Dr. Ed Tomlinson, who served for eight as years executive assistant to the bishop of the North Georgia Conference, is expressing strong opposition to five constitutional amendments to be voted on this year by Conferences throughout the United Methodist Church.
Dr. Ed Tomlinson
If passed, the amendments would allow United Methodists in the United States to structurally segregate themselves from United Methodists in Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Speaking at a gathering of North Georgia pastors and leaders, Dr. Tomlinson warned that the five amendments would radically alter the connectional nature of the UMC.
If we pass [these] five constitutional amendments…we’re going to change the whole nature of our church and, I believe, decimate connectionalism as we know it today. I can’t say that any stronger….
The five amendments move us away from connectionalism to become more like the Anglican Communion [with semi-independent church bodies in different parts of the world]….
The more issues on which we have differing stances in our denomination, the less connectional we’re going to be. That just stands to reason, does it not?
Dr. Tomlinson, now the Superintendent of the North Georgia’s Atlanta-Roswell District, also noted that the the changes would likely add “another level of administration” between the General Church and the local church. “Those of us who are deeply concerned about the voice of the local church are just being removed yet one more step down the line,” he said.
You can listen to Dr. Tomlinson’s remarks (5 min.) by using the audio player below. The handouts he mentions are here and here (both in PDF format).
All 135 UM Conferences (62 Annual Conferences in the U.S. and 73 Conferences in Africa, Asia, and Europe) will vote on 23 amendments relating to the structure of the denomination. The amendments were proposed by the Task Force on the Global Nature of the Church (the Task Force’s 2007 report—PDF).
Most of the 23 are “cosmetic” in nature, simply implementing certain name changes. The “five amendments of distinctive substance” that would actually alter the structure of the UMC are numbered IV, X, XIII, XXIII, and XXVI.
Nine additional constitutional amendments will be on Annual Conference agendas, bringing the amendment total to 32.
The full text of all 32 proposed amendments is here (PDF). (Note: There are two minor errors in Amendment XXV on page 18. In the second paragraph, the two references to “Article I” should read “Article II.”)
To be enacted, a constitutional amendment must be ratified by two-thirds of the aggregate “voting members” from all the Conferences. (Provisional deacons and elders, “local pastors,” and associate and affiliate clergy members are not eligible to vote). Members may debate a proposed amendment, but cannot alter it.
Even if approved by requisite number of Annual Conference voting members, amendments related to changing the church’s structure would not go into immediate effect. Last October, the UM Judicial Council ruled (Decision 1100) that the 2012 General Conference must enact specific enabling legislation for a regional conference to be created in the U.S.
Dr. Ed Tomlison’s comments came at a Feb. 24 meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement (WCRM), a group of North Georgia pastors and leaders founded in 2004 to “promote the presence of leadership within the [North Georgia] Conference…committed to the renewal of historic Wesleyan standards and Biblical authority.” An October 2008 statement describing the WCRM is here (PDF).
Ed Tomlinson served as a North Georgia delegate to the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in 2000, 2004, and 2008. He has been a delegate to every Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference since 1988.
A recent post by Southern Baptist blogger Trevin Wax has stirred my thinking about how bishops and other UM leaders can more effectively sow into the lives of younger pastors and leaders.
I continue to see articles and hear comments about the loss of young pastors from the ranks of the [Southern Baptist Convention]…. To those [leaders]…concerned about the future of the SBC: may I make a humble suggestion?
Release your resources. Give away all sermons and conference talks for free on the internet. Let us hear your heart!
One reason [non-Southern Baptist] pastors like John MacArthur and John Piper have such a large following among young Southern Baptists is because all their sermons (audio and manuscript) for the past 30-40 years are available online for free. I suggest that Southern Baptist pastors look to these men as an example of how to invest in younger pastors….
Want to see more young people showing up at your conference?… This year’s conference resources [distributed free online] are next year’s advertising.
Want young people to listen to your sermons? Then open up the archive…. Flood the…web with your resources. Give everything away, and then watch how God blesses.
The problem Mr. Wax describes is even more pronounced in the UMC than in the SBC. For years, I have been puzzled by the paucity of material from UM leaders available online, even on Annual Conference web sites.
For people who are supposed to be “connectional,” we have made very few connections via the Web — at least in a teaching/leadership sense rather than just an “institutional” (forms, committees) sense.
I have attended some denominational events that were not even recorded, much less posted. Many events are recorded, of course, but are not available except to those who can avoid to spend ~$15 for a DVD. (That’s ~$15 for one presentation; purchasing an entire event often costs more than $100!)
The Internet offers bishops and other leaders a low-cost means to speak to pastors (and lay people) who are looking to them as role models of effective teaching, leadership, and theological reflection.
Bishop Lindsey Davis Kentucky Conference
The good news is that some bishops have started posting short videos (such as this one by North Georgia Bishop Mike Watson on the appointment process). A few leaders post audio on a regular basis (North Alabama Bishop Will Willimon even has a podcast).
But for the most part, UM leaders have failed to take advantage of the power of online distribution of teaching and leadership material.
To help fill the void (albeit in a small measure), next week we will launch The MethodistThinker Podcast. Each Monday, Lord willing, we will feature audio of a bishop or other church leader. Some of these recordings will be current, others may date back many years.
A related change: A Podcasts page will be added to this site, accessible via a tab at the top of this page.
We will begin next week with the founder of the movement: a sermon by John Wesley(!), reenacted in the early 1980s for the BBC.
In the weeks ahead: Bill Bouknight on “The Resurrection”; Bishop Lindsey Davis on “The Primary Task of the Church”; and the late Bill Hinson on “The Making of a Minister.”
Do you have material you’d like to submit? E-mail MethodistThinker.com.
The case, now awaiting a ruling from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, relates to whether the Board of Church and Society can disregard specific provisions a 1965 Declaration of Trust (PDF) that earmarked certain assets for the promotion of “temperance and [ministries related to] alcohol problems” (backgrounder here).
Mr. Whittemore’s column — offering in some instances a first-hand account of events that led to the court case — is published in the March 20 edition of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the newspaper of the North and South Georgia Conferences.
The column, shortened from its original length due to space limitations, is available only to Advocate subscribers. However, MethodistThinker.com has been able to obtain the full version of Mr. Whittemore’s column. It is posted here (PDF—5 pages).
Excerpts from Mr. Whittemore’s piece are presented below (links to source documents referenced have been added by MethodistThinker.com):
In February 2007, the General Board of Church and Society…filed a [three-part] legal request (PDF) in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia:
1) Asking the Court to bless the expanded use of trust assets and rule on the ambiguity of the language of the 1965 Methodist Building Endowment Trust;
2) Requesting approval of the Court for [the Board] to continue to operate the trust as it has for the last thirty to thirty-five years; and
3) Asking the court to release the restrictions if the Court could not rule in [Board’s] favor in the first two requests. These requests are referred to as Count I, Count II and Count III in [the Board of Church and Society’s petition to the Court].
Shortly after [the Board] filed its request with the Superior Court, it withdrew Count III at the insistence of the General Council on Finance and Administration, the financial agency of the general church.
The reasoning for withdrawing Count III was that if the Court determined that Church and Society’s use of trust money and assets was outside the Trust Agreement, it would not be appropriate to ask the Court to change the expressed will of the persons who created the Trust.
In other words, the financial agency of The United Methodist Church (GCFA) was properly calling for a program agency of the church to obey and live by the Trust document which was agreed to by that agency. In the accounting world this is sometimes referred to as “living within the trustee’s fiduciary responsibility” by carrying out the provisions of a trust agreement….
The case is before the District of Columbia Superior Court
[Then, i]n a Summary Judgment issued on Jan. 18, 2008, the Superior Court rejected Church and Society’s Count I request and ruled that the Trust Agreement restricts usage of income generated by the trust to “abstinence from alcohol — a commonly understood meaning of temperance — and to other alcohol problems.”
Church and Society’s position, as stated in its 2007 Financial Statement (PDF—see page 9), was that “management believes the work it performs in all (emphasis added) core programs of the Board meet the ‘public morals’ and ‘general welfare’ descriptions… This would include the following core programs: Public Witness and Advocacy, Legislative Briefing, Ministry of Resourcing Congregational Life, Communications, Christian Social Action, Resource Production, United Nations Office, and the program-related portion of the General Secretary’s Office.”
In other words, management of Church and Society has been spending trust assets and income for just about anything the agency does.
Indeed Church and Society has not even been accounting for trust assets, income, or expenditures over the past thirty years. The agency has treated all trust income and assets as being without any restrictions and has spent millions of dollars of trust money as if the assets and income were owned outright by Church and Society.
The Trust Agreement restricts trust funds for “work in the area of temperance and alcohol problems.” There is a huge difference in the specific wording of the Trust and how things have been handled by agency management over the years.
Mr. Whittemore goes on to explain that the General Board of Church and Society has used assets from the trust, including the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, to generate significant other income.
In 2006 alone, rental income from the Methodist Building was $1,739,255 while expenses were $979,032, producing a net rental income of $760,223. Over the seven-year period from 2000 through 2006, the net cash generated from the building has been approximately $5,000,000.
During this time Church and Society used $5,000,000 without any restrictions, as if no Trust [Agreement] existed.
In the first-hand portion of his account, Mr. Whittemore describes how the General Council on Finance and Administration’s Committee on Audit and Review (A&R) began looking into concerns about whether the General Board of Church and Society was fulfilling its fiduciary responsibilities. (A three-page PDF file detailing the responsibilities of the Committee on Audit and Review is here, excerpted from GCFA’s 2008 report, “The Financial Commitment of the United Methodist Church.”)
A&R brought this matter to light in 2003 when it examined the 2002 financial statements of Church and Society which contained disclosures required by new accounting standards.
Two footnotes in the 2002 financial statements contradicted one another. One footnote said there were no restrictions on trust income and another footnote said Church and Society was treating part of the trust assets as restricted.
A&R asked for a copy of the 1965 Trust Agreement (PDF) and discovered clear and strongly worded restrictions on every aspect of trust assets and income.
A&R, of which I was a member, refused to accept the Church and Society financial statements the way those disclosures were written. Church and Society then shopped around for a legal opinion that would support its unrestricted treatment of the income of the trust.
The opinion they finally settled upon was not strong enough to support what was being claimed by Church and Society management, and over the next three years A&R pressed for clear documentation of the financial statement positions being taken by management.
In his column, Mr. Whittemore refutes the idea that the current court case is part of a vendetta against the General Board of Church and Society.
Once Church and Society filed its request in Superior Court, the Attorney General of the District of Columbia was charged with the responsibility of representing the people.
Generally in this type case, if the Attorney General does not file an objection to a request the judge will rule in favor of the petitioner [in this case, the General Board of Church and Society]. This makes it imperative for the Attorney General to have full knowledge and background of all the facts and circumstances.
When dealing with a forty-year-old trust, discovery can be time consuming. This is where several present and past Church and Society Board of Directors members felt a responsibility to the church.
These persons (called “Intervenors” in the language of the court) requested to be heard and the judge ruled — over Church and Society’s objections — that the Intervenors could assist the Attorney General by presenting arguments and facts opposing what Church and Society was requesting the Court to approve.
That is what the Intervenors have done. They did not initiate the court action, they are not official parties of the case, and they do not represent the opposition — the Attorney General of the District of Columbia is the “opposition” to Church and Society….
Church and Society has no one to blame for this situation other than management of the agency over the past forty years. Claiming that people are out to “get” the agency is a “kill-the-messenger” mentality. A&R did not ignore the Trust provisions. GCFA did not accept the assets and then use funds for purposes not authorized by the Trust Agreement. The Intervenors did not bring the legal action….
In all fairness, it needs to be remembered that the Directors of Church and Society and especially the Trustees should not be blamed for the misuse of trust funds over the years. Prior to 2004, none of the Directors knew of the Trust. They did not have a copy of the Trust Agreement, which when read even by a novice to trust fiduciary responsibility, can be easily seen as problematic for the lack of accountability to the provisions.
This does not change the way things are — or Church and Society’s responsibility to the Trust — but individual directors who are kept in the dark about a trust agreement cannot very well control what has happened.
Among their findings: “Evidence presented at the trial established that the Old Board of Temperance and the New Board of Temperance [predecessor agencies of the General Board of Church and Society] communicated to…donors that the money given [to these Boards] would be used for temperance and alcohol problems.”
The document further notes that the Trust was created for three reasons:
1) the settlors [of the Trust] believed they had a moral obligation to…donors;
2) the settlors did not want Old and New Board of Temperance’s [sic] money to be used for areas other than temperance and alcohol problems; and
3) to preserve the primary and historic work of the Old and New Board[s] of Temperance.
In closing arguments last October, Jeffrey A. Liesemer, an attorney for the General Board of Church and Society, argued that an October 1965 compromise agreement among three Methodist boards that were being merged into one supplanted the Declaration of Trust drawn up just months earlier.
According to a United Methodist News Service account, Liesemer said the compromise made it clear that “the money could be used for all programs and couldn’t be squirreled away for temperance and alcohol problems.” The “October Compromise” creates a legal basis for “reformation” of the Trust, he argued.
That line of argument is refuted in the Joint Proposed Findings and Conclusions of Law document. “The so-called October Compromise, if it exists at all, was a proposed modification that occurred six months after the settlors executed the Trust on [March] 23, 1965…. Even if clear and convincing evidence of the October Compromise exists, it occurred post-execution.”
Such an agreement, therefore, would carry no legal weight. “[M]odification of the Trust is not permissible because the Trust document itself does not reserve the right of modification,” the document notes.
Mark Tooley, author of the recent book, Taking Back the United Methodist Church, speculated in a 2004 article in Good News magazine, that “[i]f income from the [trust is] restricted to alcohol-related work, it would be a devastating blow to Church and Society’s ability to lobby for its more favored liberal political causes.”
That same record shows a line item of only $137,933 for programs focused on “Alcohol, Addictions, and Health Care,” with no breakdown of how much of that dollar amount actually went to specific alcohol-related ministry. Another $7,303 (a designated gift) was spent on “Substance Abuse Training.”
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 the presiding judge in the case.
The 65-member Board of Directors of the General Board of Church and Society is holding its Spring 2009 meeting this week at the M Street Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C. Board members are listed here.
The March 20 edition of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate will be the 172-year-old newspaper’s final issue “in its current format,” according to a story in the Advocate‘s March 6 edition.
The newspaper of the North and South Georgia Conferences, battered in recent years by rising costs and declining revenues, then will go through a “two-stage metamorphosis.” That process eventually will result in two new publications — one for North Georgia, one for South Georgia — produced jointly by their respective Conference information offices and the Texas-based UM Reporter.
From the March 6 Advocate:
[In stage one of the transition, issues of the paper to be published] in April and May…will become “An edition of the UM Reporter.” [The Reporter is a publication of the non-profit company, UMR Communications.]
There will be a front section of eight or twelve pages that will contain our local news, our current columnists, our crossword puzzles, and most of the regular features you have been reading for years.
Those papers will then have a second section created by the Reporter that will contain the news about the United Methodist Church worldwide.
Then beginning with the first issue in June, there will be a separate paper for North and South Georgia which will be put out by the communication offices of each Conference. However, what those papers will be called has not yet been determined.
Those papers will have a front section with news relevant to each Conference, and then the same second section which will come from the Reporter.
Unable to close the widening gap between revenues and costs, the Board of the Advocate voted in mid-January to cease publication. The paper generates about $300,000 annually, but yearly expenses exceed $400,000, according to information published in the paper’s Feb. 6 edition.
UMR Communications began as a regional Texas Methodist newspaper in the 1840s. Today it is a non-profit corporation that publishes newspapers for 16 UM conferences, including Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, and Western Pennsylvania.
UMR also operates Lumicon, a company that produces digital worship resources for churches.
According to the UMR Communications web site, the company “is not funded directly by the United Methodist Church…. It is financially independent, and derives its income from fees paid by clients for its services, along with grants and bequests from donors.”
In his address last week to North Georgia’s Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement, Dr. John Ed Mathison focused not only on seven concerns about the United Methodist Church, but on six specific ways pastors can become more intentional about make a lasting difference in the lives of others.
Dr. John Ed Mathison addressing North Ga. pastors and leaders
First, Dr. Mathison called on pastors to be intentional about “duplicating” themselves by mentoring young people.
“I wish I had done that more [earlier in my ministry],” he said. “Spend some time finding young people in your local church that you can help encourage and give direction to.”
A second way pastors can make lasting difference is by providing a training ground for staff people who can ultimately go on and lead ministry in other churches. “Every one of us ought to be doing something that can be duplicated somewhere else,” he said. “The largest attended worship in [the] North Alabama [Conference] — the worship leaders came out of Frazer and were trained there.”
Third, Dr. Mathison urged experienced pastors to mentor younger pastors, helping them understand matters such as how to build a leadership team. “In my opinion, friends, [the Committee on Nominations and Leadership Development is] the most important committee in the church that the pastor works with — because if you don’t nominate the right folks to be leaders…you’re not going to go very far as a church,” he noted. “A young pastor needs to know that.”
Fourth, John Ed Mathison said pastors can make a difference by being be risk takers. “Leaders are folks who’ve got to be out front,” he said. “[You’ve] got to take some risks.”
A fifth area where pastors can demonstrate intentional leadership is by not succumbing to the “you-can’t-do-that” mindset that is characteristic of modern United Methodist culture. “I’d like to see a culture of: ‘If God’s leading you to do it, try it!'” he said.
Lastly, Dr. Mathison urged United Methodist pastors to get to know pastors and leaders in other churches. “We don’t have a corner on the gospel,” he noted. “Good leaders know how to network with other folks…. If we can work with other people, unbelievable things can happen.”
Use the audio player below to listen to the portion of Dr. John Ed Mathison’s address described above (9 min.). Or download an mp3 of his entire address (6.5MB | 28 min.).
The Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement, a group of theologically conservative pastors and leaders in the North Georgia Conference, was founded in 2004 to “promote the presence of leadership within the Conference…committed to the renewal of historic Wesleyan standards and Biblical authority.”
An October 2008 statement describing the WCRM is here (PDF).