Q&A 2017 Annual Conference
Members to the 2017 Baltimore-Washington Conference will be voting on four resolutions, a budget, Constitutional Amendments and other items. In preparation for these votes, we encouraged you to ask any questions you had. The presenters of these items, or other experts in this subject matter have replied.
Q:If you are decreasing the Conference benevolence factor, how are you also increasing spending in the budget?
A: The 0.4% increase in the apportionment base from $87.1 million to $87.4 million combined with the decrease in the benevolence factor yields an overall increase in the apportionment spending of 0.3% from $14.2 million to $14.3 million.
Q: Can you explain why the mortgage payments for the Mission Center are being accelerated and what impact that will have?
A: The 2018 budget recommends $500,000 for the accelerated payments on the Mission Center and West River Dining Hall loans. This will keep us on pace for paying off the debt 6 years early in 2022 for a total savings of $1 million in interest payments.
Q: Why are conference reserves being raised to 15 percent? Are there limitations on what the reserves can be used for?
A: The high legal expenses incurred between 2013 and 2015 forced the Council on Finance to dip below the 10% designated reserve threshold. The higher reserve target will enable the Conference to better sustain periods of high unexpected expense or lower than expected income without falling below what is considered a critical reserve level.
Q: Will the increase in equitable comp of $846 in 2018, be offset by the decrease in the benevolence factor?
A: No, most churches will find the decrease in the benevolence factor is a savings of $30 to $230.
Resolution to Avoid Purchase of Hewlett Packard Products
Q: Why are Motorola and Caterpillar not included in this resolution?
A: The HP boycott came about because of an international coalition of secular and religious organizations led by the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights and the Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA). HP makes consumer products, so it makes sense to boycott where we can control how we spend our money. The other two, Caterpillar and Motorola Solutions, may be best reached through divestment.
Resolution Expanding Baltimore-Washington Conference's Socially Responsible Screens
Q: Why were these three companies, Motorola, Caterpillar and Hewlett Packard, singled out?
A: The United Methodist Church has a long history of corporate engagement with these three companies, which you can see in detail here: https://www.kairosresponse.org/corporate_engagement_04-11.html. One of the arguments against divestment is that we can do more at the table with these companies to change their policy than we can by leaving. However, the timeline of engagement over the past twelve years for Caterpillar, nine years for HP, and eleven for Motorola, show that engagement has failed. These companies continually decline shareholder resolutions, invitations to dialogues and direct meetings, and, when they do, they often refuse to answer questions directly.
Q: Where do you set the threshold for participating in the occupation of Palestinian land? What about, for example, companies that provide the soldiers’ food?
A: The UMC has declared that we not invest in companies related to alcohol, tobacco, weapons, gambling, pornography, and private prisons, which Wespath currently determines by setting a threshold of ten percent of a company's core business. For more information, see Wespath's explanation here: http://www.wespath.com/investment_philosophy/ethical-exclusions/. However, major international corporations like Motorola, Caterpillar and Hewlett Packard will most likely never have more than ten percent of their core business is involved in illegal settlements. Yet, even tearing up one olive tree, crushing one house, or killing one person are good enough reason not to invest or purchase their products as Christians, particularly in light of repeated shareholder engagement that has gone nowhere (see the previous answer). There is no easy answer to this question about a threshold, but I think is comes after listening to Palestinian Christians and peace activists about particular companies and seeing if engagement as shareholders can make a difference. If it cannot, as we have seen is the case with Motorola, Caterpillar and Hewlett Packard (as well as Israeli banks and one construction company that Wespath has already divested from), then we would pursue divestment.
Q: What socially responsible screen do the Baltimore-Washington Conference and the Mid-Atlantic Foundation currently use? How are these different than the ones used by Wespath Equity Social Values Plus Fund?
A: The SRI currently used by the Mid-Atlantic Foundation is the same used by Wespath, I believe. But Wespath has additional SRIs that have even stronger “filters,” like the Equity Social Values Plus Fund. See more information about ESVPV here: http://www.wespath.com/funds_services/our_funds/investment_performance/esvpf/.
Q: Would the Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula Delaware annual conferences need to approve this as well before the Foundation acted on it?
A: No. In the past, the Mid-Atlantic Foundation has said that separating our accounts from Eastern Pennsylvania's and Pennisula Delaware's is too difficult. In addition, we do not want to take away the authority of the Mid-Atlantic Foundation to determine their SRI. This legislation seeks to request the Mid-Atlantic Foundation to make the decision to divest on their own, knowing that divestment is at least one of the conference's wishes and that they have our support.
Q: Did General Conference pass a resolution encouraging divestment from these three companies?
A: Resolution 6111 in the UM Book of Resolutions passed at General Conference 2012 encourages divestment (but does not require it) by way of condemning not Israel, but rather illegal settlement activity. Read the resolution here: https://umc-gbcs.org/resolutions/opposition-to-israeli-settlements-in-palestinian-land
Support for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Q: How does the United Methodist stance on abortion differ from that of RCRC?
A: Regardless of our opinion on the difference of stances on abortion, both RCRC and the UMC have the same stance (which the UMW and GBCS pointed out in their letter removing membership) on the “diminishment of high abortion rates.” RCRC works to diminish the rate of abortion through comprehensive sexuality education, support for adoption, family planning, and affordable health care services. When arguing that RCRC is incompatible with a United Methodist understanding of abortion the fact that RCRC includes “regardless of circumstance” and the Social Principles do not is highlighted. However, even our own Social Principles do not encourage us to support laws limiting abortion access, but rather focuses on our individual moral decision making in the case of abortion. RCRC advocates for safe, legal abortion services, regardless of income or circumstance. The United Methodist Social Principles oppose abortion in the case of using it as birth control, reject it as a means of gender selection and eugenics, and late term abortion except in the case the pregnancy is not viable or the mother's life is in danger. The Social Principles recognize that in some cases of the “tragic conflicts of life” justify abortion.
Q: Why did General Conference vote to instruct the General Board of Church and Society to the United Methodist Women to withdraw immediately from membership in the RCRC?
A: According to the petition voted on by General Conference, “RCRC is a one-sided political lobby that opposes all disapproval or limitation of abortion. RCRC's advocacy often directly contradicts our Social Principles on abortion, but it still uses our Church's name.”
Q: Which groups did the General Conference say should remove their support from RCRC? Was it the entire denomination?
A: It was not the entire denomination. It was specific to GBCS and the UMW which were members of RCRC on behalf of the denomination.
Q: If we voted for this, would we be in opposition to General Conference?
A: General Conference did not prohibit annual conferences from joining RCRC individually in the above legislation.
Q: What other annual conferences have chosen to support the Religious Coalition for Reproductive choice?
A: Oregon-Idaho, California-Nevada, New England, New York, Pacific Northwest, and Rocky Mountain Annual Conferences.
Q: In the past, has RCRC received any funding from the Baltimore-Washington Conference?
A: No, archived financial records from the BWC show no history of any payments going to RCRC.
In addition, in a story on the General Conference vote to withdraw from RCRC, Susan Burton, executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, said, “no church dollars directly fund the coalition.”
Q: Would there be a financial cost to supporting RCRC?
Resolution to Amend the Conference Moving Policy
Q: How many bids are sought from moving companies?
A: We currently contract with six moving companies. New prices are sought each year and an open bid process is conducted every 4-5 years. The last open bid was done in 2015 with six of nine bids accepted for contracts.
Q: Approximately how much money will it cost, in an average year, to provide moving costs to retiring pastors?
Just to clarify, we have always covered the moving costs of pastors entering retirement. This resolution changes the calculation for retiring pastors who remain within the conference boundaries from a dollar amount to a weight limit, just as active clergy are covered. It is difficult to estimate the additional cost because the number of retiring pastors who remain within the conference boundaries varies from year to year. We do not have the data available to determine the cost, but based on anecdotal evidence we expect the additional cost to be less than $10,000.
Q: How much does the conference currently spend on moving
A: Moving costs in 2016 were approximately $185,000.