By Julie Ann Madden
While trying to get his personal message for church reform to state delegates at the Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Dr. Warren Thompson, of Akron, was arrested June 7 in the HyVee Events Center in Des Moines.
He told The Akron Hometowner he had tried to distribute a flier critical of the United Methodist Church (UMC) state church leadership and regulations to delegates and confronted the person who directed their removal.
At the Annual Conference, which is the Methodists week-long legislative session, Thompson was told to leave the convention hall. He asked the police be called and after some discussion, he was told he had to leave despite the fact that he was selected by his church to be their representative, paid his fees, and been assigned a seat in the Conference floor.
Thompson claimed he was only exercising his First Amendment right to free speech, religion, and press but was told that any group renting a public building could exercise control of who and what occurred during their events.
He was arrested about 10 a.m. and taken to the Polk County Jail where he spent the next 28 hours. He has pleaded innocent to “trespassing” and has a court date of June 26 in Polk County.
Thompson’s paper called on the church membership to stop predatory taxing of local churches by the state UMC bureaucracy and allow local churches more control concerning how their money is spent.
Thompson suggested cutting employees numbers, reducing or limiting the maximum amount that could be taxed from each church, and create a lay friendly forum for discussing the policies and practices of the UMC hierarchy.
The flier also asked for full disclosure of all employee salaries, expense accounts, and benefit packages by individual employee name, not lumped into departments where the Bishop’s expenditures are grouped with secretaries or lower paid assistants.
This has been Thompson’s mission since 2009. He had previously distributed his information at meetings at district and local meetings and to area churches.
“The UMC leadership controls the pastors by their appointments,” Thompson told The Akron Hometowner in an interview last Friday. “The only way they can move up the UMC ladder is to make sure the church they are in doesn’t have any troublemakers in it and that they pay their taxes on time which they call apportionments but they are actually taxes.”
“So if you want to move up the ladder to a better church position, you have to make sure your church pays those taxes on time every year,” he said. “If they don’t, they may get a worse assignment or they might even be left out all together.”
“It’s that bullying attitude and intimidation that really bothers me because these pastors don’t really get a connection with their local congregation,” said Thompson. “What they’re doing is all the time they’re appeasing the people above them so they can get a better assignment.”
“The other thing is these taxes are levied right across the board,” said Thompson. “They are not really uniform, and (congregations) have no data to compare with other churches that might have the same attendance, same gross income or same membership.”
“They just tax you the heaviest they think they can get away with,” he said, “and that tax is absolutely from the first dollar that comes in the door of your church.”
You can’t be a poor church and not pay it, he said. These churches have no money left to hire a quality minister and build their church because they are constantly in this battle to get enough funds. Once the church runs out of money, state church officials close the local church and sell the property.
“Even those with huge churches are strapped trying to support their churches when they have 20 to 25 percent less attendance than when their churches were built,” said Thompson.
“There needs to be a level when nothing is paid to the state,” he said. “All the money needs to stay locally to support the pastor, the facility and the missionary programs in the community.”
“This has been going on for years,” said Thompson. “You can’t communicate within the UMC Church because they won’t let your information out.”
My views have nothing to do with our church (in Akron),” said Thompson. “It’s strictly my own.”
He didn’t tell any one he was going to distribute materials at the Annual Conference — not even his wife, Verna.
This was his first time to attend the Annual Conference and he said he didn’t know about the legislative rules.
He told The Akron Hometowner he had been removed as a delegate prior to Annual Conference several years ago when state officials learned he had issues with quality of pastors.
“For any materials to be distributed on the Annual Conference legislative floor to conference delegates, it need approval by the Assistant to the Bishop Karen Duncan for Connectional Ministries,” said Rev. Dr. Tom Carver, who is the UMC’s District Superintendent who supervises Northwest Iowa congregations and clergy. “It needs presented and then approved that it’s indeed in accordance with the Annual Conference.”
“Our procedure for acting on legislation is very clear,” said Assistant to the Bishop for Administration Rev. Bill Poland. “Hopefully all of our lay members and clergy members for Annual Conference understand how that is.”
“We have a legislative procedure as much as the state legislature would have in terms of how those things are introduced,” he explained. “There is an option of bringing legislation from the floor within certain limits.”
“That information was shared with Dr. Thompson,” said Poland. “For whatever reasons — I don’t want to guess his motivations — he decided not to handle it legislatively or as part of corporate conversation.”
Thompson could also have distributed the materials outside of the gathering without any problems, he added.
“It was not because of his distribution of the materials but his actions afterwards that he was asked to leave,” said Poland. “Our intention was never to charge him with anything. He was just violating our rules of conduct so we just asked him to leave.”
“It was our desire to be helpful to Dr. Thompson to get his word out and whatever he was trying to accomplish in a way that would have been both helpful for him and both consistent with agreed upon rule as an Annual Conference,” he said. “I’m definitely sorry that it went the direction that it did. I wish his reactions would have been more so that we could have listened and been cooperative.”
MINOR CHANGES TO IMPROVE THE
UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
OF THE IOWA CONFERENCE
• Five Bishops for the whole United States (not the present 50 Bishops). Save $10,000,000 per year in salaries, expense accounts, and benefits.
• All congregations (Administrative Boards) in the District vote to continue the Outreach position.
• First claim to all local church money is to the local pastor and local facility repairs, not the Conference staff salaries and their expense accounts.
• Closed church properties should be transferred FREE to the city or county in which they are located or a non-profit in the immediate area. Conference employees and staff should not profit for failing to support and grow a church.
• Apportionments are voluntary, and never more than 10 percent of the gross revenue of a congregation: Local congregations with less than $75,000 gross income do not pay apportionments; Conference Treasurer needs to inform and help local churches correct finance data mistakes before penalties are allowed; and Every church must have a computer if communications are to be electronic.
• List comparable data for every church: Gross income, apportionments, pastor support, average attendance, and membership.
• Salary raises at Conference and District levels are linked to attendance and revenue growth in the local churches.
• Close and sell all Conference buildings if local churches can be utilized for the work of the Conference (contract with a hotel or civic center for larger meetings).
• Create a website that discusses the issues and employee problems in our Conference: Ministerial misconduct; Apportionments, askings, and total giving to Conference; and Lay membership and attendance numbers.
• Conference leaders need to help individual churches serve the needs of their LOCAL community, not view local churches as sources of income.
• Publish all Conference Employee salaries, expense accounts, and benefit packages by name of employee.
• Nepotism and crony hiring is not acceptable.
Dr Warren Thompson