A pre-pandemic offering plate is passed down the pew at Cathedral of the Rockies, a United Methodist church in Boise, Idaho. The Wesleyan Covenant Association has called for disaffiliating churches to withhold their apportionments in protest of what the WCA considers oppressive financial requirements to leave the UMC. (2018 file photo by Mary Kienzle, United Methodist Communications.)
Radio stations that specialize in certain musical genres often advertise themselves as "All [Something], All the Time." That has been this week for United Methodists after the latest play by the traditiionalist Wesleyan Covenant Association.
On deadline, Religion News Service reported that 31 churches in the Western North Carolina Annual Conference are demanding immediate release from the UMC, threatening a lawsuit if the conference doesn't comply.
The new hooraw began Aug. 12 with a post from the Rev. Jay Therrell, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, titled "Let Our People Go!"
Likening disaffected churches to the Hebrews under slavery in Egypt, Mr. Therrell advocates that disaffiliating churches defy United Methodist law to withhold their "fair share" apportionments as a way to register their outrage against the oppressive demands being assessed against them by their annual conferences.
As one might imagine, the pushback on Rev. Therrell's proposal was immediate and has been sustained throughout the week.
The Rev. Jeremy Smith kicked off the reactions with a post, "WCA Calls on United Methodist Churches to Violate Church Law and Withhold Their Tithes."
Rev. Smith noted "this isn’t a big deal because these churches have done so before, but it does mark a new turn in this conflict in The United Methodist Church." He then cited four WCA-affiliated churches in Florida Conference that have previously withheld apportionments to a total of $712,000 in apportionments in 2019 and 2020 alone. What matters now, writes Rev. Smith, is that the WCA's hardball strategy has been revealed, and he advocates several actions in response. (Image Credit: “Clean Money” by flahertyb on Flickr, shared under Creative Commons License)
The WCA action caught attention from Religion News Service's reporter
Emily McFarlan Miller, who has been tracking the UMC disaffiliation. Her article quotes Rev. Therrell: “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.” In response, Bishop Thomas Bickerton (New York Area, at left), president of the Council of Bishops, said: “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?”
The WCA's assertion of churches being oppressed by the UMC, rather than being required to fulfill their financial obligations to the denomination, resulted in a rare Insight
editorial. The publication's editorial board approved a forthright opinion article, "WCA Churches Aren't the Victims in UMC Splintering."
In addition to these directly focused articles, other contributors looked at various aspects of the WCA's influence on disaffiliation.
- Instead of wasting his energy on more anger and grief at the UMC's disintegration, the Rev. Greg Weeks is trying to refocus on the new freedoms that disaffiliation will bring to the denomination.
- Are we to accept that the differences between the UMC and the GMC are so vast and so much greater than that of the Pharisee and a tax collector? If you think so then the Rev. Jason Valendy encourages a re-read of the Gospels.
- The United Methodist Association of Retired Clergy announced it will sponsor a webinar on the topic "United Methodist Schism Fracturing Families and Friendships." The Sept. 20 event will feature a panel of specialists in pastoral ministry offering laity and clergy ways to cope with the stress and emotions of the UMC's disintegration.
Despite the dismay over the WCA's latest tactic, Insight
found people of faith concerned with other topics.
- Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin penned a fervent essay on the attack of a prominent novelist in "What Stabbed Salman Rushdie?" Rabbi Salkin asserts that the attack on Mr. Rushdie (at left in an Associated Press photo) was an attack on civilization itself. United Methodists were doubly grieved that the stabbing happened at the Chautauqua Institution, a site of religious and cultural education founded by 19th century Methodists. At deadline the author, marked for years by an Iranian religious leader's "fatwa" or death warrant, was recovering from multiple stab wounds and will likely have ongoing medical issues, including the possible loss of an eye.
- The Rev. Dr. Wes Magruder (at right), a United Methodist missionary to the Democratic Republic of Congo, asserts in a UM News commentary, "We are in the middle of a seismic shift in technology, particularly digital communication technology, and we don’t know how this will affect us as people of faith. The church must think more critically about technologies that are shaping our lives."
- The Rev. Dr. Mary Lautzenhiser Bellon draws on Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, AKA the parable of the forgiving father or the elder brother, to question, "What did Jesus mean, 'the young man went to a distant country'? ... I believe he is describing something that we all do sometime in our lives, and maybe some of us are living there right now: we go to a place far from the home of our selves."
- The Rev. Rebekah Simon-Peter describes the crucial differences between a church manager and a church leader, and why our times call out for genuine leadership.
- Insight Editor Cynthia B. Astle offers two "Crisis Watch" columns this week on provocative topics: 'Grotesque Greed' Fuels World Crises, Says UN Exec and What Climate Is Ahead for Your Church's Town?
Organized religion faces a tangled tower of trends that could topple it at any time. (Shutterstock Image)
Again this week we have to close with not with an uplifting story but with a sobering perspective from one of our journalism colleagues, Bob Smietana of Religion News Service (at left). Author of a new book, Bob asserts that all organized religion today struggles with "everything ... changing at the same time."
He says "demographic shifts, rising political polarization and heated debates over sexuality and race pose existential threats to the American church because they cannot be tackled individually," according to Jeff Brumley's article for Baptist News Global. Many of Insight's
readers have observed the same trends, but so far we haven't come up with a way to tackle such tangled influences. Here's praying the Holy Spirit will inspire someone with a comprehensive vision for the future, or at least a way to prioritize which "wicked problem" to tackle first.
Finally, as schools begin their fall sessions, we offer this excerpt from the Aug. 18 Daily Prayer
by the Rev. Derek Weber of Discipleship Ministries: "Bless our children, God of all of us, who walk a difficult path these days. Let them not be pawns in our chess games of power and dominance. But let them flourish, and hope, and know they are loved." Amen!