Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Choice Empowerment = Unconstitutional

In 2004 the Western North Carolina Conference decided to move to a Choice Empowerment style for paying apportionments. What this allowed the local church to do is pick and choose the apportionments they wanted to pay. For example, if your congregation only could afford 80% of their apportionments they could specify which apportionments they could pay with their 80%. The old way was the monies went into the chauffeurs for the conference to then they decided who was left out. The hope was with more choice, people would understand where their money would go and would pay 100% of what they were asked.

I voted against the idea because if we have learned anything about free will, people will always choose badly. Sure enough as this new apportionment asking process started, our apportionments started to slip. Bishop Goodpaster says in his e-pistle, "For years, the Western North Carolina Annual Conference was a leader in our denomination; now we are hovering near the bottom.” Was this the financial crisis or a crisis of character within our congregations?

At Annual Conference the bishop was asked to give a decision of law on the validity of “Choice Empowerment.” The actual question that he had to consider was this, Is ‘Choice Empowerment’ as approved by the 2004 session of the annual conference, in violation of Paragraph 247.14 of the 2008 Book of Discipline?” Now after his ruling it will be sent to the Judicial Council. Changes only happen after the JC makes their decisions.

Here is his ruling:

In the documentation that I have sent to the Judicial Council my decision is that Choice Empowerment is a violation of the Book of Discipline. After reviewing the documents from 2004, and subsequent Annual Conference sessions, and having several conversations over the last months with a number of groups and leaders, I reached the decision based on the clear instructions of our Book of Discipline. Paragraph 247.14 is one of a number of instructions on the “powers and duties” of a Charge Conference. The last line of that sub-section is the relevant passage: “Payment in full of these apportionments by local churches is the first benevolent responsibility of the church.”

In essence, my decision is based on this statement that does not permit churches to pick and choose which apportionment items to pay. Churches are challenged to pay in full. Furthermore, to supplement that instruction, Paragraph 340 details the responsibilities and duties of our clergy. Included in that long list is this: “to lead the congregation in the fulfillment of its mission through full and faithful payment of all apportioned ministerial support, administrative, and benevolent funds.” From my perspective, it seems clear that the Disciplinary directive is 100% payment. For an Annual Conference to adopt a policy that gives permission to local churches to choose not to pay, or to choose to shift payments from one item to another, is a violation of the letter and spirit of our church law.

In this time, in our current social situation, we are filled with ideas of relaxing ideals, goals, and obligations. I mean we are in financial hard times, we have to cut somewhere. But then again in hard times our calling to live into the likeness of Christ doesn’t go away. The fact that we are in war doesn’t mean we loosen our morals. The fact that we are on vacation does not mean our actions have repercussions. Hard times are only hard times. They are times to put what is most important first.

Our apportionments are important. They are important because behind the dollar symbols are people. They are the people being helped by projects through our conference missions and outreach. They are the students of Africa University, learning how to be Christian leaders in the only United Methodist seminary on the continent. They are people who receive help during disasters and education through our own colleges and universities. They are the children who are having life transforming experiences at our camps this summer. They are people be effected by the ministries of the United Methodist Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ. And they are the first people cut off when we don’t pay 100% of our askings.

We are a connectional system and in being so, we need to look past ourselves. It is not only a United Methodist idea but a Christ idea. The bishop, in his email, goes on to tell of churches who have already paid 100% of their apportionments. I say, well done. My congregation will probably once again have to wait till December but we too will pay out at 100%. It is our duty, obligation, and privilege as a United Methodist congregation. We have to remember we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are the body of Christ and we need to support the whole body. Now we will see what the Judicial Council agrees with the bishop.

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