Thursday, August 09, 2012

When Accountants Run The Churches

I almost wrote about this story yesterday, but needed to get that overview of Romney-Thus-Far off my chest.  To say I was appalled is to add a mild descriptor to my reaction.
The General Board of Global Ministries' independent audit committee recommended at its annual meeting that the agency suspend funding to the United Methodist East Africa Annual Conference (EAAC).
In a report submitted to Global Ministries, the auditors noted that they had conducted three internal audits of the treasury of the EAAC in Kampala, Uganda, since April 2011. The most recent audit was as complete as possible with the available records. It was conducted during a two-week period ending June 30, 2012, and covered projects funded from 2009, 2010, and 2011.
The report stated in its recommendation "that all funds for the conference be suspended indefinitely, until such time as the EAAC is prepared to accept responsibility to be accountable and all internal controls have been put in place."
 The projects reviewed and affected by the suspension of funds include, among others, Humble United Methodist School, Humble United Methodist Vocational High School, Hope for Africa Children's Choir Music Academy, Mukono and Namunkanaga HIV/AIDS and Malaria Awareness, Trinity United Methodist Church in Wanyange, United Methodist Women Center in Jinja, and the United Methodist Empowerment Center of Jinja.
The audit report was emailed to Bishop Daniel Wandabula, who leads the EAAC. The Global Ministries audit committee will continue to seek resolution on the outstanding issues.
Global Ministries accepted the independent audit committee's recommendation and has suspended all funding to the EAAC effective immediately.
I wasn't sure about the boundaries, but the East Africa Annual Conference, according to the United Methodist Church's website,  include the nations of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, and Uganda, with Episcopal offices in Uganda's capital of Kampala.

So . . . because the conference exists across the boundaries of nations living with varieties of internal strife, despotism, civil war and secession, the threat of the spread of militant Islam and terrorist groups (the northeast of Kenya, bordering the near non-state of Somalia, is pretty much an armed camp as Kenya defends itself from the radicals trying to move south), the ravages of neo-colonialism, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, endemic corruption, official neglect from their putative First World allies; for all these reasons, the United Methodist Church, in its infinite wisdom is going to punish United Methodist Christians who live and work in these countries.

It was a Capt. Renault moment for those auditors, announcing themselves "shocked! shocked!" that there might be problems with financial audits in countries with the abundant problems listed above.  Which, obviously, should not be read as a defense of any potential malfeasance on the part of church officials; since none is alleged that doesn't seem to be the problem.  Rather, the problem is the Conference doesn't have, according to their own auditors, "internal controls".  Without specifics, I'm guessing that means applying the rules for fiduciary responsibility contained in the United Methodist Discipline.

The list of ministries effected by the abrupt end of funding is not only long, but diverse, some of which address the most pressing problems across national boundaries.

In 1 Corinthians, chapter 9, St. Paul defends his ministry, apostleship, and his right to chastise the Corinthian congregation from a variety of attacks laid upon him by the nitpickers who insist he has no right or reason to act the way he has.  In the course of his defense, he insists that, rather than rely upon the abundant and contrary claims of human authority, he rests solely upon what he calls "the law of Christ" (in contrast, specifically in the text, to what he calls "the law of God").  He describes himself as willing to be all things to all people in order to do the one thing to which he has been called - spread the Gospel.

Rather than focus on the first part of the chapter, I think we should remember this last part in our dealings with settings and contexts with which we are unfamiliar.  Rather than cut off funding, wouldn't it be wonderful if GBGM decided to be all things to all people, so the gospel could be preached and lived in the nations of east Africa?  Wouldn't it be nice if it found ways to work with and around local conditions that create barriers for the kinds of accountability controls other areas consider necessary?  Rather than demand the churches in east Africa conform to a set of standards that would be impossible to apply, wouldn't it be nice if GBGM thanked the accountants for their work, sat down with the Bishop and the pastoral and lay leadership in east Africa and said, "What do we need to do in order more effectively to do the work of the United Methodist Church?"

That would take humility, though.  And wisdom.  A smattering of cunning, certainly, as well as a heaping dose of leadership.  This year has demonstrated an abundant lack of these virtues among "the leadership" of the United Methodist Church.  So, we surrender the ministry of the church in east Africa to the bean counters (I keep picturing the teacher in the film version of Pink Floyd's The Wall for some reason).  Rather than work with them both to get them the funds they need to do their work but also to start to put in place those "internal controls" about which they seem so concerned, we're just going to punish the churches and the people they serve.


Virtual Tin Cup

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