Monday, August 5, 2019

American Money and the Future of Global United Methodism

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Having laid forth in my last post some (possibly) better estimates by region of the level of internal giving and the amount of US support allows for some more specific comparison of funding received by central conferences from the US vs. funding central conferences are able to generate on their own.

This comparison then gives a sense of the magnitude of possible decreases in funding that central conferences could face and the scale of the decisions that they would have to make in the face of funding cuts from the US. I will here examine two scenarios: What would happen if all US subsidies were to stop through complete separation from the current denominational system, and what would happen if US subsidies were to decline by a third within the present system?

Western Europe
In Western Europe, a complete separation would certainly be felt. It would represent a loss of several million dollars in funding. That is perhaps 20% of the amount the region is able to generate internally for connectional ministries.

Such a reduction would lead to noticeable cutbacks and would force indigenous leaders to choose which programs to continue. Nevertheless, it would not devastate ministry, nor would it prohibit the region from continuing any form of ministry, and travel expenses would be an easy cut if separated from the denominational system. A 1/3 reduction within the present system would have smaller effects, though travel expenses would need to be preserved.

The Philippines
Subsidies within the Philippines are perhaps three or four times the internal connectional giving capacity, which would lead to significant effects if completely ended. Certainly, health, education, disaster response, service, and other ministries supported by US dollars would be affected, and some ministry programs would end. Filipino bishops might also have to take a pay cut.

Yet the Philippines has several educational and health institutions that already operate extensive fee-for-service programs and thus would be able to continue, even without outside support. These ministries would not end, even without US support, though they might face challenges in launching new programs or upgrading facilities and equipment.

Because of these fee-for-service programs and internal giving capacity, a 1/3 reduction within the current system would result in substantial cutbacks and some lower-priority programs being closed, but it would allow for high-priority work to continue.

The subsidies Africa receives are perhaps 8 times as much as their internal capacity for connectional giving, though out of all the regions, I am least certain what Africa’s internal capacity actually is. Thus, complete separation would be devastating and would effectively end or impact many forms of ministry beyond local churches. Bishops would need to survive on substantially reduced salaries, though given the high level of episcopal salaries relative to average salaries in their countries, there is room to cut.

Most evangelism in Africa happens through indigenous resources, except for Global Ministries support of mission initiatives in some newly-entered countries Thus, church growth and evangelism, at least within countries of existing United Methodist presence, would like be little affected by the end of outside support, except perhaps in the mission initiatives. Moreover, Africans have shown a capacity for charitable giving by local congregations, especially for ad-hoc needs and programs with low capital and administrative costs. These forms of ministry would likely continue, even with the end of outside support.

African schools and hospitals do generate some money through fees for service, but it is not clear if all of them could survive on these alone. Quite likely, a complete cessation in US support would end large-scale health and service ministries in Africa, especially those that rely upon substantial capital in the form of buildings and equipment. Colleges and universities with popular secular programs tend to be money-makers for the church (in Africa and elsewhere) and could continue. Primary and secondary schools are much less lucrative and therefore more likely to be impacted.

A 1/3 reduction in support would also significantly impact these large, institutional ministries and significantly reduce the number and/or scope of them. Many such ministries could probably continue under such a scenario, though to do so, African United Methodists would likely turn to more government support (at the expense of some United Methodist control) and fee-for-service arrangements.

Eastern Europe
For Eastern Europe, the amount of subsidies is perhaps 10 times as much as their internal capacity for connectional giving. Even more so than Africa, complete separation would be catastrophic and would effectively end most forms of ministry beyond local churches. Churches in Eastern Europe would even be challenged to continue to support bishops and district superintendents without outside help.

A 1/3 reduction within the current system would mostly affect educational, service, justice, and evangelism ministries. Indigenous leaders would need to choose among these competing priorities, with some types of ministry being halved (or worse) to preserve others.

Since health ministries directly save lives and poverty-reduction, sustainable development, and educational ministries have an indirect but significant effect on the length and quality of life, decisions about the future of US support for central conference ministries are ethical decisions. They directly impact the lives of tens of thousands of people throughout the world.

The decisions that US United Methodists, from traditionalist to centrist to progressive, will make about the funding arrangements they establish with the central conferences in whatever the next iteration of Methodism is will thus have real consequences, and dramatic cuts will cost lives among the poorest and most marginalized globally.

Of course, there are also strategic and ethical questions about continuing to foster a system of dependency rather than empowerment. Yet a unilateral and sudden end to US subsidies of the central conferences is not the appropriate way to end dependency.

Admittedly, in any scenario for the future of United Methodism, the amount of money from the US for connectional ministries will be less than it is now. Some reduction in US subsidies for ministry in the central conferences will be an economic necessity, given membership trends in the US.

Nevertheless, having created the current system of dependency, US United Methodists have a moral obligation to fellow United Methodists in the central conference to work with them to decide together how to plan for a sustainable economic future for those ministries most important to people in the central conferences. To do anything less would be for US United Methodists to show disregard for the lives and the humanity of those who are different from them.

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