What Do United Methodists Believe? (Part II) By Thomas Lambrecht

What Do United Methodists Believe? (Part II) By Thomas Lambrecht

A recent survey by United Methodist Communications indicated 44 percent of grassroots United Methodists consider themselves theologically conservative/traditional. At the same time, 28 percent identified as moderate/centrist and 20 percent as progressive/liberal.

In a previous blog, I examined the implications of this finding. Last week I delved more deeply into specific beliefs United Methodists hold about Jesus Christ, who is the center of our faith. Today, I want to look at some other Christian doctrines and what United Methodists believe about them.

The Bible

What do United Methodists believe about the Bible? The survey posed a number of statements about the Bible, from which respondents had to choose one. Three of the statements emphasized the divine origin of Scripture, with different levels of trust in the specifics:
“The Bible is the actual word of God and should be taken literally.”
“The Bible is the inspired word of God with no errors, some verses symbolic.”
“The Bible is the inspired word of God with some factual or historic errors.”
Traditionalists were nearly equally divided between these three statements (30, 28, and 30 percent). Moderates decisively preferred the third statement (47 percent), while 15 percent approved the first statement and 26 percent the second. Liberals also preferred the third statement (37 percent), while distancing themselves from the first statement (4 percent) and moderately supporting the second (22 percent).

Strikingly, 88 percent of both traditionalists and moderates affirmed the inspiration of Scripture (approving one of the above three statements), while only 63 percent of liberals did.

One-third (34 percent) of progressives supported the human origins of the Bible by affirming one of these two statements:
“The Bible is not inspired. It tells how writers understood the ways and principles of God.”
“The Bible is just another book of teachings written by men.”
Less than ten percent of moderates and conservatives agreed with either of these statements.

The significant minority of progressives holding a low view of Scripture’s inspiration fits with the finding that only six percent of progressives chose Scripture as their most authoritative source in personal theology.

Encouragingly, only one percent across the board of all United Methodists thought that “the Bible is an ancient book with little value today.”

What is salvation?

As expected, 89 percent of traditionalists believe that “salvation is being saved from the righteous judgment of God,” while 80 percent of moderates and only 69 percent of liberals agreed. Fully 31 percent of liberals (and 20 percent of moderates) believe that “all people will die saved.” This strain of universalism is not consistent with our Wesleyan theology and acts as another brake on evangelism. (If everyone will be saved, there is no urgency to proclaim the Gospel.)

Disturbingly, only 33 percent of conservatives and 15 percent of liberals believe that “salvation is through faith alone,” while 67 percent of conservatives and 85 percent of liberals believe “salvation is a combination of faith and what we do in this world.” Salvation by faith alone is a cardinal doctrine of the Reformation, of which we recently celebrated the 500th anniversary. As Protestants, we believe that good works follow from faith, but they do not contribute to our salvation. That depends upon faith in Jesus Christ alone, through his death and resurrection.

The influence of American evangelicalism on United Methodism is seen in the fact that 41 percent of conservatives believe that “once you are saved, you are always saved.” One-third of liberals and 37 percent of moderates agreed with this statement. One of the primary distinctives of Wesleyan theology (in contrast to today’s more common Calvinist theology) is that “a person can fall away and lose their salvation.” “Backsliders” (as they were once called) can return to faith through repentance and once again be in right standing with God. But it seems on this question many of our members are more Calvinist than Wesleyan.

Another cardinal Wesleyan doctrine is that “God’s grace is available to every person.” Our people have gotten that message, as it is affirmed by over 95 percent across the board. Mystifyingly, while 97 to 99 percent of moderates and conservatives believe in God as “creator of heaven and earth,” only 87 percent of progressives affirmed that statement.

Unsurprisingly, 91 percent of conservatives believe in a literal heaven, in contrast to 73 percent of progressives and 80 percent of moderates. At the same time, 82 percent of conservatives believe in a literal hell, in contrast to only 50 percent of progressives and 67 percent of moderates.

These beliefs about salvation do influence how effectively local churches proclaim and live out the Gospel. If everyone will be saved, there is no urgency or even any point in trying to get non-believers to believe in Jesus. The belief by supermajorities that “what we do in this world” impacts our salvation plays into the American emphasis on doing, rather than being, and upon the idea that we in some sense earn our own salvation. The prevalence of “once saved, always saved” thinking minimizes the need to authentically live out our faith and continue growing in our faith. Yet, even these three beliefs are contradictory, meaning that we have not helped our members think through a coherent and consistent theology of salvation.

Conclusion

The survey questions were not worded as carefully as I would have liked. Multiple interpretations of some of the questions could easily have somewhat distorted the results. However, taken together, I think the survey results show a clear theological difference between conservatives and liberals in general. Sometimes, moderates fall in the middle, but on many questions, moderates are closer to traditionalists in their views. It is this underlying theological difference that accounts for the depth of disagreement in our denomination. One might almost say that different groups in our church are operating according to different theological worldviews or different doctrinal systems. There are very few of the questions on which there is theological agreement.

Where there is much agreement and a small number of areas of disagreement, it is easier to preserve an overall unity and “agree to disagree” on those few issues of disagreement. However, where the disagreement seems clear and widespread over many issues, it is much more difficult to preserve unity. That is the situation that faces our church today.

The survey also makes it clear that systematic, clear teaching of United Methodist doctrine and theology is sorely needed in our churches. Perhaps we tend to focus so much on preaching and teaching that hits the “felt needs” of our people that we forget about the importance of laying the theological foundation on which the more practical teachings of the faith are based. And we have forgotten how practically relevant those foundational teachings really are. Our church’s ministry needs more theological depth.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.

What Do United Methodists Believe? (Part I) by Tom Lambrecht

A previous “Perspective” blog called attention to a survey conducted by United Methodist Communications that indicated 44 percent of grassroots United Methodists consider themselves theologically conservative/traditional. At the same time, 28 percent identified as moderate/centrist and 20 percent as progressive/liberal.
This finding runs counter to the narrative that the “vast majority” of American United Methodists are moving in a more progressive direction, particularly on issues like marriage and sexual ethics. While the survey did not include questions specifically related to the denomination’s current controversy, the results pointed to a substantially conservative theological foundation for United Methodism in the U.S. Even when there is a clear difference between conservatives and liberals, a majority of liberals often affirm a traditional theological perspective. (Of course, one wonders if people might be using the same words, yet defining them differently based on different doctrinal perspectives.)
The online survey was aimed at laity who were members or regular attendees of United Methodist churches in the United States, but who do not serve as local church leaders. As such, the survey attempted to reach the ultimate “grass roots” of the church in order to gauge their beliefs on a number of theological points. Previous surveys have found that the farther up the “ladder” from the grass roots membership into the leadership of the church one ascends, the more theologically liberal are the beliefs people hold.
Who Is Jesus?
The most important aspect of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ. Orthodox Christian doctrine answers the questions Who is Jesus and What did Jesus do? Over 92 percent of United Methodists of all theological stripes believe that “Jesus was a real person who actually lived.”
When asked if Jesus was “the son of God?” 98 percent of conservatives believed so, compared to 82 percent of liberals (moderates were at 92 percent). At the same time, nine percent of both conservatives and moderates said “Jesus was only human and not the son of God.” (The numbers do not add up properly here, so the results may not have been accurately reported. Alternatively, some may have answered both “yes” and “no” to the son of God question.) Notably, 16 percent of progressives asserted that Jesus was only human. This is a small percentage and reflects a relatively high view of Jesus Christ even among United Methodist progressives.
More than 35 percent of liberals thought “Jesus was only a religious or spiritual leader.” While 21 percent of conservatives and 23 percent of moderates agreed, 25 percent of liberals thought “Jesus was a great man and teacher but not divine,” compared with 20 percent of moderates and 15 percent of traditionalists. These answers do not fit well with the answers to the previous question “Was Jesus the son of God.” One can only assume that many members have only a fuzzy idea of what it means to call Jesus “the son of God.”
Strikingly, 48 percent of progressives thought “Jesus committed sins like other people.” One-third of conservatives and 38 percent of moderates agreed.
Fully 82 percent of conservatives believe “Jesus will return to earth someday.” Only 66 percent of liberals agreed, as well as 76 percent of moderates.
Finally, 94 percent of conservatives believe Jesus was conceived by a virgin. Only 68 percent of liberals agree, along with 82 percent of moderates.
The inconsistent answers to these questions about Jesus indicate we may not have done a very good job as a church of teaching our doctrines. Our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith teach that Jesus was indeed the son of God, that he is divine, conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and that he will return again to earth. And the Bible clearly states that Jesus did not sin (II Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, I Peter 2:22).
What did Jesus do?
Nearly all (98 percent) conservatives believe that “Jesus died on the cross to reconcile us with God,” while 96 percent of moderates agreed. By contrast, 84 percent of progressives affirmed that statement. The overwhelming majority of conservatives (95 percent) affirmed that “Jesus died so we could have eternal life” – 90 percent of moderates agreed, while 82 percent of liberals agreed. Disappointingly, 18 percent of liberals affirmed, “Jesus’ death has no impact on my eternal life.”
Not surprisingly, 86 percent of traditionalists believe “the only way to salvation is through a relationship with Jesus.” Only 64 percent of moderates and 54 percent of liberals agreed. More than 35 percent of moderates and 46 percent of liberals believe “there are ways to salvation that do not involve Jesus.”
In accordance with an orthodox perspective, 98 percent of conservatives “believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.” Meanwhile, 90 percent of moderates and 81 percent of progressives believe in Jesus’ bodily resurrection.
Here again, the official teachings of our church affirm that Jesus died on the cross to reconcile us with God, so that we could have eternal life. Our teachings hold that Jesus bodily rose from the dead, and that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. The divergence indicated by the survey answers pinpoints a need for clearer teaching of the main essentials of our faith.
The fact that so many moderates and progressives believe in multiple ways of salvation is a key factor in the decline of evangelism in the church. Why focus so much on Jesus if he is not essential to our salvation?
Conclusion
There is nothing more at the heart of our Christian faith than our understanding of who Jesus is and what he accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection. It is encouraging that super-majorities of United Methodists hold to orthodox, traditional theological understandings.
Still, significant minorities of our members believe that Jesus is not God, calling into question the Trinitarian heart of our faith. This includes a significant number of progressives denying the virgin birth of Christ (one of the articles of the Apostles’ Creed). Large numbers think that Jesus committed sins, just like the rest of humanity. And significant percentages do not believe Jesus will return to earth someday (another article of the Apostles’ Creed).
Next week, we will look at other beliefs of grass-roots United Methodists.
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. 

2019 General Conference Stands Firm on Biblical Teaching

2019 General Conference Stands Firm on Biblical Teaching
March 2019

Dear Renew Network,

During the days just prior to the 2019 General Conference, one African woman pastor declared, “We are here to give the church back to Jesus.” And so they did. For without their strong support of orthodox, evangelical Christians, the One Church Plan would have prevailed. Instead, the church passed the Orthodox Traditional Plan.

Many were disappointed with bishops who did not move the process along, which in turn left no time to adopt petitions which would have addressed some of the unconstitutional issues cited in an earlier Judicial Council ruling. And yet much was accomplished. Important loopholes were closed and standards strengthened, including those for ordained ministry.

An explicit prohibition was passed that will limit candidates for ordained ministry to those individuals who will uphold our standards as stated in the Book of Discipline. Additionally, Bishops will not be able to dismiss complaints arbitrarily. A gracious exit plan was passed. But time ran out before it was perfected. Still the will of the body was made known.

There were important amendments that were not allowed to come before the body due to stalling. There is much work that will need to be done between now and the 2020 General Conference. But that does not diminish what can be celebrated. The One Church Plan did not have the votes to pass. It was not affirmed by the majority of delegates. This is remarkable given the time and energy the Council of Bishops and Uniting Methodists put into passing it. Their claim that it had overwhelming support was proved wrong.

We can rejoice that the Book Of Discipline will be strengthened; the definition of marriage will not change; our churches still officially cannot hold same sex weddings, and the ordination standards have been made stronger. For a more detailed account of what was passed and not passed click here and here.

What has divided the church is bigger than the issue of inclusion of LGTBQIA persons. The issue that has divided United Methodists is deeply theological and spiritual. Leading up to and during the conference, there had been much talk of ‘unity’ and ‘love’ by the centrists and progressives. They thought they had the moral high ground. But did they? It turned out that their understanding of both love and unity was built on sand and not a rock solid understanding of God or Scripture.

Dr. Luther Oconer, a Filipino who teaches at United Theological Seminary spoke at a dinner the night before the conference began. He reminded us that there is no real unity without obedience. Oconor also drew the connection between obedience and holiness. He made a powerful point when he remarked, “Promoters of the OCP argue for a diversity of practices…on human sexuality.” He went on to say that they want diversity in unity, but fail to realize that what we practice is tied to deeply held beliefs that define who we are as Methodists: beliefs that “run to the core of our understanding of sin, grace, justification, and sanctification.” The progressive position makes no sense because, “…by allowing different approaches to marriage and ordination based on context, we will have already undermined the very essence of what makes us Methodists…It is tantamount to surrendering our spiritual identity to the dictates of the world.” For Oconor’s entire address, click here.

Our Centrist and Progressive brothers and sisters seemed to have forgotten or failed to comprehend that obedience is necessary to unity and holiness. Unity cannot be achieved if we discard the beliefs that define who we are. They asked all United Methodists to accept the demands of the LGTBQIA community and get back to the Great Commission and the business of making disciples – a goal they thought all Methodists could share. But as Dr. Richard Ramos has shown, mission cannot be successful without obedience, because here too, authentic mission must abide by the words of Jesus who tells us not only to go into all the nations, not only to baptize but to teach them to observe ALL things He has taught. Again, obedience is key to mission.

Most importantly, obedience is also essential to the understanding of real love. Jesus tells us in John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commandments.” John’s letters tell the early church that love is obedience to ALL that God has commanded. Love distinguishes Christians from the world. Throughout John’s writings, he expounds on love. John makes it very clear in his second letter the sixth verse, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments.”

It is a shallow love that is defined by merely granting what a person wants. It is a dangerous love that misrepresents and blesses what the Word of God does not affirm. For love separated from obedience to all “that is written” is not love. It is self-centeredness in the name of a shallow love that is neither of the spirit nor of the truth. As Cara Nicklas, a delegate from Oklahoma wrote, “Proponents of the OCP argued simply that their plan promoted ‘love for one another’ implying the Traditional Plan did not. Their ‘Love’ is viewed as acceptance of any and all sexual behavior. If it feels good, do it.”

Unity, holiness, mission and love are unobtainable without obedience. Rev. Kenneth Levingston reminded delegates that Methodism is known for its faithfulness to scripture and its emphasis on the way of holiness. Levingston also admonished us not to go back to the bondage that does not honor God. He was referring to those who have taught the church to go after the flesh and not the Spirit.

The Traditional Plan was passed. Traditionalists believe LGTBQIA persons are loved by God. They are welcome in our churches. They are loved with a love that has not been severed from obedience to all that Jesus has taught.

Immediately after the close of the conference, a friend and I found ourselves in a conversation with a female bishop. She accused us and other traditionalist of wanting to throw her out of our denomination. My friend gently reminded her that she knew what the UMC stood for when she vowed to uphold and guard those beliefs. We must remember that the bishop and other like her appeared to be in shock because the OCP did not pass.

Since then, many progressive bishops and denominational leaders have made any number of accusations to the motives of traditionalists. Some have vowed in print to continue to disregard our Book of Discipline and work for full inclusion of all LGBTQIA persons.

It should be remembered that traditionalists have been faithful to the Word of God and the Book of Discipline. Progressives have put us in schism. Dr. David Watson, professor at United Theological Seminary, puts it very strongly, “For years now I have believed we are not functioning as a single denomination. Once bishops started openly to violate the decisions of the General Conference, it was essentially all over. The 2019 General Conference simply held up in dramatic fashion what has become increasingly clear to many: the divisions are so great that we cannot hold them within a single denominational container.”

If the OCP had prevailed, our church would indeed be in bondage to the demands of our culture. The church would have rejected real unity, true holiness, authentic mission and perfect love. But instead, the conference upheld what in Jesus’ words, has been true “from the beginning.” Rev. Levingston passionately reminded the delegates at a Good News breakfast that, “It is still written,” a reference to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24, “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Peter on whom the church is built put it this way, “The Word of the Lord endures forever.”

Of all the accomplishments and disappointments of this conference, the overarching fact remains – The Word of God and the Doctrine of Holiness were not abandoned by the majority of United Methodists.

I want to thank the network for your prayers and your gifts which made it possible for Renew to be represented at the 2019 General Conference. Work is already in progress for the 2020 General Conference.

In His Service,
Katy Kiser
Renew Network Team Leader

Faith in Africa by Dr. Jerry Kulah

The Faith Found in Africa
March 21, 2019 By Good News

The following remarks are from an address given at the Reform and Renewal Coalition Briefing Breakfast at the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis. Photo by Steve Beard.
By Jerry P. Kulah –

My dear brothers and sisters of The United Methodist Church from all around the world, I humbly greet you in the strong name of Jesus Christ!

We thank God for all who have participated in observing a sacred season of fasting and prayer as we have prepared for this special General Conference session. And we praise God that there are thousands upon thousands still on bended knees interceding on our behalf as we make a defining decision regarding the future of The United Methodist Church.

I thank God for his precious Word to us, and I thank him for you, my dear sisters and brothers in Christ.

As the General Coordinator of UMC Africa Initiative I greet you on behalf of all its members and leaders. We want to thank the Renewal and Reform Coalition within the United Methodist Church for the invitation to address you at this important breakfast meeting. Kindly join me in reading God’s Word as recorded in the Gospel of John 8:31-32: “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

As I understand it, the purpose for which we have gathered this week, and the plans before us as delegates seek to find a lasting solution to the long debate over our church’s sexual ethics, its teachings on marriage, and it ordination standards.

This debate and the numerous acts of defiance have brought the United Methodist Church to a crossroads, as it were in the days of the nation of Judah when they forsook the Lord. God challenged his people through the prophet Jeremiah to choose the ancient path and walk in it so that they might find rest for their souls (Jeremiah 6:16). Similarly, God is speaking to the People Called United Methodist to do likewise.

While there may be several plans before us, I would like to speak to just two of them. One plan invites the people called United Methodists to take a road in opposition to the Bible and two thousand years of Christian teachings. I submit to you that, going down that road would divide the church. Those advocating for the One Church Plan would have us take that road.

But I would like to call your attention to consider this other plan, the Modified Traditional Plan. This plan invites us to reaffirm Christian teachings rooted in Scripture and the church’s rich traditions.

It says, “All persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God,” that “All persons need the ministry of the Church,” and that “We affirm that God’s grace is available to all.”

It grounds our sexual ethics in Scripture when it says, the UM Church does “not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers [it] incompatible with Christian teaching.”

While “we commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons,” we do not celebrate same-sex marriages or ordain for ministry people who self-avow as practicing homosexuals. These practices do not conform to the authentic teaching of the Holy Scriptures, our primary authority for faith and Christian living.

However, we extend grace to all people because we all know we are sinners in need of God’s redeeming. We know how critical and life changing God’s grace has been in our own lives.

We warmly welcome all people to our churches; we long to be in fellowship with them, to pray with them, to weep with them, and to experience the joy of transformation with them.

Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning, or queer. We love them and we hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal.

And then please hear me when I say as graciously as I can: we Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to “grow up.” No!

Let me assure you, we Africans, whether we have liked it or not, have had to engage in this debate for many years now. We stand with the global church, not a culturally liberal, church elite, in the U.S.

We stand with our Filipino friends! We stand with our sisters and brothers in Europe and Russia! And yes, we stand with our allies in America.

We stand with farmers in Zambia, tech workers in Nairobi, Sunday school teachers in Nigeria, biblical scholars in Liberia, pastors in the Congo, United Methodist Women in Cote d’Ivoire, and thousands of other United Methodists all across Africa who have heard no compelling reasons for changing our sexual ethics, our teachings on marriage, and our ordination standards! We stand together!

We are grounded in God’s word and the gracious and clear teachings of our church. On that we will not yield! We will not take a road that leads us away from the truth! We will take the road that leads to the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world!

I hope and pray, for your sake, that you will walk down this road with us. We would warmly welcome you as our traveling companions, but if you choose another road, we Africans cannot go with you. I am sorry, we cannot!

The vast majority of we Africans support the Modified Traditional Plan for two very important reasons.

First, we believe it is clearly rooted in Scripture and the teachings of Christians in all times and in all places. It reaffirms our church’s belief that “marriage is defined as a sacred relationship between one man and one woman,” not between any two consenting adults.

Second, passage of the Modified Traditional Plan will keep far more United Methodists united as one church than any of the other plans.

I want to be united with my sisters and brothers in our global connection. I hope you want that as well. Let us all walk together in a church steeped in Scripture and the life transforming teachings of our church; because all scripture is God’s breath, and is useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness….” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Finally, I trust you will support a gracious exit petition, because, as someone has said, “It is better to be separated on truth than to be united on error.” Some Africans have been told that if a gracious exit petition is passed our evangelical friends in the U.S. will go their own way and no longer support efforts in Africa. That is not true; because Hudson Taylor once opined, “God’s work done God’s way never lacks God’s supply.”

Many of us in Africa have developed deep and long-lasting friendships with our brothers and sisters in the U.S. Those relationships will not be severed if a gracious exit petition passes.

Unfortunately, some United Methodists in the U.S. have the very faulty assumption that all Africans are concerned about is U.S. financial support. Well, I am sure, being sinners like all of you, some Africans are fixated on money.

But with all due respect, a fixation on money seems more of an American problem than an African one. We get by on far less than most Americans do; we know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So, if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birth right in Jesus Christ for American dollars, then they simply do not know us. Because, we know how to live on much, how to live on little, and how to live on nothing. Amen!

We are seriously joyful in following Jesus Christ and God’s holy word to us in the Bible. And in truth, we think many people in the U.S. and in parts of Europe could learn a great deal from us. The UM churches, pastors, and lay people who partner with us acknowledge as much.

Please understand me when I say that the vast majority of African United Methodists will never, ever trade Jesus and the truth of the Bible for money. We will walk alone if necessary, and yet we are confident the ties of Christian fellowship we have with friends here in the U.S. will not be severed even if they too must walk apart from a church that would adopt the One Church Plan.

We believe all local churches should be treated fairly and so we strongly support a gracious exit plan. Friends, not too long ago my country, Liberia was ravaged by a terrible civil war that claimed over 250,000 lives. And then we faced the outbreak of the Ebola virus that claimed thousands of lives. We are keenly familiar with hardship and sorrow, but Jesus has led us through every trial. So nothing that happens over the next few days will deter us from following Him, and Him alone.

We shall persevere in the race before us, “looking unto Jesus, the Author and Perfecter” of our faith (Hebrews 2:2-3). We shall remain steadfast and faithful. And some day we shall wear the victor’s crown of glory with our King Jesus! Come walk with us!

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the blessed Holy Spirit, Amen!

Jerry P. Kulah is the Dean of the Gbarnga School of Theology, United Methodist University, in Liberia.

Shifting Axis of Methodism

Shifting Axis of Methodism
March 21, 2019 By Good News 9 Comments

Children crowd a window to see inside Nazareth United Methodist Church in Kindu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS
By Steve Beard –

“I look upon all the world as my parish,” famously said John Wesley (1703-1791). One imagines he had no idea that the United Methodist Church – one very large aspect of his spiritual legacy – would be in ministry in 60 different nations around the globe.

Within the last 20 years, a notable shift has occurred from the UM Church being a declining North American-centric denomination (6.9 million members) to one that reflects a growing 40 percent of our membership (5.2 million) found on the continent of Africa. An additional 200,000 members are found in the Philippines, Europe, and Eurasia.

The trajectories of Methodism’s growth and decline in various time zones around the globe will continue to have massive implications for the future of the denomination. Those who have ignored the demographic shifts thus far are at a great disadvantage when it comes to interpreting the direction of contemporary Methodism.

The 2019 General Conference of The United Methodist Church was simultaneously translated for delegates in French, German, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and Swahili. The skilled bank of interpreters illustrate the unique international DNA of the denomination.

The Christian population in Africa in 1900 was 10 million. Currently, it is 631 million. For the first time in history, the African continent is home to the greatest number of Christians on the planet. There are more Christian hymns being sung on Sunday mornings in Swahili, French, and other languages spoken in Africa than in English.

In St. Louis, that new reality explains why a notable 30 percent of the 864 delegates are Africans – with 48 delegates alone coming from the North Katanga Conference in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And yet, that reality was never fully expressed because of visa issues for international delegates.

“Officially, General Conference was to have 864 delegates,” reported Heather Hahn of United Methodist News Service. “But of the voting delegates, 31 were absent, primarily because they were unable to gain visas.” That was announced in St. Louis by the Rev. Gary Graves, secretary of General Conference.

“Almost all annual conferences had at least some representation,” reported Hahn. “However, neither the two delegates nor the reserves in the East Angola Conference could obtain visas, the General Conference business office said Feb. 27.”

One assumes that all 31 of the missing international delegates will have their visa issues ironed out in time for the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis.

The percentage of international delegates will continue to grow as United Methodism grapples with issues of just representation. When the denomination meets next year, 55.9 percent of the delegates will be from the United States, 32 percent from Africa, 6 percent from Philippines, and 4.5 percent from Europe.

Quite simply, the energy, vitality, and growth within international Methodism is flourishing in different time zones, nations, and languages beyond the dominant American name brand Methodism of yesterday. According to the most recent statistics available from the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA), the shift will define the dynamic of Methodism.

• More United Methodists reside in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2.9 million) than in the Western, North Central, and Northeastern Jurisdictions combined (2.6 million).

• More United Methodists worship in Nigeria (520,212) than in all 12 states found in the entire Western Jurisdiction combined (295,308).

• Twice as many United Methodists worship in the western African nation of Cote d’Ivoire (677,355) as in Virginia (319,822).

• More United Methodists worship in Mozambique (136,707) than in Northern Illinois, which includes metropolitan Chicago (81,999).

The axis of Methodism is shifting. The unmistakable tilt of the sociological and spiritual reality found in the newly emerging United Methodist Church is found in African cities such as Harare, Lubumbashi, Abuja, and Freetown. These urban epicenters may be the next Londons, Bristols, and Epworths in a tectonic shift of Wesleyan leadership.

The United Methodist Church gained more than 143,000 members over the past few years. All of the growth, however, took place in two of the African regions: Congo and West Africa. Every other region of the world declined in membership. Congo gained more than 429,000 members. It is now the largest region in the church, exceeding even the Southeastern Jurisdiction. West Africa followed by gaining nearly 200,000 members, coming to over 1.7 million, making it the third largest region in the world, behind the Southeastern Jurisdiction.

This shift will cause many issues of tension to rise to the surface as different cultures make their voices heard. The comparative analysis between United Methodism in the Congo Central Conference and that of the Western, North Central, and Northeastern jurisdictions combined is worth revisiting. These three U.S. jurisdictions currently have a total of 23 bishops, compared to only four Congolese bishops.

That kind of unjust and lopsided representation within a power structure such as the Council of Bishops is in desperate need of rectifying. The 23 bishops from the three U.S. jurisdictions represent one bishop for every 113,735 members. For the Congolese, there is one bishop for every 749,811 members.

John Wesley’s declaration that the “world is my parish” has been a point of spiritual inspiration for generations in the Methodist movement. Today, it serves as a notable challenge for a denomination in dozens of nations. But it also serves as a compass for the course that United Methodism will take in the future.

Steve Beard is the editor of Good News.

Why is UMW Declining?

Bishops preside over a service of Holy Communion during closing worship at the United Methodist Women Assembly 2018 in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

By Katy Kiser –

In 1973, Response magazine, the official publication for the United Methodist Women (UMW), claimed the organization had 1.5 million members. Since that time, membership in UMW has declined at an alarming rate.

In 2012, the Women’s Division was granted independence from the General Board of Global Mission – and became the United Methodist Women National Office. The staff hoped their independence would bring new vitality and influence, but the organization has failed to curb its staggering membership loss.

Currently, less than half of the nearly 32,000 United Methodist congregations in the United States have a UMW unit. (It should be noted that UMW identity carries a different sense of spirituality and fellowship outside the U.S.). Institutionally, UMW is losing members at five times the rate that the general church is losing female members. According to official GCFA numbers at the end of 2016, membership in UMW was only 438,543. The decline from 1.5 million to less than 450,000 is drastic. The signs are not looking promising. Within the last 10 years, UWM lost more than 200,000 members — nearly one-third of its membership.

What has contributed to this precipitous membership loss? Like the general church, it can be partially attributed to the death of its aging membership, which is not being replaced. But this is not the primary reason.

As Team Leader of Renew Network, the women’s arm of Good News, I get a steady stream of calls from women who voice concerns for the partisan politics, missiology, and theology coming out of the UMW National Office. It is in their voices that I find compelling reasons why eight out of every nine women in the United Methodist Church do not belong to or support the UMW.

It’s all Partisan Politics

“Can you help our United Methodist Women?” asked the woman on the phone when she called our office. “We don’t want politics. We want Bible study!”

By far the question most asked of Renew is, “What can you tell me about the politics of the UMW? The women of my church want to know.” These requests represent a concern that the leadership is predominately involved in community organizing, activism, and lobbying for specific left-leaning political outcomes.

The perception that UMW is political is supported by the United Methodist Women’s lobbying presence on Capitol Hill, which is run out of the UMW National Policy Office in D.C. as well as at the United Nations where they have consultative status. Women are invited to participate in political action through a number of venues.

On its website, it maintains a list of Action Alerts (currently 40+). These alerts give everything women need to call or write Washington and add their voices to support or defeat the positions that the National Office recommends. Rarely do these Alerts reflect the concerns or positions of moderate or conservative women. It disturbs these women when they hear the UMW staff claim to represent all women in the United Methodist Church.

The UMW National Office also sponsors Annual Social Action or Legislative Events in various states where women can gather to influence state policies as they relate to the justice priorities of UMW. This year, at the UMW 30th Annual Legislative Event in Austin Texas, the women partnered with Texas Impact, a progressive advocacy group. The UMW rarely if ever advocates for politically moderate or conservative public policy solutions.

The UMW National Office utilizes “Mission U” held in every conference each summer and a quadrennial national gathering know as “Assembly” to organize the women for action. At the May Assembly, women were organized to embrace their power to change our economy, our climate, women’s health, and the incarceration rate. The event held 54 workshops led by social activists – two of whom were co-chair persons for the 2017 Women’s March held the day after the inauguration – including the exceedingly controversial Linda Sarsour, a provocative Muslim-American activist.

Over the years, UMW’s political activism has been rooted in an unbalanced and strongly progressive perspective. Without fail, it advocates for public policies that call upon big government solutions to social inequality. Rarely do they consider unintended consequences or the possibility that government intervention can hurt instead of help. Social inequality has widened as the traditional family has weakened. But strengthening the traditional family is not a justice priority of UMW.

Becoming informed and participating in the political process is not at issue, nor is the importance of the church’s social witness. But when the work of the UMW clearly promotes policies that favor the legislative proposals of one party over the other, it leaves them open to the charge they are both political and partisan.

Partisan politics is not a recipe for growth. Nor is it a recipe for making disciples for Jesus Christ.

What is Mission?

The emphasis on activism and community organizing begs the question, “What is Mission to the United Methodist Women?” In a 2017 summer newsletter, Harriet Olson asked a similar question. She quoted an orthodox theologian saying, “Mission is following the Holy Trinity into the World.” She went on to say, “We hear and respond to the cries of the needy… and we root ourselves in the core of the message: to ‘love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength’ through faith in Christ and to ‘love our neighbors as ourselves.” Wonderful words indeed.

But it is not in these words that women question the motives or the mission of UMW; it is in the actions they take that women have asked, “Has the mission of UMW become a mere political vision for social justice as defined by progressive politics and in so doing neglected, if not lost, the gospel altogether?”

Is it possible to bring about the Kingdom of God by changing our social systems? The UMW National Office appears to believe it is. Why else would they put so much emphasis on one-sided partisan responses to all the controversial issues facing the United States? Politics, politics, politics.

At the 2012 and 2016 General Conferences, an individual submitted legislation to amend the Responsibilities of United Methodist Women in paragraph 1320 of the Book of Discipline to include the statement, “Encourage United Methodist Women in efforts to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to their local communities.” This petition would have required the incorporation of evangelism, central to the mission of the church. The UMW did not support the petition; it failed.

The UMW were not successful in their effort to stop a petition and a resolution to recognize and encourage women’s and men’s ministry independent of UMW and UMM. But they did insert the phrase “justice advocacy” into the resolution, signaling its continued commitment to their particular vision of progressive social justice.

Many women who believe Christ alone is unique and holds the keys to salvation and transformation of the soul realize the gospel has been sidelined. In its place, transformation of our “systems” and achieving human so-called justice based on material equality has become a substitute for the cosmic changing work of Christ on the cross.

This point should be remembered when we hear some bishops claim that all Methodists can agree to lay aside theological differences and organize around shared mission. The issues that divide us politically, also divide us theologically and lead us to different understandings of mission. The “social holiness” of John Wesley was a concept based on discipleship – not the partisan brand of “social justice” promoted by the UMW.

Radical Feminism and Other Theological Concerns

Theological concerns have also played a major role in the decline of United Methodist Women. In 2016, UMW Spiritual Life Study, The Bible and Human Sexuality came out; it was a focus at Mission U (what used to be known as the UMW School of Christian Mission). A female clergy friend and I decided to attend; we had read the book and had serious concerns. The author had reinterpreted scripture to justify a new understanding of biblical morality. We were hoping that Mission U, which reaches thousands of women each summer in each annual conference, would be more balanced than we had found the book.

Our hopes were not realized. An entire Saturday was spent deconstructing biblical teaching on sexuality and revising it to promote a new sexual ethic. This book turned the Bible’s teaching on sex before marriage, adultery, and marriage upside down. It undercut the Bible’s dichotomy between sin and righteousness by calling into question time-honored understanding of Scripture. Much of the revisionist questioning came out of the author’s claim that the Old and New Testaments were written in a time of male dominated society (patriarchy) and thus many of the injunctions of scripture are not applicable.

The participants were asked to accept not only the practice of homosexuality, but also a sexual ethic that would eliminate any scriptural boundaries on sexual practice other than “consent and safety.” We were asked to categorize our sexual experiences as positive or negative. We were told that the church needed to discard the marriage culture, because it condones harmful behaviors as long as they are within marriage and says nothing to singles, widows, and homosexuals.

To reinforce these points, we were shown a short film where Barbara Lee, a Christian feminist said, “To relate to each other as whole human beings, we need to develop and live by a Sexual Ethic that celebrates sex while treating it with moral integrity. An ethic that begins by recognizing that people of all sexual orientation and gender identities, of all marital status, and of all physical capacities, have the right to experience sex as a healthy and life-giving part of their existence.”

Sex was being taught not as a covenant between a man and a woman ordained by God, but as a “right” because it was God’s good gift, healthy and pleasurable.

In the early 1990s, the then Women’s Division was a major participant in the Re-Imagining Conference, which was initiated by the World Council of Churches and billed as a theological conference for feminist, womanist, and lesbian ideology. The conference created quite a stir in United Methodism.

The radical feminism and goddess worship that permeated the conference has not gone away in the decades since. In fact, the Sophia worship of the Re-Imagining Conference resurfaced in the 2017 UMW spiritual growth study titled, If Eve Only Knew: Freeing Yourself from Biblical Womanhood and Becoming All God Means for You to Be. The authors reinterpreted scripture beginning with the creation story where they reframe “Eve as a wise woman, the serpent as an agent of transformation, and the garden as a symbol of innocence that must be left behind to experience the complex fullness of life.”

The authors see the Bible as a “call of liberation.” They portray the Holy Spirit not as the Spirit Jesus describes in John 14, but as one that brings new revelation as society evolves. They see biblical teaching on sexual morality and purity as fear-based ideas that young women should reject. The authors believe the lack of feminine language for God promotes sexism. They encourage women to name God for themselves, because seeing God as “He” keeps the oppressive patriarchal systems in place.

Is it any wonder that some women have left their UMW units over serious theological concerns?

Good News for Women’s Ministry

At the same time that UMW has been declining, Christ-centered, biblically based, spirit empowered women’s ministry and mission has been thriving. This fact was recognized at the 2016 General Conference when paragraph 256 in the Book of Discipline was amended to officially allow and encourage women’s ministry alternatives to UMW. This addition to the Discipline has given women in the local church the freedom to expand their ministries in hopes of not only growing membership, but also with the goal of growing in Christ and offering him to a hurting and confused world.

Although the staff of the UMW National Office continues to claim that UMW is the only official women’s ministry in the church, this simply is not true. Women’s ministry in the church is not limited to UMW. Many women in the local church have recognized that unless we ourselves are transformed by and have a deep relationship with Christ, we cannot hope to further the mission to make disciples and transform the world. We cannot share what we do not have. The world does not need more of the world and its secular agendas. The world needs the transforming power of our Savior.

It was the power of Jesus Christ that inspired the women in Women’s Society of Christian Service and Women’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church both of which originated in the late 1800s. The torch that carried the light of Christ into the world by the courageous women of the predecessor organizations has been preserved in the work of any number of Methodist women in the church today.

These fore-mothers are claimed by UMW who trace their origin back to these early groups. But if these inspiring women were with us today, they would have much in common with the women’s groups who operate outside UMW. They too would most likely be concerned by the politicization of mission and revisionist interpretations of Scripture. Thankfully, new evangelical Wesleyan women’s voices have emerged within the United Methodist Church. Women who do not belong to UMW are attending various Bible studies, ministry programs, prayer groups where spiritual formation is faithful to Scripture. They participate in both local and global mission opportunities which take seriously the Great Commission that Jesus gave his disciples and subsequent generations.

With the new legislation passed at General Conference 2016, the future for women is bright despite the decline of United Methodist Women. 

Is the Traditional Plan Punitive?

While no one has explicitly told me that he or she thought the Traditional Plan is punitive, that appears to be an undercurrent of thinking among those who oppose the plan. One aspect of the plan is that it contains strict accountability measures for annual conferences, bishops, clergy, and members of boards of ordained ministry, with the expectation that they will “support, uphold, and maintain accountability to the United Methodist standards” barring the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals, the celebration of same-sex marriages, and funding that promotes the acceptance of homosexuality. Those unwilling to live within our church’s standards are encouraged to withdraw from the UM Church and form or join a self-governing Methodist church that reflects their beliefs and practices.

The purpose of the Traditional Plan is to restore the unity of the church, which is currently in schism due to nine annual conferences and two jurisdictions voting to reject our church’s standards. The current crisis in the church is prompted not by differences of belief, but differences of practice. There is room in The United Methodist Church for a variety of opinions on many subjects. But once the church has set a standard for how we live our life together in the Body of Christ, it is expected that everyone will live according to that standard, to the best of their ability.

There are two ways to rectify a situation where there are divergent practices that violate the standards or rules of an organization. One way is to change the rules to allow the divergent practices. This is what the One Church Plan proposes. The other way is to expect the organization’s members to live by its standards or find another like-minded organization. This is what the Traditional Plan proposes.

Secular organizations such as Rotary or Kiwanis expect their members to live by the rules of the organization. Those who refuse to do so are often asked to leave the organization. Without such accountability, the organization has no integrity.

United Methodist clergy promise to live by the standards set by the church. One of the qualifications for ordination is that candidates are willing to “be accountable to The United Methodist Church, accept its Doctrinal Standards and Discipline and authority, accept the supervision of those appointed to this ministry, and be prepared to live in the covenant of its ordained ministers.” When candidates come forward for ordination, they must answer, “Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity? Do you approve our Church government and polity? Will you support and maintain them?” They must also affirm, “Will you observe the following directions: … Do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake?”

The Traditional Plan is based upon the premise that clergy and bishops have promised to live by our church’s standards and should be expected to do so. In light of the fact that the church has been unwilling for over 40 years to change its expectations regarding same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT persons, clergy are expected to either live by them or seek another denomination that is more in line with their theology. After all, most active clergy today came into their status knowing what the expectations of the church are, saying that they agreed with those expectations, and promising to live by them. To refuse to do so now is a breaking of their promise.

While integrity would seem to demand those unwilling to live by the standards of the church should withdraw from ministry in our denomination and seek another in which to exercise their ministry, most have not done so. In fact, many progressives have defiantly stated that they will not leave the church, nor will they live by the church’s standards.

This puts us in a situation where, for the sake of the church’s unity and integrity, discipline must be exercised. That is why enhanced accountability measures are an integral part of the Traditional Plan. Without them, the church simply continues as it is now, with some parts of the church refusing to live by the church’s expectations. This is a state of schism, not unity, and it is leading to the disintegration and decline of the denomination.

By changing the rules to accommodate disobedience, the One Church Plan creates an expectation that individual conscience trumps the standards of the church. It sows the seeds of congregationalism and further disintegrates the unity of the church. One can only anticipate that the church will likewise accommodate other conscientious objections to church standards and practices in the future, perhaps in areas such as the payment of apportionments or belief in the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation.

The Traditional Plan believes we must share common practices as a denomination on matters that are distinctively connectional. These help to form our identity as United Methodist Christians. Matters of ordination, the sacraments, doctrinal standards, and essential moral teachings are practices that hold our denomination together. Without them, we become just a crowd of people without a shared identity.

Regrettably, because of the principled refusal by some in our denomination to abide by the shared practices established by General Conference as the only legitimate authority to do so, the only way to recover unity is to enhance accountability and request those unwilling to abide by those shared practices to withdraw from the denomination. The plan balances these stricter accountability measures with an open door for annual conferences, congregations, and clergy to leave the denomination without penalty.

The process for departure is simple and straightforward, without a lot of hoops to jump through. The financial obligations are minimal, seeking only to keep our promises to our retired clergy regarding pensions. And a suggested modification of the Traditional Plan provides for a one-time grant of $200,000 to any annual conference that withdraws in order to assist with transitional expenses. Those departing could even continue some forms of partnership and cooperation with The United Methodist Church, including joint mission work and continued participation in benefit plans through Wespath.

The Traditional Plan is not punitive toward those having the integrity to depart from a denomination that they can no longer support. The stricter accountability measures are only made necessary for those who refuse to keep the promises they made to abide by our polity when they were ordained as clergy and consecrated as bishops. This approach is the only way forward that will restore unity in our denomination in the years ahead.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. He also served as a member of the Commission on a Way Forward.

Responding to Mainstream UMC Talking Points

An organization formed to promote the One Church Plan (OCP) at the special called 2019 General Conference has recently issued a dozen talking points in support of the OCP. Some of those talking points are true and worthy of consideration. Upon closer examination, however, other talking points are either misleading or do not tell the full story. Here are responses to the talking points, quoted from Mainstream UMC.

  • The OCP is faithful to Scripture and the example of the Apostles in Acts 15 of allowing different practices in different mission fields.
The OCP changes the definition of marriage to “two adults” and affirms same-gender relationships. That can hardly be called “faithful to Scripture” (see Genesis 1:26-28; 2:23-25; Matthew 19:1-12; I Corinthians 6:9-11; Romans 1:21-27). The more applicable example from Acts 15 is the decision by Paul and Barnabas to honor each other as brothers in Christ, but separate to do ministry in different ways (vs. 36-41).
  • The OCP has been vetted by one of the most rigorous processes in our denomination’s history, a faithful, two-year study by the Commission on the Way Forward.
While the Commission did work on the One Church Plan, along with other plans, it never took a vote to endorse any of the plans. A lot of thinking and learning went into drawing up the details of all three plans, and they all benefited from that process. The Commission, however, did not endorse the OCP (nor either of the other plans).
  • The OCP has been recommended by nearly two-thirds of all active UM Bishops.
The bishops who endorsed the OCP were primarily from the U.S. According to the information we received, bishops from the central conferences outside the U.S. generally voted against the OCP. This appears simply to be a North American “solution” recommended to a global church.
  • The OCP allows different regions in the U.S. to adapt to their mission field.
One of the major shortcomings of the OCP is that it treats the disagreement over marriage and sexuality as a geographical problem, when it is really a theological problem. There are churches that would favor same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals in every annual conference. And there are churches in every annual conference that would find such an accommodation unacceptable. The OCP treats the minority position in any annual conference unfairly.
  • The OCP has no impact on the Central Conferences outside of the U.S.
The OCP changes the definition of marriage to “two adults” or qualified as “traditionally understood as a union of one man and one woman.” According to the Judicial Council (decision 1185), these definitions bind the church in its universal understanding of marriage and are not adaptable by central conferences outside the U.S. Our brothers and sisters outside the U.S. would be forced to live by and defend marriage as a union of two undefined adults. It is also unclear whether it is constitutional to allow different annual conferences to have different standards for ordained ministry – so can the central conferences really adapt the requirements of the Discipline to their own context?
  • The OCP retains the global structure of the church and shared critical ministries.
Both the OCP and the Traditional Plan maintain the church’s current global structure and ministries (different from the Connectional Conference Plan). Both plans, however, would need to recognize that significant structural changes would undoubtedly follow upon the loss of members, no matter which plan is passed. The Traditional Plan explicitly maintains a way for those departing the denomination to continue participating in the UM pension and benefit plans, as well as mission partnerships, support, and cooperation. The OCP contains no such provisions for any departing churches.
  • The OCP removes most of the controversial and hurtful language about LGBTQ persons.
While the language is controversial and perceived as hurtful by some LGBTQ persons, the church has been forced by progressive advocacy to clarify its understanding of the biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality. It is unfortunate that much of the prohibitive language in the Discipline was needed because of the refusal of some annual conferences, clergy, and bishops to abide by the teachings and requirements of the church. What is often interpreted as hurtful is not the language itself (which can be tweaked), but the basic position of the church that same-sex relationships are not congruent with God’s will for human flourishing. This is not a matter of removing language but of changing the church’s understanding of same-sex relationships.
  • The OCP protects the conscience of individual bishops, conferences, pastors, and churches.
These protections, however, are found in the regular part of the Book of Discipline that can be revoked by any future General Conference. In other denominations, when the affirmation of same-sex relationships has become the majority position, such conscience protections have been revoked. Some of those promoting same-sex marriage and ordination in our church have said they will not rest until such is affirmed by all parts of the church (including the central conferences outside the U.S.).
  • The OCP requires no votes by conferences or churches.
While not requiring votes, the OCP sets up a situation where inevitably many annual conferences and local churches would have to vote. Every time an openly gay or lesbian candidate for ministry comes up in an annual conference, the clergy session (or in some cases the whole annual conference) would have to take a vote on whether or not to ordain a practicing homosexual. Every time a gay or lesbian member or relative of a member wants to get married in a local church (using the church’s sanctuary), that local church would have to vote whether or not to allow the use of the church’s property in a same-sex wedding. Any annual conference that does not initially ordain practicing homosexuals will be targeted by progressive advocates to change their position, with resulting controversies and votes year after year until the position in that conference is changed.
  • The OCP is financially faithful to pension commitments for active and retired pastors.
The Traditional Plan is also financially faithful to pension commitments. Changes in the pension plan will be needed regardless of which plan passes General Conference. While the OCP envisions some local churches leaving the denomination, it provides no mechanism for churches to do so while keeping their property. This creates the conditions for unfair treatment of local churches by different annual conferences and the potential for widespread expensive litigation over property and trust clause issues.
  • The OCP puts an end to church trials.
  • The OCP holds the denomination together to Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.
The idea that the OCP will prevent a separation in the denomination is a fond wish, but not grounded in reality. In fact, the North Georgia Annual Conference, which is generally more conservative in its rural areas and more progressive in its urban areas, took a survey this year as to how people might respond to the passing of either plan. It found that 5 percent of its conference members would seek to leave the denomination if the Traditional Plan passed, while 26 percent would seek to leave if the One Church Plan passed.
It would be wise of the General Conference delegates to acknowledge that no matter which plan passes, a significant portion of our denomination’s membership is likely to depart. The delegates essentially face two decisions at the upcoming General Conference:
1)     Does The United Methodist Church want to take a traditional or progressive approach to the issues of marriage and sexuality in the years ahead (which will determine the identity of the denomination)?
2)     Will The United Methodist Church provide a gracious way for churches to depart with their property, while maintaining the financial integrity of the pension program?
Given that some amount of separation is likely to occur, will that separation be amicable or adversarial? Will local churches be treated fairly across all annual conferences, or depend upon the whim of their annual conference leaders and the individual circumstances of the church, creating the potential for widespread expensive litigation over property and trust clause issues?
 
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. He also served as a member of the Commission on a Way Forward.

General Conference Update

May 2016

Greetings Renew Network,

Since our beginning, Renew Network has sought to encourage women to know Christ and to make Him known through various outreach programs. As John Wesley told Thomas Coke when he departed for the American colonies, “Offer them Christ.” That mandate is just as true and important today as it was in the late 1700s. Unless we ourselves are transformed and have a deep relationship with Christ, how can we hope to further the Mission of the UMC to make disciples and transform the world? We cannot give what we ourselves do not have. The world does not need more of the world and its secular agendas. The world needs the transforming power of the Savior.

As Renew Network members, we need to keep these things in mind as we prepare for the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon the second week in May. Whether you will be in Portland or at home, I encourage you to pray for Renew and the rest of the Renewal Coalition. Several crises will be addressed at this GC. In this update, I will address the crisis of declining membership and equitable representation as it relates to the women of the church.

In 1973, the then Deputy General Secretary of the Women’s Division, Theressa Hoover in her article in Response magazine claimed that the United Methodist Women were a million and a half strong in the United States. As recently as 2003 when then Deputy General Secretary, Joyce Sohl gave her farewell address to UMW, the United Methodist News Service unofficially reported that UMW was one million members strong.  Actually, the official membership number for 2003 was 765,724.

In 2012, UMW membership was 528,156 women for a loss of 237,568 over a ten  year period. Furthermore, the independence granted to UMW at General Conference 2012 has not been able to stem the tide of membership decline.

The latest statistics (2014) from the General Council on Finance and Administration are extraordinary numbers.

In 2014, the United Methodist Church in the United States had around 7 million members, of which 4 million were women.  There were 480,000 women in UMW units in the UMC, which means that for every woman who belonged to an official UMW unit in the local church, there were seven women who did not.  Furthermore, the statistics show that since 2010 the UMW has lost 90,000 women and over 2,000 units/circles in local churches.  There were 32,408 churches in the US in 2014.  Less than half had UMW units.

It is also important to note that some UMW women and groups in the local church are in name only.  They do not use official program materials, the reading program and Bible studies developed by the New York UMW staff, and some do not support official mission giving. These women and units are nevertheless counted in the official numbers. When you consider those facts, the numbers from GFAC become even more sobering.

In 2010 the bishops and Connectional Table of the church commissioned an outside research company to come up with a plan to help the church be more effective in its mission and change the path of membership decline. The report was called the Call to Action.  It recommended effective practices and high-quality ministries for making disciples; it called for diversity and variety in the ways these practices and ministries are adapted in local contexts.

Even before the Call to Action, many of our local churches were following its suggestions for growth and offering vibrant and inspiring women’s ministry in addition to official UMW. In the UMC today, many women attend various Bible studies, ministry programs, prayer groups and participate in both local and global mission opportunities. New evangelical women’s voices have emerged. Indeed the recommendations of the Call to Action Project are being implemented in many local churches.

Many women in the local church have the freedom to expand their ministries in hopes of not only stemming membership decline, but more importantly, with the goal of growing in Christ and offering Him to a hurting and confused world. But at the same time, there are some churches that feel bound by the Book of Discipline to only participate in officially sanctioned ministries.

It is for this reason, that Renew has submitted to the 2016 General Conference two important pieces of legislation, a petition and a resolution calling for the church to recognize the reality in our local churches; that is: there are thriving vital alternative ministries to the official gender-specific ministries of UMW and UMM.

Pet 60614      Page 1038 of the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate – Supplemental Ministries                                                                                       

This petition encourages supplemental ministry programs for women and men in addition to United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men.

Pet 60844      Page 1050 of the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate –  Women’s Ministry                                                                                                   

This resolution lifts up the importance of women’s ministry in the local church and encourages local churches to provide supplemental women’s ministry programs that fit the unique needs of women in each church.

I encourage you to call and ask your delegates to General Conference to support these petitions for the sake of fulfilling the mission of this denomination. Please continue to pray for Renew, Good News and the entire Renewal Coalition.  Most of all, please pray that our denomination will not abandon our biblical standards, will strengthen accountability, and will adopt the plans and measure the Lord would have us to adopt.

In addition, please visit our Facebook page for the latest updates on denominational happenings.  In addition, the Good News website will have daily updates during General Conference. On this site you will find many new resources that include the third lesson of the Mirrors Bible teaching  by Jeannine Fogwell; A Call to Prayer also by Jeannine; and a  devotional by BJ Funk, Remember, O Lord, Your Great Mercy and Love.

Finally, to all of you who have invested in the work of Renew, please know that your gifts are very much appreciated. You have made it possible for me and others to attend GC 2016 and continue the on-going work of renewal as we follow Wesley’s admonition to “Offer them Christ.”

You can continue to stand with us by downloading and printing the Donations Form. Or you may designate a check to Renew Network and send to:

Good News
P.O. Box 132076
The Woodlands, TX 77393-2076
Fax: 832.813.5327

In His Service,
Katy Kiser
Renew Network Team Leader
renew@goodnewsmag.org