Some central Ohio United Methodist churches are putting their money — and their words and actions — into play to express their dissatisfaction with a decision about LGBT policies made by the worldwide denomination in February.
Though it’s been more than two months since a majority of 800 church delegates voted to continue banning LGBT people from ministry and marriage, some local United Methodist congregations continue to come up with ways to show they don’t accept the decision.
King Avenue United Methodist Church , near Victorian Village, is withholding money from the church in protest because the decision could affect many of its members, said the Rev. John Keeny.
“We felt that in light of the decision made at general conference that a statement of non-cooperation, of resistance, needed to be made,” Keeny said. “King Avenue is 40 to 50% LGBTQ and when the denomination says in effect 45% of your people cannot be ordained and we cannot fully provide pastoral care to 45% of our people by marrying them in the church, it’s a statement that needs to be challenged and not supported.”
Apportionment payments — similar to monthly membership dues — denomination-wide were down 15 percent for the first three months of this year, compared with the same period last year, according to United Methodist financial reports . In 2019, churches paid $14.7 million to the denomination, compared with $17.5 million for the first three months of 2018.
United Methodist churches pay an apportionment each month to their regional conference to support a variety of the denomination’s ministries, including bishops, evangelism, global outreach, ministry education, denomination-wide meetings and historically black colleges and universities.
“It was a very difficult decision because apportionments do a lot of good worldwide and nationally,” said Keeny, who estimated his church pays about $80,000 a year.
He said his church has been saving that money in a separate account since it stopped making the payments in March and hopes to be able to support the denomination again after changes are made by paying the money in full at the end of the year, Keeny said.
“We’re putting it aside until things are cleared up and justice is done,” he said.
Maple Grove United Methodist Church , in Clintonville, also is withholding funds from the church, though the Rev. Patricia Wagner said congregation members haven’t been unanimous in their reaction to the general conference decision in February.
“It was just a way to signal our concern,” Wagner said. “For this church, which is a more traditional church … It was a big step to make that kind of statement.” She said the decision to withhold the money came during a church administrative council vote. She said the church stopped making payments in March but has yet to decide whether it will start paying again in June, as it voted to withhold for about a quarter. Maple Grove pays about $60,000 a year in apportioned funds. The church will take another vote on what to do in June.
The Rev. Brian Straub, head of the traditional West Ohio Wesleyan Covenant Association , which interprets the Bible more literally and believes marriage is between a man and a woman, said he has always cautioned churches against showing their discontent with the denomination by withholding financial support.
Straub said missionary churches, schools, health clinics and humanitarian projects rely on the money to do good and help people around the world.
“When we withhold apportionments we’re not punishing our church, we’re punishing our missions and missionaries and that’s the wrong thing to do,” he said.
West Ohio Conference Bishop Gregory Palmer said he’s aware that some churches are expressing their “discontent and pain” by withholding apportionments.
“These actions may be well-intended, but they can also do unintended harm,” Palmer said in a prepared statement.
The Rev. Jeff Mullinix, of Maynard Avenue United Methodist Church in the University District, said the church has sent a letter about its views to Palmer and another local church leader and is not withholding apportionments.
North Broadway United Methodist Church, in Clintonville, and the Short North Church , in the Short North, also wrote letters signed by congregants to show their disapproval of the general conference decision, but are not withholding money.
Mullinix, a married gay minister, said his church decided not to withhold money because members felt it could hurt people.
“We take seriously the Wesleyan challenge of doing no harm,” he said, adding that his church has received some money from apportionments to pay for a full-time pastor. “We felt withholding apportionments would be doing more harm than it would be good.”
Keeny’s church also is monitoring what Methodist churches across the country are doing. “We’re just looking for guidance right now,” he said.
A large meeting of centrist and progressive Methodists in the nation is planned in Kansas for May 20-22, with 10 people from each conference asked to attend, according to the United Methodist News Service . The meeting is to discuss how to respond to the general conference decision. One question that will be pondered is what’s next for the church, and should there be a split.
“My hope is that plans will come out of those meetings that will go to general conference in 2020 and will be approved,” Keeny said.
Keeny’s church is one of several central Ohio churches that has broadcast its feelings on its buildings or marquee signs. On the side of King Avenue is a large banner that reads “ALL are welcome.” There’s also a rainbow flag flying outside the building.
Linworth , Worthington , Maynard Avenue, Summit on 16th , North Broadway and Broad Street United Methodist churches also have shown their support for LGBT people on their signs or buildings.
“I think there’s a lot of pain,” said Wagner of Maple Grove church. “The real harm we see being done right now is to LGBTQ persons and their families who are being so discriminated against in this denomination. That feels like the much greater harm than withholding money.”