Author's details

Name: UMJeremy
Date registered: March 3, 2012

Latest posts

  1. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: The Spong book that was axed by the #UMC — January 30, 2015
  2. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Paul cut the apple differently–and we can too. — January 29, 2015
  3. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Making the Best of Free Christian Content — January 26, 2015
  4. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: DreamUMC hosting #UMC Human Sexuality conversation — January 23, 2015
  5. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Marcus Borg vaccinated me — January 22, 2015

Most commented posts

  1. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Holding the #UMC Hostage 01 – The Setting — 5 comments
  2. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: About that UMReporter Article…[response] – A Methodist Church United for our Daughters — 2 comments
  3. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Restricting Marriage is a Justice Issue — 2 comments
  4. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Is the #UMC the Rebellion…or the Empire? – Unity in Diversity…or Unity over Diversity? The choice is yours. — 2 comments
  5. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Defeating the Dark Side of Church Metrics #UMC – Measuring transformation or accumulation? — 2 comments

Author's posts listings

Jan 30 2015

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: The Spong book that was axed by the #UMC

Original post at

Bishop Spong recently shared how one of his best-seller books was almost a United Methodist book, unveiling a pivotal moment in the UMC when honest conversations about human sexuality began to be systematically ground into dust.


Bishop Shelby Spong is a retired Bishop in The Episcopal Church, an author, and a relentless punching bag by “orthodox” and traditionalist folks. He was an early religious voice for LGBT inclusion.

He recently shared a story of a United Methodist connection with one of his books. After reading it, I could not help but wonder about what alternative history might have taken place had things been different.

Here’s Bishop Spong in his own words:


Living In Sin? Story

Note: This is part of Bishop Spong’s response to a reader letter about his book called Living in Sin? Here’s the full post.

Living in Sin? came out in 1988, almost 27 years ago now. It is still in print, a rather remarkable record since five years is about the maximum for the life of a religious book.

That book also had its own interesting history. It was commissioned by the Abingdon Press of Nashville, Tennessee, the official publishing house of the United Methodist Church. They, literally, came to me to request that I write it for them after some studies on the subject of homosexuality in the Diocese of Newark had received national attention. They wanted this book to be out by April 1988 in time for the National General Conference of the United Methodist Church. I met all of their deadlines, flew to Nashville to plan its launch and arranged my calendar with their publicity people in order to accommodate the media appearances that they were lining up. They clearly thought that this book was going to be a big book for them.

Abingdon Press even began pre-publication advertisements of this “coming book.” Some of those ads were placed in an in-house publication for Methodist clergy called “The Circuit Rider.” Much to their surprise they suddenly began to get negative reactions from conservative church sources, primarily in Texas. Threats were issued against Abingdon Press, stating that if they continued their plans to publish this book, an effort would be made at the upcoming General Conference to censure this Methodist publishing house and to have the General Conference place editorial controls on what Abingdon could publish in the future.

The furor grew and Abingdon’s leaders collapsed under this pressure and agreed to cancel the publication of my book. By this time, the cover had been designed, the page layouts completed and the presses were ready to run. My editor at Abingdon, Michael Lawrence, called to tell that my book would not be published and to apologize. I was devastated. They had asked me to write it, they had approved the text, set the type and designed the launch. They had even paid me a modest advance. Now they were canceling the book and my work for the past year had been done in vain. I felt totally defeated.

I was such a rookie author in those years that I did not embrace the fact that “being banned by the United Methodists” was almost as good as “being banned in Boston.” When the news broke on the wire services that “The Methodist Publishing House was cancelling an Episcopal bishop’s book on sex,” within a week I had seven publishers bidding for the rights to publish this manuscript. One of the seven was my regular publisher Harper Collins, from whom I had gotten leave to write this book for Abingdon Press, one of their minor competitors. It was a simple choice for me to give them the book. So Living in Sin? came out, not in April of 1988, but in the fall of 1988. Harper deleted from the text only one line and that was in the preface, where I gave thanks to my editor, Michael Lawrence, at Abingdon Press. It now read that I gave thanks to my editor Michael Lawrence. It no longer designate the publishing house for which he worked. Nothing else was changed except the Harper Collins imprint replaced the Abingdon imprint.

In six months’ time, that book sold more copies than all the books I had written up to that point put together. I was suddenly in a very different category as an author. I went on my first media book tour. I would never again be a private person or an unknown bishop in my church. It was not always comfortable for me, but the chance to move my church along in that struggle for justice was worth all the tension, the hate mail and even the death threats with which I lived. A letter like yours affirms again the rightness of this cause.

The world has moved rapidly on this issue since 1988. The struggle is over, the battle has been won. Thirty-seven states in America now have legalized gay marriage. The Supreme Court will pronounce in June definitively, and if positive, as I anticipate, the issue will be settled politically once and for all. I am grateful that I had a chance to be a part of this great struggle in the cause of humanity and justice.


Commentary: The Origins of a Culture of Intimidation

To me, the most illuminating aspect of this story is the date.

This happened in 1988. One year earlier, Bristol House Books began in 1987 as a traditionalist parallel to Abingdon, taking some authors and business away from the denominational publishing house. Little wonder the Abingdon executives caved to the Texas church pressure as the threats likely would have become very real: restrictions on anything “promoting” homosexuality had been applied to the General Agencies since 1976 and could easily be extended to the Publishing House.

We see that traditionalists began creating their parallel reality within the UMC long ago. Along with the Mission Society (1984 parallel to the General Board of Global Missions) and the RENEW network (1989 parallel to UM Women), these conservative evangelicals seem to want both freedom and conformity. They wanted freedom to have their own parallel world where they make the rules with no accountability, but they also wielded their apportionments as a club to force the same denomination that they had broken up to conform to their values.

Today it is popular to point to Bishop Talbert and The Rev. Frank Schaefer as sowers of seeds of distrust and schism, but to do so is ignore that these emotions already went to seed in five years of 1984-1989–and have grown ever since. This book, the GBOD Human Sexuality forums in the late 1970s, and many other initiatives in the United Methodist Church to study human sexuality in a holistic way were silenced by churches allergic to the conversation and to other interpretations of Scripture, demanding the entire UMC avoid the conversation altogether.

Who knows what kind of holistic sexuality and spirituality might have transformed the UMC if things had gone a different way…


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Jan 29 2015

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Paul cut the apple differently–and we can too.

Original post at

By seeing one’s identity in Christ, one overcomes the tribalism of society. However, there is always the tendency to backslide into one’s tribe rather than embrace life alongside others in the New Creation of difference.

Facebook: Your Personal Slicer

In the technology world, Facebook is defeating Google because it better understands what people want: people want to know who, not what.

We no longer want to search for the hair stylist with the best Better Business Bureau category. Instead, we ask our friends for their recommendations. We see where our friends check-in at, have left Yelp reviews for, and we go there. What matters is not initially the “what” (four stars on Zagat or the freshness on Rotten Tomatoes), but “who” went there.

Think about why you clicked this article today. Was it because of someone you trust who posted it? What matters is who posted this article, not what it is.

I admit that when I see the links from certain people in my Facebook timeline or in my Twitter feed, I don’t read them or I already know how I’m going to react. I already know I’m not going to agree with a tweet from that person. I only have to look at the URL to know I won’t agree with it if it’s on that website. It’s very easy to glaze over the already-categorized in favor of the intriguing post by a new follow or a reliable post from a stalwart member of my tribe.

Our online habits reflect our society’s tendency to segment the world into echo-chambers that we choose to walk into from time to time. And in that way, we are no less different than biblical times when the divide between differences was stark.

Scripture: The Pauline Cut

Peter Rollins, in his book The Idolatry of God, writes about society’s separations and how Paul envisions Christ segmenting society in a different way. Rollins writes:

From birth, we experience a preexisting matrix of beliefs and practices that differentiate us from others…some of these divisions have deep histories that span multiple generations, while others are very new. (pg.102)

To many, Christianity was just another tribe amidst all the other religious tribes, to add more cuts to the fabric of society. But to Paul, Christianity was a very different cut that didn’t add to the divisions in society but instead eliminated them.

From Rollins’ book, here’s how society was divided before Christ came (referencing Galatians 3:28):

Excerpt from Peter Rollins The Idolatry of God

Excerpt from Peter Rollins The Idolatry of God

Instead of Christianity adding another cut to the religious identity, Paul believes an identity with Christ cuts across the entirety of society’s divisions. Especially after the debate in Acts about Peter and Paul extending Christ’s identity to the Gentiles, we see this understanding in action.

Here’s how Rollins sees the Pauline cut across society:

Excerpt from Peter Rollins The Idolatry of God

Excerpt from Peter Rollins The Idolatry of God

Instead of Christian identity adding another column to an already segmented society, Rollins draws from 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 to claim:

Paul understands this radical cut as emanating directly from one’s identity with Christ, for Paul understands participation in the life of Christ as involving the loss of power that our various tribal identities one held for us…this new collective exists within the old order and brings you into contact with others previously seen as “outsiders.” (page 107)

There’s still separation, but it goes against society’s tribalism instead of with it.

  • Those who choose to exist above (before) the Pauline Cut, who want to remain in the Old Creation, hold tighter to their inherited or earned identities other than their one in Christ.
  • Those who exist below (after) the Pauline Cut, hold less tightly to these identities and find more collaborative spirit across society’s segments.

You can read more of Rollins’ writings on this subject here: “I do not bring Peace but a Sword

Live into the Old or the New?

We see that Christianity is inclusive of all of society’s varied hues of the rainbow. Beliefs and customs are still important within each tribe and segment—those do not disappear—but they are held differently and do not keep a collaborative spirit from emerging across usually touchy differences. Like any religion that is not restricted to particular ethnicities, we see over time a strong diversity within Christianity overall, its own divisions non-withstanding.

And yet there is the constant tension to live into the Old Creation of differences and boundaries. Moreso than a tendency, there are those that find their rigid identities are to be held more tightly than their identity in Christ. In fact, I would say a majority of people who find their identity in Christ live as if they are in the Old Creation.

Rollins concludes:

Those who are excluded from the new collective signaled by the new creation are now those who exclude themselves—the ones who so wish to cling to their own identity that they are not prepared to encounter another as anything but a stranger to convert, an alien to tolerate, or an enemy to crush. [Rather] for Paul, it is this very loss of identity that identifies us with Christ. (pg.116)

We fall into this when we hold our segmented identities as trumping our common identity in Christ. When we rigidly hold to our tribes of orthodoxy, progressivism, traditionalism, liberalism, conservatism, and see all others as enemies to crush or to stiffly tolerate, we are unable to have conversations of mutual betterment or work together in a unity in diversity to solve society’s problems.

Cut Differently

Society is anxious to keep its population in a segmented world. Segmented populations are easier to control, manipulate, market to, and distract. We see that in the relative extreme views of those who watch Fox news or MSNBC exclusively.

There will always be those who recognize the Pauline cut across society and yet who choose to live within the tribalism of the Old Creation. Such people deny that the New Creation means that our identity is in Christ forms a common bonding agent with people of difference. We bring our traditions, our tribes, and our identities with us into the New Creation, but they are held more lightly and do not define our actions or reactions in the same way.

Your turn:

  1. How can we, as individuals and as a society, hold our tribal identities differently when we live into the New Creation called for by Paul the Apostle?
  2. How can we hold them authentically (they are our identities and are not to be white-washed away) and yet charitably in our world that pushes for us to live into our differences?

Thanks for reading.

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Jan 26 2015

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Making the Best of Free Christian Content

Original post at

There’s a ton of free Christian content online–but not all of it is good, or helpful to all theological persuasions. Here’s how to find the wheat amongst the chaff.


The Free Stuff

Everywhere you look online, there’s a ton of free content for Christian ministries.

LifeChurch’s Open full sermon series and small group studies (including youth) is free; Church on the Move’s Seeds is free; Southeast Christian Church’s Stuff I Can Use is free; Elevation Church’s resources are free; The Table framework for churches is free; CCV resources are free; CreationSwap’s photography is free; Finally, every youth minister in the world is lost without the free stuff from TheSource4YM…free.

There are also short-term deals and freebies that you can find. Earlier this month, Asbury Theological Seminary’s digital Seedbed resources were free for its birthday sale, and I downloaded dozens of resources. Last year, Beth Moore’s books were free on Kindle and I downloaded a dozen of them. And whenever I see a free theological kindle ebook promoted on Twitter, I tend to nab it regardless of what its theological persuasion is.

Do you download everything?

For those of you that know this website, you may be wondering: Why is a progressive Christian downloading and archiving all this conservative/evangelical content?

Simple. I’m hacking them for use in my own content.

For my almost-decade of ordained ministry, I’ve taken free Christian content and adapted it for my context. That is the benefit of a theological education: I’m qualified to take content and make the theological framework match the theological perspective I share in my ministry context.

Even if there is a mismatch between your theological lens and the free content, you can often reframe free Christian content for use in your ministry context.

So for others who are wanting to do the same thing, here’s two solutions of how to do it.

Solution #1: Just read it

Seriously, just read the books, sermons, and articles. You’ll be better off by filling your theological reading list with content written by people very different from you. Once you’ve read through, understood the arguments, you can take away what mattered to you. In my books, I keep notes in the back of what pages to go back and re-read or reference that I can then re-interpret for my context.

So reading the free content is the most holistic way to understand a different perspective from your own as well as glean valuable sections for your own work.

Solution #2: Reframe the free stuff

However, given the avalanche of free content online, it is easy to get overwhelmed or buried in a reading list. Yet I often use free content in my bible studies, to inform session outlines, and as talk illustrations with youth (during my time as a youth worker). To do it, I take from them what I need without the baggage of the theological perspective that I may not share.

It is not unlike taking a portrait out of one picture frame and transferring it to another so that the entire piece changed the room where it was used. If the framework is problematic, the components are usually okay on their own.

Here’s some examples and methods:

Stories and Illustrations

  • Stories, case studies, examples, and illustrations are perfect sermon or bible study fodder because they do not always have a single lesson or point. A good preacher can adapt story foci in ways that can be used in a variety of contexts.
  • How to: These elements can be found by searching any digital content for specific keywords. You can search for “story” “case study” “example” “reminds me” “application” “illustrates” amongst other words. Those searches usually yield lead-ins or following sections of stories or examples that can be taken out and used with a different frame. Try it on a search in the kindle app: you’d be surprised how many sections come up with these lead-ins.

Sermon series & Bible Study Series

  • Sermon series on a topic or a study series on a book of the Bible usually have some sort of framework. Seeing what directions people take a topic can yield new direction for your own thinking–even if you take it completely the opposite way!
  • How to: Most churches that do sermon series publish their titles and scriptures, sometimes a paragraph of direction for that series. This can be a helpful trajectory or framework that could be easily adapted by other churches. Seeing how others have approached a topic can yield ways to approach that topic in your context.

What other segments of free Christian content do you find? Let me know in the comments!

One Non-Negotiable

Citing your sources:

  • You must must must keep the citation. There are so many sermon illustrations and notes that I cannot use because I don’t know their origins and I want to make sure to honor their contribution.
  • How to: Evernote web clipper will keep the citation. Kindle notes will keep the citation. There are even apps like EasyBib or Zotero that are great. Even if you copy and paste into a new document, remember to note where it came from and give proper citation.

Pushback: This sounds wrong…

I don’t have any qualms with repurposing free Christian content in this way. Like LifeChurch says in their “why we give it away for free” blog post, they give it away to empower others to bring people to Christ, and that we do better together than we do apart.

People of all theological persuasions bring people to Christ. While we differ on a great many things, we should celebrate one another’s successes. For progressives to be able to use some conservative evangelical content to bring Christ to people who wouldn’t touch anything with “Zondervan” on it…well, that’s a win for us all, right?

When Church Marketing Sucks examined this topic of free Christian content, here’s what they concluded:

That’s not the kind of thing any sane company or organization would do, and that’s exactly the point. The Church is not a normal organization. We should be extravagant with one another and with the world.

Not all Christian content should be free, I agree, but it is a reflection on our extravagant God who applauds the waste of perfume on Jesus’ feet that we should also be extravagant with one another. By not turning up my nose on the heartfelt work of others, but giving them new life in a new form, I think that’s a collaborative spirit indeed.


Sound off:

  • How does this usage strike you? Is it any different than the way how preachers have borrowed from one another in the past?
  • What other ways do you make the best of free Christian content online?

Thanks for reading and sharing–and your comments!

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Jan 23 2015

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: DreamUMC hosting #UMC Human Sexuality conversation

Original post at

Monday, January 26th at 9pm Eastern/6pm Pacific, the online chat for United Methodists will feature special guest The Connectional Table which will lead us through a conversation about human sexuality and the UMC.


The Connectional Table is one of the big-time committees in the United Methodist Church, tasked with articulating the present and visioning the future of the UMC. One of the areas they are exploring is human sexuality, including the debate over LGBT inclusion in the church. They have hosted several forums and alongside each have included live questions from online folks (Twitter and email).

There’s a problem: the next chat in Mozambique on February 10th doesn’t have the proper technical needs to be able to livestream the conversation so that the online community can engage in real time. A conversation they were hoping to have simultaneously between the African community and the rest of the world via online channels cannot happen in real time.

To solve this problem, DreamUMC, the online community (TW, FB) that has been chatting about UMC-related issues twice a month since the 2012 General Conference, has been asked to help fill that gap. The Connectional Table will take over the chat and allow the global community to preview some of the questions and ask some of their own for the panel to consider bringing to the conversation. Since DreamUMC has a diverse online conversation twice a month anyway, it seemed an easy match to bring this topic to every United Methodist with a Twitter or Facebook account.

Here’s their press release:

On January 26, 2015 at 9:00 pm EST, DreamUMC will host a Twitter chat where participants will get a glimpse of the types of questions and topics for the panel, an opportunity to answer or comment on those questions and topics, and an opportunity to pose questions of their own, which will be presented to the panel. Any submitted questions will be asked of the panel during the last 20 minutes on February 10.

“We want to thank DreamUMC for helping us to provide this opportunity to reach out to our UMC connection via Twitter,” said the Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, executive secretary of the Connectional Table.

As one of the moderators of the chats, I was happy to help facilitate this conversation. DreamUMC has crafted a regular community over the past 2.5 years and there are always new people joining in. I think we have the necessary infrastructure in place for the CT to gather the information they need before the human sexuality conversation in Africa.

The Connectional Table will be providing all the questions, and as usual, DreamUMC only posits the questions, pushes for more clarity, and the entire community sounds off with their responses.

Here’s how to connect to the Twitter-based chat, and as a bonus, we will also be posting the questions on our Facebook page.

DreamUMC is a grassroots movement that arose out of General Conference 2012. They conduct biweekly chats about the mission and vision of The United Methodist Church including such topics as the role of social media in church life, racism, sexism, community engagement, domestic violence, women in ministry and more. Over 400 United Methodist clergy and laity have been involved in those chats.

Thanks for considering the chat, and see you online on January 26th!

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Jan 22 2015

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Marcus Borg vaccinated me

Original post at

Reflections on my first experience reading the works of Marcus Borg, who passed away in January 2015.


The Gift

It was a hot July evening as I drove to my youth minister’s house to say goodbye.

I had received my call to ministry from the church I had attended in high school (Faith UMC, Tulsa, Oklahoma) and this youth minister was a huge part of that discernment process. Todd was leaving that church to serve in a ministry in North Carolina, and I was leaving that church soon to go study Religion at college. So we were both leaving the place where my faith was shaped.

As we talked, reminisced, and I cried a little, Todd gave me a book and said it would help me in my studies. I was half expecting a typical Dr. Seuss book Oh the Places You Will Go or some kitschy Cokesbury 12 Bible Studies for Graduates book. But this book was very plain, with ugly first-edition coloring, and a weird title.

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus J. Borg.

What? That makes no sense. How can you meet someone again for the first time? Was it about amnesia? Was it a memoir about remembering? And did I not really know Jesus–was I a bad Christian?

As I drove away, I tossed the book in the back seat and forgot about it like any non-sentimental teenager, more missing my friend and mentor than I was wanting to appreciate the gift.

The Inoculation

It would be a few days until I found the time to open it and read the book.

I remember highlighting a lot, asking questions in the margins, doing the diligent work I was supposed to for an academic work. It was super-interesting: made claims about Jesus I had never considered, pointed out contradictions I never saw, as Borg generally (and gently) introducing me to the study of the historical Jesus.

I don’t remember being blown away by the book or having a huge epiphany. But I do remember being interested and wanting to know more. I wanted to read more on how the Jesus I sang songs about, came to gradually know as I taught Bible studies at my church, was not depicted in a consistent biography but a composite from competing sources–and how archaeology gave us new imagery and insights into the culture of the time. I felt the sensation of doubt in my knowledge, but not enough that I was ready to throw up my hands and give up my life goals.

I don’t remember feeling the prick of the needle.

I don’t remember feeling the pain.

I don’t remember noticing that I had just received an inoculation for an epidemic that would sweep through my life and that would save me months and maybe years of grief.

The Epidemic

A month later, actually on my 19th birthday, I began my studies at Oklahoma City University, a United Methodist institution. I was studying Religion and we had a close-knit group of 15 majors who were starting out together. We would take classes on the Bible, theology, history, and ethics together (along with the upper classes and non-majors).

Over the course of the Fall (and the next Spring), I noticed something was happening to my friends that didn’t seem to be happening to me.

We studied the Bible and saw that there were two Creation stories, that Moses didn’t write the first five books of the Bible, that there were contradictions in the accounts of Jesus (especially between the synoptics and John). We read our history and saw the Imperial thumb on the Ecumenical Councils, the horrors of the Inquisition, the complicity during the Holocaust. We wrestled with how to make theological statements and ethical choices that had no easy answers.

Then the late nights started.

The late nights with friends who were crying, who were having crises of faith, who left a class unsure of what to believe, who tossed and turned in their sleep without clarity or comfort. Who went home to preach and felt a disconnect between their academic studies and the church that had enthusiastically sent them to college and expected them to never change.

Offering a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on was one of my roles with my circle of classmates and friends. I didn’t have any more answers than they did (far from the best student in the class), but I was a bit more steady and less “dealing with my own issues” and able to help offer caring presence for those going through a dark night of the soul.

There was a lot of this that first year, and there would be more with lower classes in the years to come.

Building Up Immunity

Over time, I realized that I wasn’t having the same crises of faith and heartfelt concerns of my peers.

While it could be that I was not connecting my heart and mind like I should be, I think I already had a taste of the doubt that would come in deconstructing faith during college (and later, seminary). A little bit of doubt in a manageable form allowed me to see doubt and complexity as companions on my studies, not challenges to my faith or self-image. This ease of comfort with doubt would become a constant aspect of my preaching and teaching style–indeed, this blog’s focus on hacking has elements of comfort with doubt and inquiry.

And I think I will always credit Marcus Borg with giving me that inoculation shot, with building up my immunity before I confronted the faith questions in a more intensive form, and giving me the ability to welcome doubt into my life without being overcome by it. It wasn’t just the book–I know that–but it felt like the shot that I needed to wade into a difficult world and emerge on the other side intact.

For the next decade, I would read, wrestle, disagree, and be transformed by Borg, Crossan, the Jesus Seminar, and other aspects of the historical Jesus movement during college, seminary, and continued education. The Heart of Christianity is one of my favorite texts. I cannot imagine how that group of scholars feel at the loss of their friend, but I can tell you, I feel like I lost a friend today.

And that book? I don’t have it anymore. I gave it to a Freshman when I was a Senior in that college–with my highlights and notes and all–it was even signed by Marcus Borg when I attended one of his lectures. Like the book given to me, such valuable knowledge and heartfelt care that seeped through the pages must be shared. I don’t miss that book–the best parts are already written in my heart.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Rest in peace, Dr. Borg.

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Jan 19 2015

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: When Churches withhold tithes, they only hurt themselves

Original post at

While it feels like a good idea to withhold a church tithe to the denomination out of protest, the collateral damage is too much to make it a reasonable tactic for reasonable United Methodists.

CC0 License

CC0 License

By the numbers…

Like clockwork after any movement towards LGBT Inclusion in the United Methodist Church, it begins again (first noted by Joel):

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.

First, Good News needs to update their numbers or get better maps. Mt. Bethel is the sixth largest east of the Mississippi, after Ginghamsburg (Ohio), Community Granger (Indiana), Frazer Memorial (Alabama/Florida), St. Luke’s (Indiana), and Cokesbury (Holston). It’s the 14th largest United Methodist Church in America.

Second, more to the point, it is the largest UMC in the North Georgia Conference. Mt. Bethel’s apportionment in 2013 was $480,000.00. Their apportionment amounts to 2% of the entire apportionment of the North Georgia Conference (the largest regional conference in the United Methodist Church with 930 churches).

All these numbers sound intimidating–and to some, they are. But to those with an awareness of history, this is not a new action and such actions have had limited ethical acceptance–and for good reason.

Not a new idea…

It is important to first note that the idea of withholding the church tithe is not a new thing. It is a regular tactic of those opposed to LGBT Inclusion in the UMC to withhold or threaten to withhold Apportionments. (see previous post)

  • In 1969, the United Methodist student magazine motive published an article on LGBT issues. Local churches withheld their apportionments in protest (or threatened to withhold) and eventually motive magazine was removed from the GBHEM and made into an independent entity. It lasted two more issues and then folded.
  • In 1979, five Nashville-area churches withheld their apportionments in protest of the GBOD’s “Sexuality Forums” which included videos on LGBT issues. The forums were then dissolved at the 1980 General Conference.
  • In 1990, Bethany UMC in Eastern PA conference withheld its apportionments in protest of a abortion-related issue, donating that money instead to a pregnancy crisis center for one or two years.
  • In 1998, First UMC in Marietta, Georgia (HMMM…), at the insistence of the IRD’s UMAction rightwing advocacy, decided to withhold its apportionments to the general church agencies (ie. General Administration, World Service Fund, MEF, etc) in response to the Jimmy Creech trial and its own “special task force” in its church that researched and cataloged all the doctrinal breaches of the meta-church leadership (I would LOVE to get ahold of that “75 page document”).
    • They resumed their apportionments that same year after further review of the finances of the General Agencies and the news report includes a comment that “UMAction had their facts incorrect.” Now THAT’s a news flash! Ha!
  • In 2004, St. Peters UMC in the North Carolina conference sent a letter to their new bishop threatening to withhold apportionments due to sexuality disagreements.
  • In 2011, as a response to the clergy who pledged to offer same-sex marriages, the authors of the FaithfulUMC petition repeatedly threatened that if the Bishops did not condemn those clergy that the denominations’ largest churches will begin withholding apportionments.
  • In 2014, the only named schismatics over LGBT inclusion were from the largest churches, constituting $4,200,000.00 in apportionments.

Historically, usually in response to sexuality initiatives in the UMC, particular churches or groups of churches withhold or threaten to withhold apportionments based on their outrage at what their moneys seem to support.

One final note on this history is that this is at least the second time that Mt. Bethel UMC Marietta has chosen this path, and it is interesting that they have had the same pastor since at least the 1998 decision. They have had the same pastor for over 17 years: little wonder they want to be more congregational than connectional.

…and a bad one.

Withholding church tithes is a big topic here at Hacking Christianity. We’ve taken to task the large churches that seek buyout power, we’ve taken to task progressives who see this as a tactic for divestment, and we’ve done the only major opposition research on the Langford proposal to defund the General Agencies. Click those links for the full arguments.

But the overriding argument is this: withholding a church tithe is NOT a line-item veto. While withholding a payment is at least arguable if you are just withholding from that one cause, the way how the UMC is set up is that our ministries are bundled together. Read here for at least six different ways how withholding a congregation’s ability to pay apportionments hurts real people. There’s just too much collateral damage to good ministries and works to defund the UMC in this way.

Indeed, as Teddy Ray comments on the Good News article:

Because most of their apportionments are used within conference, they’ll hurt their own conference (who tend to be on the same side of the issue) much more than they’ll hurt the GC (where the decisions they’re upset about are being made)…If a full congregation is so unhappy with the UMC that they refuse to keep their part of the covenant, it’s time for them to hand over their property and stop being UMC.

The United Methodist Church is a shared life together: our resources benefit causes we agree with and causes we disagree with. Folks have to ask themselves if the collateral hurt is worth protesting a particular hurt.

 Moving forward

In conclusionthere’s a ton of Methodist ways to express disapproval. We can express our disagreement through conversations, through prayer, through speaking out against individual official UMC actions, electing people to positions of power to influence policy, writing petitions to General Conference, being elected to serve those meta-church agencies, refusing a bishops’ re-appointment, writing petitions and getting signatories…hey, we are a Methodist church and there’s a method to do almost anything, including express dissent. But withholding of apportionments–refusal to pay a tithe as a church–is not a Methodist way of doing things.


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