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Some leaders at First Church, Marietta, Ga., oppose action redirecting churchwide giving

April 6, 1998

Seven "concerned members" of First United Methodist Church in Marietta, Ga. –- officers or former officers -– released a statement April 3 giving "another view" of action taken recently by the church's Board of Stewards to redirect giving to churchwide causes.

The board of the 5,200-member congregation voted 142-58 March 22 to "redirect" about $58,000 from churchwide causes. The reason given for the action was the "lack of doctrinal integrity" of United Methodism at the denominational level.

"Well-intentioned people on both sides of this issue, in an attempt to 'correct' the United Methodist Church, have been led to extremism," the seven church leaders said in their statement.

"They are the moral police and they are coming your way."

A task force within the congregation had reported to the board its objections to statements and actions by certain bishops, seminary professors and staff members of general boards and agencies, according to the Rev. Charles Sineath, senior pastor at the church for 21 years.

In their statement, the seven signers said actions by the board have left them "shocked, hurt and angry."

The issue began, they said, when board members were subjected to a "vicious attack" on the United Methodist Church at their January meeting, and were asked to authorize a select committee to study withholding support of ministries beyond the local church.

The subsequent committee report, they said, lacked fairness, balance and accuracy, and was "un-Methodist" in its approach.

"Withholding is an extreme measure cutting at the very essence of the connectionality we enjoy as Methodists," they said. "It is a secular solution for a spiritual problem -– we become more and more like those whose positions we oppose."

They also charged that clear goals and objectives are lacking. "What do we seek? What change is acceptable? Who will judge? There is only silence on these substantive questions."

They called the board action a double-edged sword. If withholding is supported for regional or churchwide ministries, they asked, "why not go and do likewise within one's own church?"

"Should you believe the 'watchdog' groups whose main effect is anger and dissension, or accept the frailty of our own institutions, working within our system to make corrections where appropriate?

"Because our senior pastor, the Rev. Charles Sineath, is leading this effort, there is a significant minority in our church that is today without a pastor," they said.

After the action was taken in March, Sineath told a reporter from the Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the newspaper of Georgia United Methodism, the 142-58 vote was significant.

"I would call it an act of conscience where others will call it denominational disloyalty. . . . We see it as denominational loyalty, tough love. . . . The 58 were hurt because we made the decision we did. The 142 were hurt because the issues were such we felt compelled by conscience to make that decision."

Among churchwide apportionments rejected were the Episcopal Fund, which supports the expenses of bishops; General Administration Fund which provides for expenses of the General Conference, Judicial Council, and special commissions and committees established by the General Conference; World Service Fund, which supports the work of churchwide boards and agencies; Ministerial Education Fund, which supports seminary education; and the Interdenominational Fund, which supports the work of ecumenical agencies such as the World and National Council of Churches.

Of the money that would have gone to these causes, $25,000 is going to the Wesley Foundation at the University of Georgia; $25,000 is going to a camp redevelopment in the conference; and $6,427 is going to a boys' home in the Marietta District.

North Georgia Bishop G. Lindsey Davis called the report from the board's select committee "biased" and "full of half truths." He said the action violates the covenantal, missional commitments a United Methodist congregation makes to the denomination.

"We work in a web of intricate connections, and part of our understanding of what it means to be a community of faith is to be involved in that kind of connection," the bishop said. "To go off on your own, so to speak, flies in the face of our polity, discipline and order."

Signers of the April 3 statement were: James and Julie Galt, chairpersons of the Council on Ministries; Bill Waldrop, chairman of the Board of Trustees; Alan Price, past chairperson of the Staff-Parish Relations Committee; Emerson Cochran, immediate past chairman of the Board of Trustees; Buck Northcutt, past chairman of the Board of Stewards; Clare Newsmith, an officer in United Methodist Women.

Produced by United Methodist News Service, official news agency of the United Methodist Church, with offices in Nashville, Tenn., New York, and Washington.

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