Mt. Bethel’s Apportionment Decision
January 17, 2015
The Methodist magazine Good News recently published a report on Mt. Bethel’s Administrative Council’s decision to withhold apportionments. Here is the full text of the article, or you can read it on their website:
Mt. Bethel UM Church Withholds Apportionments
One of the largest congregations in The United Methodist Church withheld over $200,000 of its apportionments in 2014 in response to what it believes to be “wholly unsatisfactory” inaction on the part of the Council of Bishops to recent controversies within the denomination. The congregation will make no further payments in 2015 without the explicit approval of the church’s administrative council.
Mt. Bethel UM Church, located in Marietta, Georgia, is the largest UM congregation east of the Mississippi River and is part of the North Georgia Annual Conference. The church, widely known for its local, national and global missions programs, and for Mt. Bethel Christian Academy, a K-12 Christian school, operates three campuses in the Marietta area.
Its administrative council voted to place its apportioned funds in an escrow account until the Council of Bishops (COB) fulfills the requests made in the “Integrity and Unity Statement” published by over 120 leading pastors and theologians, and endorsed by nearly 8,500 clergy and laity across the UM connection. All bishops received a copy of the statement in July 2014 and it was formally presented to the council at its November 2014 meeting in Oklahoma City.
“The administrative council’s decision was unanimous,” said Ferrell Coppedge, lay leader at the nearly 10,000-member church. “We thought the silence from the Council, especially after some pastors and even a bishop openly broke their vows, was inexplicable, unhealthy and unwise. Their lack of response to the ‘Integrity and Unity Statement’ was wholly unsatisfactory given the gravity of the issues it addressed and the reputations of the leading pastors and theologians who presented it.”In 2012 delegates to the UM Church’s Western Jurisdictional Conference adopted a resolution stating that its clergy and churches would engage in ministry as if the passages regarding the practice of homosexuality and the prohibition against clergy presiding at same-sex services were no longer applicable.
Since then, UM pastors across the connection have openly presided at same-sex services. Most notably, Bishop Melvin Talbert presided at a service celebrating the marriage of two men at a church in Birmingham, Alabama in October 2013. Thus far, breaches of the church’s covenant have been met with few or no consequences.
Not long after Bishop Talbert performed the service in Birmingham, congregants at Mt. Bethel expressed their dismay to church leaders, and some decided to leave the church in the middle of a building campaign. “It became apparent to us,” said Coppedge, “that the [COB] does not recognize how these very public acts of defiance, like Bishop Talbert’s, undermine the health and vitality of churches like Mt. Bethel. Surely, they will have some understanding and appreciation for the measured actions Mt. Bethel has taken in good faith.”
On December 30, 2014, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky announced that the complaint filed against Bishop Talbert had been resolved. The complainants, Bishops Rosemarie Wenner and Debra Wallace-Padgett reached a “just resolution” with Talbert. Talbert expressed “regret for felt harm and unintended consequences that his actions caused,” but he also claimed in the resolution that “his actions were just and right.” He was not required to acknowledge that he had broken the covenant he had required other pastors to uphold when he was an active bishop. The reaching of a “just resolution” allowed him to avoid further investigation and adjudication of his case, and therefore any penalty that might have been administered had he been found guilty of presiding at a same-sex service.
The COB will meet again this April and not long after their gathering many annual conferences will begin electing delegates to the 2016 General Conference. “We hope and pray,” said Coppedge, “that the General Conference will reaffirm our Biblical stand on these matters and that bishops will fulfill their responsibility to hold pastors and their colleagues accountable. We are praying for the future of the church.”
Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and analyst for Good News.
– See more at: http://goodnewsmag.org/2015/01/mt-bethel-um-church-withholds-apportionments/