.html The following italics text is the ad hoc committee summary of Mr. Abrahams article.
Mr. Abraham contends that the 1968 formation of the United Methodist Church brought together three groups, which he identifies as the "liberals", the "radical revisionists" and the "conservative classical Methodists". These three groups formed the UMC as a coalition with widely diverse convictions and opinions under a banner of theological pluralism. The core identity of United Methodists was a common commitment to the Methodist Quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, which not only permitted, but in fact sanctioned doctrinal pluralism by which the church became a kind of eternal seminar whose texts keep changing and whose conversation never ends. Pluralism effectively prevents Christian conviction and truth, as it creates the psychological and social conditions for constant self-criticism, review and change. For pluralists, doctrine is the expression of Christian teaching adapted to incorporate the new insights and the new truth of current culture. In the current theology of Radical Protestantism, a whole new revision of Christian faith has evolved as a vision of diversity and tolerance. Seemingly, everything is to be tolerated except the churchs old traditions which were dominated by patriarchy and exclusion and which are now manifested in the classical conservatives of the church.
According to Mr. Abraham, the seeds for division within the UMC were sown at the outset, and it is remarkable that United Methodism has been able to hang together for so long. The liberals, who have occupied the center but have usually leaned left toward the revisionists, have been the governing balance of the church. They have become institutionalists who are less concerned with the merits of the issues of contention and more focused on the survival of the Methodist denomination. These institutionalist liberals would prefer not to address the issues at all and to steer clear of any talk of division or schism. Their heads may be with the conservatives, but their hearts are with the revisionists. The institutionalists are prepared to live with whatever compromise can be worked out.
The revisionists have become the heirs of the radical element of the last thirty years and now harbor both radicals and liberals. They cover a spectrum from liberals who might have second thoughts about any of their positions to radicals who are so absolutely convinced that their revision is prophetic action that they view all opposition as prompted by bigotry, intolerance and ignorance. With such zeal, it is unlikely that revisionists will discontinue pursuing their aims within the church.
The American minority groups of African, Hispanic and Asian decent have perceived the conservatives to be suspect on racism. Their natural alliance would seem to be with the revisionists. However, much of the theological and liturgical content of their traditions is in fact deeply conservative and classical Methodism. Embracing current revisionist doctrine will be a major leap of great conflict for minorities, a leap many may not make.
The final constituency are the conservatives, the classical Methodists, who time and again have been accused of being the right-wing radicals who might split the church. Yet for more than thirty years even hard-line conservatives have opted to stay onboard and to work with the liberal center for renewal and survival of the Methodist Church.
However, the long working consensus between the liberal center and the classical conservatives is now stretched to the breaking point, as the revisionist pluralism works its way. The revisionists are now pushing the limit by challenging the church on its traditional position on sexual morality with the contention that gay and lesbian relationships are a legitimate expression of Gods good and diverse creation. On the premise that gays and lesbians have wrongly been excluded from the traditional church, the clear aim of the revisionists is to include this new minority and to legitimize homosexuality within the church. If the revisionists are successful, those opposed to church approval of homosexuality will be forced either to remain within a church that then stands for an agenda they find incompatible with obedience to Christ, or to leave the church. Because they see themselves as agents of reconciliation and unity, the revisionists have difficulty seeing that their position is in effect exclusionary. The dilemma that will be forced on classical conservative Methodists will simply be that they can not have the church abandon a position they see as essential to Christianity and remain loyal to the church. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote strongly against such schism and division within the church, but he also concluded that he would not remain in a church that promotes apostasy or is not true to the Gospel.
Is division of the United Methodist Church inevitable? How can division be avoided? Abraham offers several possibilities, but thinks they may all be unlikely. The homosexual issue is but the first of a number of potentially divisive issues facing the church. More is at stake on this issue than a new moral judgment of homosexuality. What is at stake are issues of principle - the role of revelation and Scripture in the formation of conscience - that affect matters of doctrine ranging from the place of the Methodist Quadrilateral in the formation of United Methodist identity to the place of Christ in Salvation.
Abraham suggests that in the short term, the homosexual issue will precipitate a division of the church, so it must be held off. In the event of passage of the homosexual revisions or of some other divisive issue, the likely short term result will be the exodus of many conservative classical Methodists. However, the institutionalist moderates and liberals may stay until the revisionist policy has a connectional impact directly on their local church, thereby causing a secondary, but fragmented exit of more members. For a long term solution, United Methodism must settle on a theological consensus that can command allegiance of a majority of the church. That would require that either the revisionists or the conservative classical Methodists must abandon or significantly soften their current positions. Neither alternative is likely.
(b) Stewardship of the General Board of Global Ministries
An activity of the United Methodist General Board that has received much criticism involves the stewardship of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM). The GBGM program is extensive, with net assets at the end of 1998 listed as $612,434,435, and has the mission of spreading the Gospel and ministering to people on a world-wide basis. Generally, criticism of this board has focused on two factors. The GBGM bank accounts have been growing, while the number of missionaries in the field has shrunk. This has led to the inevitable question of whether the GBGM is fulfilling its mission. GBGM expenditures were about $172 Million in 1998 and about $148 Million in 1999, against income reported at $199 Million in 1998 and $155 Million in 1999. The GBGM WEB page located at http://gbgm-umc.org/units/treasurer.html does not present the latest fund activity but does provide an overview of funds, fund restrictions, and fund flows. A board member of GBGM reports that in regards to reserve balances, GBGM has been the beneficiary of over $200 Million in asset growth in the stock market in the last four years. This has resulted in year end 1999 asset balances of about $450 Million. Of that amount about $150 Million are gifts designated for specific purposes, and another $100 Million are designated by the board to fund future needs of pledged obligations. United Methodist Church guidelines require boards and agencies to maintain a reserve fund of a minimum of twenty-five percent of their annual budget. GBGM will be in compliance with UMC guidelines by maintaining reserve balances of more than about $40 Million, with no maximum limit. Thus, GBGM is not vulnerable to criticism of non-compliance for having such large balances. The current program of GBGM hardly appears to be compatible with the spirit of John Wesleys ministry which raised more money than anyone except the King of England and spent it all on the support of missions. There appears to be a need to effectively counter boards and agencies that are charged with good stewardship in spending to fulfill a church mission but instead hoard assets. Reforms could be directed at changing guidelines so as to provide for a maximum of reserves rather than a minimum. Any excess could be applied to fund approved expenditures or, even better, to reduce congregational apportionment requirements so that more resources could then be redirected to ministries favored locally.
In regards to mission spending by the GBGM, the UMC made a policy change about twenty years ago to de-emphasize sending foreign missionaries to other countries in favor of training native missionaries in their own countries and of supporting local programs such as healthcare and educational programs. In effect, GBGM changed its role from being a missionary sending agency to that of a mission facilitating agency. GBGM claims that is the primary reason its staff of full-time, career foreign missionaries has dropped from over 1,500 to 282 in 1999. GBGM touts a missionary force of 1,812, but this number includes short-term missionaries, volunteers and personnel who receive most or all of their salaries from other organizations. The clearest indicator of GBGM adherence to its founding purpose is that in 1999, GBGM spent only 13 percent of its total budget on the direct support of missionaries.
The boards and agencies at the headquarters of the United Methodist Church boast executives and staff that are well populated by the revisionists described by Professor Abraham in section (a). The transformation of the headquarters of the Methodist denomination to the revisionist vision is well underway and may be all but complete. One remaining hurdle for the revisionists is the "Twelve Year Rule", which requires that executives of UMC boards and agencies are limited to 12 years in office. The Twelve Year Rule was enacted for the purpose of limiting terms of office holders in order to rotate leadership of these important board and agency programs. If left intact, this rule will force many of the revisionists who have presided over the redirection of the UMC boards and agencies to leave office and be replaced beginning January 1, 2001. There is now a quiet, but strong and active lobbying effort by UMC headquarters staff to overturn the Twelve Year Rule at General Conference 2000 in order to ensure a continuance of revisionist leadership. Methodists who are not satisfied with the current UMC board and agency agendas would need to get involved without delay by advising their delegates to the General Conference 2000 of their positions on the Twelve Year Rule and other issues that will be decided by the General Conference. In the long run, lay members and church congregations would need to take a more active interest in electing and supporting conference delegates and board and agency members who reflect their positions if lay members are to have any real voice in changing the future course of the United Methodist Church.
(c ) Campaign To Permit Same Sex Unions and Practicing Gay Ministers in the Methodist Church
The significance of this issue is captured in a January, 2000 article published by the United Methodist News Service. To view a copy, visit the UMC WEB site at http://umns.umc.org/00/jan/037.htm. The article reports that a survey was conducted by the Office of Research of the churchs General Council on Ministry (GCOM) in October 1999. Three direct quotes follow:
"The respondents - 341 clergy and 307 laity - ranked homosexuality first among issues facing the denomination as a whole." "Homosexuality has been a difficult issue for the church since surfacing at the 1972 General Conference. Controversy in recent years has focused on the violation of church policy prohibiting clergy from performing same-sex unions. Three trials have been held, resulting in the dismissal of Nebraska clergyman Jimmy Creech and the one-year suspension of Northern Illinois clergyman Gregory Dell. A committee in the California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference is investigating complaints against the Rev. Don Fado and 67 clergy who were present at a union ceremony for two United Methodist women in Sacramento in January 1999. The ceremony, conducted by Fado, was held in a public building." "United Methodist members on one side of the homosexual issue are pressing delegates to retain the current language of the Book of Discipline, while members on the other side are working to have language removed, particularly the sentence prohibiting same-sex unions and a statement declaring that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."
Paragraph 65 ( C) of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (on page 87 of the 1996 edition of the Discipline) includes the following provisions:
"We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that Gods blessing rests upon such marriage, . . . Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."
Book of Discipline Paragraph 65 (G) (page 89) states "Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that Gods grace is available to all. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons."
Book of Discipline Paragraph 304.1 ( i) (page 172) gives the Qualifications for Ordination to the Methodist ministry and states that a minister must " be accountable to The United Methodist Church, accept its Discipline and authority, accept the supervision of those appointed to this ministry, and be prepared to live in the covenant of its ordained ministers."
Book of Discipline Paragraph 304.2 (page 172) states that "For the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world and the most effective witness to the Christian gospel . . . To this end, ordained ministers agree to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits conducive to bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, integrity in all personal relationships, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness . . ."
Book of Discipline Paragraph 304.3 (page 172) says that ordained ministers "are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."
The above-noted provisions of the Book of Discipline, which is the governing law of the Methodist Church, are clear on four points, as follows: First, Gods grace and the ministry of the Methodist Church are available to all persons, including homosexuals; second, the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching; third, ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions shall not be conducted by Methodist ministers or in Methodist churches; and, fourth, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not acceptable to serve as ministers in The United Methodist Church.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the clear prohibitions of homosexual unions and of practicing homosexual clergy in Methodist Churches, the revisionists are pushing this litmus issue as strongly as they can through disobedience of the Discipline and through an active, well-funded campaign to have the Book of Discipline changed at General Conference 2000. This campaign should be clearly understood as an attack on the very structure of the United Methodist Church, an attack that uses the sanctification of homosexual unions as its vehicle.
As cited above, the three most prominent acts of disobedience on this issue and their consequences have been:
(1) The Rev. Jimmy Creech, who conducted a same-sex service at his Methodist church in Nebraska, was charged with violation of the Discipline, and was acquitted by a sympathetic panel of ministers. Encouraged by that experience, in 1999 Creech conducted another homosexual union ceremony at a non-Methodist church in North Carolina and openly challenged Discipline restrictions. After the second episode, Creech was convicted and lost his credentials as a Methodist minister, despite the strong disagreement with the conviction by the presiding Bishop;
(2) The ceremony for two men at Chicagos Broadway Methodist Church conducted by the Rev. Greg Dell. Dell, a strong supporter of Bishop Sprague of the Northern Illinois Conference, was tried in March, 1999, and convicted. However, Dells penalty of suspension of credentials for a year was effectively negated by his appointment by Bishop Sprague as "worship consultant" to his church. In essence, nothing much changed except the Methodist minister who filed charges against Dell was dismissed by Bishop Sprague and is no longer a Methodist minister. Meanwhile, Dell has been selected as a delegate to General Conference 2000 and is executive director of In All Things Charity, a national movement devoted to changing the United Methodist Church position on homosexuality. This well-funded effort has become the primary lobbyist to have the Book of Discipline changed at General Conference 2000.
(3) The union ceremony for two women was conducted in Sacramento, California in January,1999, by the Rev. Don Fado of Marks United Methodist Church. This service was attended and endorsed by 67 United Methodist ministers in mass defiance of church law. Charges of violating church law were filed against Fado and the other participants, resulting in a hearing in February, 2000, with the result of charges being dismissed by Bishop Talbert, who declared that no further steps or actions would be pursued.
Bishop Talberts dismissal of charges against Fado and the 67 clergy participants brought swift reaction from a number of conservative Methodist groups, such as the "Confessing Movement". On February 15th, the Confessing Movement issued a statement describing Talberts decision as "a clear rejection of the plainly stated doctrine and discipline of the United Methodist Church. . . It is obvious that the decision of the California / Nevada Conference is in violation of Church Law. The question is, will Bishop Talbert and his colleagues in the conference be held accountable? . . This arrogant abuse of power and disregard for the action of the General Conference and the decision of the Judicial Council can not be allowed to stand. To do so would surely bring a division in the United Methodist Church."
The Book of Discipline establishes the standards and guidelines for the conduct of the office of Bishop; however, there appears to be no established, workable method of accountancy. Every Bishop essentially governs his or her conference on an autonomous basis. The district superintendent and church ministry levels below the office of Bishop are completely subservient to the Bishop. Any minister or any member of the Laity can bring charges against a Bishop. However, this is such a severe step that only the most blatant behavior will likely be addressed in this manner. The Book of Discipline paragraph 2624 (page 656) specifies chargeable offenses which may be brought against a Bishop or a clergy member. Paragraphs 413 (page 256) and 2625 (page 656) give guidelines by which a bill of charges may be filed, and paragraph 2626 (page 656) provides for the convening of a committee to investigate the charges for reasonable grounds for continuation to a trial. As a practical matter, any charges progressing beyond the investigation committee would just about have to be an open and shut case. However, in the Fado case, even open and shut was not good enough for Talbert.
The review by the ad hoc committee uncovered only one complaint recently filed against a Bishop. That complaint was filed May 27, 1999, against Bishop Swenson in Denver by a Methodist lay member, contending that Swenson "permits ministers to officiate at same sex union services in defiance of church law." Rev. Toni Cook, a Methodist pastor at St. Pauls Methodist Church in Denver, was quoted in a newspaper report that she has officiated at such same sex unions. Cook said Swenson knows her (Cooks) intent, but under their dont ask, dont tell policy, Swenson was not privy to any details. That may have been good enough for the investigation committee, because the charges have gone no further.
The Book of Discipline provides for judicial administration and recourse, but it is not a path that has offered any practical value. If Bishops, such as Talbert in California, can disregard the Book of Discipline at their discretion, then the obvious questions must be asked. Is there any need to be concerned about change to a church law that is not going to be enforced? Further, is there any need to have church law if its authority is subject to the whims of church officials who are charged to uphold and enforce it but who twist it to their own design?
The acts of open defiance of church law by Bishop Talbert and his followers in the California - Nevada Conference has so polarized the Methodist denomination leading into the General Conference in May that Atlanta area Bishop Lindsey Davis, Bishop of the North Georgia Conference, issued a statement in mid-February in the United Methodist News Service WEB site at http://umns.umc.org/00/feb/089.htm . saying that "I am deeply troubled by the investigative committees decision. In failing to uphold the discipline of our church, the committee has called into serious question our ability as a denomination to live in accountability with one another. I believe their lack of action has further eroded the unity of our church and will be destructive to our primary task of making disciples of Christ. It is my prayer that the delegates to General Conference will give serious consideration to ways in which we can address this issue legislatively."
Bishop Davis statement is a signal event, because it is the only instance in recent church history that the ad hoc committee has seen evidence of one Bishop publicly calling another to accountability. Some General Conference delegates from the laity, not being inhibited by a subservient position to a Bishop, have responded to Talberts defiance even more forcefully than Bishop Davis. One lay delegate from the North Georgia Conference wrote an open letter to Bishop Davis stating that the denomination should help the California-Nevada Conference leave the United Methodist Church. Another lay leader issued a statement that "the issue now is clearly broader than same-sex unions and ordination of clergy. It is now is the church going to deal with open disobedience in a fashion as outlined by The Discipline, and if not, what kind of (actions) will be taken" (to deal with accountability in the church.) Clearly, Bishop Talberts decision has placed the volatile issue of accountability of church officials to church law high on the agenda of the General Conference in May.
The Apostles Creed affirms our belief in the holy catholic or universal church. At times like this, the church might seem to fall short of holiness. But, we must remember that the church, by definition, is a fellowship of sinful people, hopefully forgiven. The church is holy not so much in its purity as in its being set apart by God in order to bear witness to Christ and to be the workplace of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells all true believers, so that such believers share a oneness with Christ. The corruption and failings of church officials and, therefore, of the church are not new or unique to our times. They will not obscure the mission of Christ's universal church. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, each church member, as a true and forgiven believer, can seek direction as to whether the events that now confront the United Methodist Church confirm or conflict with the commandments of Christ and the Holiness of God. Then, believers can prayerfully determine what their individual course should be in accordance with those commandments.
The ad hoc committee came to a point where we concluded that our members could only agree to disagree on some of the issues facing the church and on this report. This speaks to the diversity of the committee and our church as a whole. This diversity can be healthy if it leads to pushing the church into a more active role in certain ministries to spread the works and the Word of the Lord. Conversely it can be unhealthy if it leads to polarization and division of the church outside Christs Commandments. The purpose of the ad hoc committee evolved into a two fold effort of presenting the major current issues and presenting the method for making ones voice heard.
This report does not call for St. James United Methodist Church to take a stand and speak as a body on these issues. Rather, the call is made for each member to examine these and other issues before the church and make his or her voice heard by delegates and officials prior to the General Conference. The concluding section provides names and addresses of delegates to the General Conference, both Laity and Clergy. If you are motivated to a position, please make that position known in a clear and responsible message to one or more of these delegates.
Delegates to General Conference 2000, names and addresses are offered below:
North Georgia Clergy Delegates to General Conference 2000:
North Georgia Lay Delegates to General Conference 2000:
This report is respectfully submitted by the following named members of the Laity Ad Hoc Committee on Methodist Church Issues:
M. Thomas Jones
G. Don Spruill
Allen T. Cadora
Two members of the Laity Ad Hoc Committee, Bruce Hoff and Don L. Riggin, declined to approve this report.
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