Rob Renfroe is the pastor of adult discipleship at The Woodlands (Texas) United Methodist Church, one of the UMC’s ten largest churches. He is also a former member of the UM General Board of Church and Society (GBCS).
Writing in the January/February 2009 Good News, Mr. Renfroe mentions the current lawsuit related to whether GBCS has violated a 1965 Declaration of Trust that earmarked certain donated funds for the promotion of “temperance and [ministries related to] alcohol problems” (lawsuit details are here and here).
While serving on the Board, I asked questions about the suit that had not yet gone to court….
When I made a motion that every Board member be given a copy of the Trust so we could read it for ourselves, I was voted down.
And after the suit was filed, when I asked why we were employing a legal strategy that had not been authorized by the Board (i.e., asking the court to allow the Board to use funds for purposes other than those specified in the Trust), I was told that these matters could not be discussed with me.
At that point, I resigned.
For Mr. Renfroe — and for anyone else who may wish to read it — the 1965 Declaration of Trust is posted here (PDF—8 pages).
Key paragraphs (note: the Division of Alcohol Problems is a predecessor to the General Board of Church and Society):
The [Methodist Church] Division [of Alcohol Problems] owns securities and cash given to it over the years through donations, contributions, and bequests to support the work in the area of temperance and alcohol problems….
[These assets,] including real, personal, and mixed property, have been impressed with a trust-in-fact for them to be used and applied for the purposes for which they were given — for work in the areas of temperance and alcohol problems. The assets have been so utilized to the present time.
It is the purpose of this Declaration of Trust to formalize the existing situation and provide a method for the continued management, investment, reinvestment, and application of the principal and accumulated income for the purposes for which the funds were originally given, that is to say, work in the areas of temperance and alcohol problems….
It is the further purpose of this Declaration of Trust to implement the action of the 1960 General Conference of the Methodist Church…. [T]he General Conference… ordered the following wording to be placed in that section of the 1960 Discipline of The Methodist Church which describes the Board of Christian Social Concerns and its Divisions…:
Funds vested in any of the predecessor boards shall be conserved for…the specific purposes for which such funds have been given.
The General Board of Church and Society is asking the District of Columbia Superior Court for a “reformation” of the Trust “which will make it clear that the trustees of the Board will not in the future be limited in the use of income of the Endowment Fund to problems of alcohol abuse only.”
The Board’s Feb. 2007 complaint filing to the Court is here (PDF—15 pages).
Some Methodist conservatives have complained that GBCS appears to be using funds that should be restricted for temperance-related ministry to lobby for causes associated with the American political left, such as abortion rights, government-run health care, and an expanded welfare state.
In 2007, the Western North Carolina Conference overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on the Board to comply with the “purpose stated in the Trust and use Restricted Funds for the work on temperance and alcohol related problems” (see “Petition 34” here—PDF).
The resolution asserted that the Board has not “followed either the letter of the trust or the spirit of its founders as it has expended a large portion of the funds from the trust (approximately $2 million annually) on items and programs not in accordance with the requirements of the trust.”
District of Columbia Superior Court associate judge Rhonda Reid Winston (PDF), a graduate of the Duke University School of Law, is expected to issue a ruling in the Trust case soon.
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