Monday, June 23, 2008

Tax Reform as a Religious Issue

Susan Pace Hamill, a member of Tuscaloosa’s Trinity United Methodist church and a professor at the University of Alabama Law School (also a graduate of Samford’s Beeson Divinity School) has become the conscience of our state on matters of taxation. I’m proud of the work that Susan is doing in this area.

And she has done so with an approach deeply rooted in the notion that Jesus judges us on the basis of how we treat “the least of these among us.”

Professor Hamill says that many of our state’s laws do more to burden the poor and relieve the rich than vice versa. She cites the worst states (her “sinful six”) as Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, South Dakota, and Texas.

She believes, as do I, that part of kingdom work is pushing for economic justice, particularly for poor working families. Tax revenues are essential to fund the reasonable opportunity for a decent life for all made in the image of God.

She quotes a well-known verse (Luke 12:48) “To whom much is given, much is required.”
I agree. Our resources as a church and as a state are a means to “spread scriptural holiness across the land” as Mr. Wesley taught us. Reform of our tax policy is one important part of our work for the Kingdom.

Our state legislature’s recent failure to remove the state portion of the grocery tax disappointed me as I hope it did you. I pray that the upcoming special session of the legislature will pass the Tax Fairness Amendment. This amendment would end the $550 million state income tax deduction for federal taxes, remove the 4% state portion of the grocery tax, and expand personal exemptions and the standard deduction raising the income tax threshold to $20,000 from the current shockingly low $12,600 for a family of four.

I commend Susan Pace Hamill’s work to you, particularly her book AS CERTAIN AS DEATH (Carolina Academic Press, 2007) and hope you will join me in praying for and working toward a more just and equitable tax system for our state. A good way to involve yourselves and your church in these matters is to work with and support Alabama Arise, a coalition of 155 faith-based and community groups ( a number of whose leaders (such as Mark Berte) are active United Methodists. Alabama Arise has all the facts and figures of the Alabama tax problem and is working hard to change things.

We can do better. With God’s help, we shall.

Will Willimon

Monday, June 09, 2008

Empowering A New Generation Of Leaders

One of our Annual Conference priorities is equipping and empowering a new generation of United Methodist leaders. With a median age of 59 years old, our Conference is determined to empower a new generation to lead our church into the future that God has for us.

Dorothy Scott, one of our fine pastors, sent me this letter just after this year’s Annual Conference:

I thought you would appreciate the highlight of my annual conference experience
this year. Both the lay member and youth member from my church were experiencing annual conference for the first time. I drove Izabella Godsey, my youth member, back to Huntsville Saturday afternoon. She shared with me how wonderful and meaningful the entire experience had been for her. She talked about how this experience had her considering going into the ministry. I asked if she would be
willing to speak in church this morning, to share what this experience meant to her and what the church needed to know from Annual Conference.

This is just some of what she had to share, "Annual Conference was a very special experience for me. I learned a great deal about the United Methodist Church. We as Christians need to be about making disciples for Jesus Christ. I need to be making
disciples for Jesus Christ. From now on I intend to be about making disciples for
Jesus Christ. Thank you for making this experience possible. I hope that this experience will lead me to helping Valley to grow more Christians."

Izy has always been a wonderful example of faith. She was in the first confirmation class I led at Valley. One of the joys of being at Valley has been watching us develop a youth and children's program. I thought about this as Lovett Weems shared that
young ministers came from growing up in the church. Izy's grandparent's and aunt
had been active at Valley when I arrived. The first change I made at Valley was to develop a children's program and Izy was one of the first new children to begin coming regularly to church. Izy is currently 17 and when she turned 16 she became a more active member because she could drive herself to church and not depend on her parents for a ride. She loves opportunities for leadership and she has been in
charge of crafts at VBS for three years. I do not know what the future will hold for Izy but I believe that this conference strenghtened her faith and encourage d her toward serving Christ.

My lay member had to leave on a business trip at 8 a.m. this morning. She wrote me an email at 6:30a.m. saying that she had written up a series of educational moments
to share in the next few weeks about the ministries of our church. She and I discussed these moments during conference. They are designed to help Valley learn about what great ministry the church is about and encourage greater financial support. Jenny is a very successful and busy business woman who is in the midst of great professional transitions. She worked her entire month around being able to
come to conference. Her two children returned from our first youth mission trip on Friday. She hoped to spend time with them before having to leave for the next two weeks on business. However, in the midst of all this she took the time to take what she learned from conference and write it up so that it might be shared by her husband with the church in the next few weeks.

Both Jenny and Izy give me great faith in the future of the United Methodist
Church. This weekend strengthened and encouraged them. As a pastor when you push people to try something new it is so important that it enrich them. Thank you for making this happen for them.

Yours in Christ,
Dorothy Scott (Thankful to be serving at Valley UMC for another year)

Dorothy’s story is far from unique. This is what happens when we really focus ourselves upon the priority of a new generation of Christians. I’m recommending that next year our entire Annual Conference be focused upon the single priority of empowering a new generation, that any reports be made exclusively by those under forty, and that every church send lay delegates who are all under forty. Jenny and Izy are in every congregation. We must notice them, nurture them, and empower them for God to use them in giving our church a future. By God’s grace, we will!

Thanks for a great Annual Conference.
Will Willimon

Monday, June 02, 2008


The women returned from the cemetery on the first Easter morning, announcing, "He is Risen!"

The response of the disciples, the church, us?

With one voice we responded that the women preached "an idle tale" (Luke 24:11).

What is there about us that tends to disbelieve the possibility of resurrection, to be cynical and hopeless? Let's be honest. Something there is in us that has a stake in hopelessness. Those who would protect the status quo, these who profit from the present system, tend to be threatened by hope.

In one of my previous churches I had a member who was negative about everything. When anything new was proposed, he could be counted on to produce a doleful litany: It won't work. We tried that a few years ago and it failed. We just don't have a really committed congregation.

There's no money.

On and on it went. He managed to kill every new initiative with his hopelessness.
I complained to an older, wiser pastor who said to me, "The only way to defeat such defeatism is by having one honest to goodness success. Nothing disempowers cynicism like success."

He was right. For the first time in recent memory, we had a very successful Stewardship campaign. That was the last we heard from Mr. Defeat.

I've got this on my mind because this year's Annual Conference theme is simply "hope." Scripture tells us that we Christians are always "to be prepared to give an account for the hope that is within you."

As I prepare for this year's Annual Conference, here are some specific gifts of God that fill me with hope:

  • This past year we raised nearly a million more dollars for mission and ministry, the highest rate of giving in our history.
  • Nearly a dozen new communities of faith were formed, making our Conference one of the leaders in New Church Development in the United Methodist Church.
  • Our churches brought over four thousand people of faith in Christ this year.
  • We created the Residency in Ministry program to equip and mentor our newest clergy, a model for the rest of the church in the development of new leaders.
  • This July we will institute an extensive on-line system (created by our Conference Connectional Ministries Staff) for weekly measurement of discipleship – accountability for all of our congregations. Every congregation will report, every week, on its fidelity to Christ. This is a groundbreaking effort to recover Wesleyan accountability.
  • Natural Church Development has transformed and energized over two dozen of our congregations that were previously in decline.
  • Our Cabinet has greatly streamlined, personalized, and made more results-sensitive our methods for clergy appointments. Through our triad interview process, the First Ninety Days program, and other means we are greatly improving our success rate for clergy appointments, giving churches the clergy leadership they need to be faithful to our Priorities.

Signs of hope! Easter continues! The women were right! He is risen indeed! Defeatism is being defeated by the Risen Christ.

William H. Willimon