Why we can’t have nice things in the #UMC…Show me the mammon part 2.

This is Part II. Part I can be found here.

Gift-moneyAgain, the same disclaimer as before. This is not a value statement on the beliefs of any group, but it is a statement on how groups choose to represent those values, and how it impacts the UMC. How we do things are just as important as why we do them. This part will focus on groups operating within the UMC, primarily on Good News and Reconciling Ministries Network.

I want to start with Good News. There website can be found here.  I contacted Good News about their financial donations and received the following as a reply:  “Good News has received money from some personal foundations who are established or run by United Methodist individuals.  As far as I know, we have received no funds from any secular foundations or other funding sources that are unconnected to the UM Church.  Some former UM members do continue to support Good News.  Let me know if you have any further questions on this.  It is a very important topic, in our estimation.”  (Rev. Thomas Lambrecht is who sent the reply. He is Vice President and General Manager of Good News. As a side note he apologized that it took some days to reply as he was in board meetings. I always find politeness to be in vogue.) It is a fairly simple and straight forward statement. I was particularly appreciative of him stating that where the money comes from matters to them as it obviously does to me as well. I don’t have much else to say as the money trail for Good News ends with those affiliated with the UMC. It appears that whatever outside influence there might be is incidental and unintentional. Good News is a conservative group that is often seen as the opposite of Reconciling Ministries but has other issues that it comments on and prays for regularly.

Reconciling Ministries Network is the other group I wish to address here. Their website can be found here.  I contacted RMN with two questions. (The reply came from Rev. Andy Oliver Director of Communications Elder appointed to RMN from the Florida Conference. I don’t know what elder appointed to RMN from Florida conference means…I did not know that we were, as a denomination appointing elders to RMN. It is possible and even likely that I just am misunderstanding the title. He was very prompt and polite in addressing my email. Again I always find politeness to be in vogue.) I will, for the sake of completeness put the exchange here: My initial email read as follows: “I was wondering why it is that you accept donations from secular groups that have little or no interest in Christianity as a whole outside of their stated goal and if you were concerned that those donations cause a conflict of interests? I was also interested in if your grant from ARCUS (it is earmarked for this on their website) is what has been used in your recent decision to provide compensation for a Virginia pastor who was suspended for performing a same sex union. Thank you in advance for your reply.”

The reply that I received is here:

Hi Scott,

Thank you for your question. As stated in our press release, Rev. Garber’s check was paid from contributions from individual United Methodists around the world for the specific purpose of supporting clergy who are targeted for their sexual orientation, gender identity, or their commitment to offer the ministry of the church to all people (in keeping with the fullness BOD). You can learn more or give to the fund yourself here: http://bit.ly/1vFeH9P. The IRD article was incorrect in many of its inferences.

I read everything you write. If you are ever in Chicago or Tampa and want to meet up, my cell is

Peace,
Andy

Rev. Andy Oliver
Director of Communications
Elder appointed to RMN from the Florida Conference
(I chose to delete this as it seemed rather rude to publish a cell number. That is the only alteration made.)

My follow up can be found here:

Thank you for your prompt reply and the offer to connect. Should I find myself in either of those areas I will be sure to take you up on it. I have contacted Good News as well about their acceptance of money from outside the UMC and intend to include whatever responses or non responses as are appropriate. If there is anything that you would like included about the fiances beyond what you have told me, I will be happy to do so and attribute that statement to you if that is acceptable. If you are able could you address what the outside money that you have accepted goes for if indeed you have accepted any? Again thank you for your prompt reply and graciousness in answering. Peace. Scott

As of yet I have not received a reply. I believe this to be the IRD article he was referring to.  I asked specifically about funds from ARCUS and about money from outside in general and those questions were largely ignored so I am left to outside sources. I want to make the fact that RMN has said, and stands by their statement that the money paid to Rev. Garber was from individual donations of United Methodists and I have no reason to doubt that statement. I think that should provide the background needed to proceed forward.

RMN has in the past (I do not know if they are currently accepting) monies from the following groups: Arcus Foundation, and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. I discovered that with just these two outside groups (there may be more I am not certain) between 2009 and 2014 there was over 1 million dollars given in grants to RMN from sources not only outside the UMC but that are primarily secular in origin. Now remember, RMN has the stated goal of affecting change in the UMC. Whatever you believe about that goal shouldn’t that change, if necessary, actually come from the UMC and not those on the outside that would pump money into it? If you go to the links provided, you will find the ability to search grants and their purposes as well.

The one that is most disturbing is an ARCUS grant from 2014 which is for the express purpose of “One year of support for clergy who engage in acts of ecclesial disobedience in the name of LGBTQ justice and work with coalitions for policy change within the United Methodist Church.” (from the ACUS website).  Again, I do not doubt the statement given me by RMN about the  Rev. Garber, but I am a little worried that Rev Garber was in effect an employee of RMN for a month and worry more about wether or not any UMC clergy have effectively become employees of ARGUS or any other group outside of the UMC.

I believe that we all want what is best for our church. I believe that we are all struggling to find ways forward and solutions to the issues that we have, but if we need guidance from any external source shouldn’t it be the Triune God and not some grant producing machine who does not have the interests of Christ as their purpose? Shouldn’t we be seeking the influence of the Holy Spirit and not the influence of political action groups? No caucus can serve two masters after all, and if we follow the mammon we can see who is serving who.

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