The United Methodist high court ruled May 5 that unwillingness by a pastor to lead a local church toward full payment of apportionments is not a chargeable offense.
In the United Methodist Church, apportionments are defined as the funds each annual conference or local church pays to support international, national and regional missions.
The Judicial Council ruling’s “Analysis and Rationale” section did state, however, that any clergy member’s “deliberate” encouragement of a church “not to pay its apportionments in full, when the church is otherwise able to do so … may rise to the level of a chargeable offense under Paragraph 2702” of the church’s Book of Discipline.
The council was asked by the General Conference to determine whether or not a pastor’s unwillingness to counsel his or her church to pay apportionments constituted “failure to perform the work of the ministry” or “disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church,” two of the chargeable offenses listed in Paragraph 2702.
The request for a declaratory decision included language in the Book of Discipline (Paragraph 823) related to the “Proportionality” section of the Episcopal Fund, which provides for salary of church bishops. (The Proportionality section states that “the amount apportioned to a charge for the Episcopal Fund shall be paid in the same proportion as the charge pays its pastor.”)
In its ruling, the council affirmed that the duties of a pastor include “leading the congregation in the fulfillment of its mission through full and faithful payment of all apportioned ministerial support, administrative and benevolent funds.” (Paragraph 331.2f)
The decision continued: “The pastor of a church has an important role in leading a local church to … pay its apportionments in full, including the apportionment for the Episcopal Fund, but the pastor does not carry this responsibility alone. The pastor of the church is just one of many individuals, lay and clergy, who have responsibility for providing leadership to a local congregation and thereby leading a local church toward full payment of apportionments. To hold the pastor of a church personally accountable for a chargeable offense when a church under his/her leadership does not pay its apportionments in full, including the requirement for proportionality in the case of the Episcopal Fund, is unjust.
“The clear legislative intent of the list of chargeable offenses in Paragraph 2702 is to hold pastors accountable for their own personal actions, not the actions of other ordained or lay persons.”
*Caldwell is a correspondent for United Methodist News Service.
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