Can a Rebranded United Methodist Women Become Relevant to Women in the Global Methodist Church? By Katy Kiser
On May first, the Global Methodist Church became an official church. Methodist churches are making plans to move to the GMC from the United Methodist Church. The announcement of the GMC launch was made just hours after the Commission on General Conference announced that the 2020 General Conference was postponed for the third time to 2024. Lost in the wake of these announcements was the news that United Methodist Women were rebranding to become United Women in Faith. Why did this not become a major news item? Perhaps this news was lost in the excitement over the launch of the Global Methodist Church—that represents a movement with deep Wesleyan roots. It is solidly committed to scripture, as well as the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is a movement that is gaining momentum daily.
Historic Methodism will find a new home in the Global Methodist Church and its new Book of Doctrine and Discipline. The GMC already has plans to partner with Asbury Theological Seminary to plant new congregations and home churches. Truitt Seminary will join Asbury, United and other seminaries where the Wesleyan expression of Faith is training new pastors and church leaders for the today’s challenges.
Fortunately for Methodists, this movement has set before us clear goals to guide us through the troubled waters of separation and decisions that will need to be made. This movement offers all Methodists a new way forward that will balance personal and social holiness in a way that does not sacrifice one for the other. There will be an emphasis on conversion and mission based on the need of all people to know Jesus. It is out of this personal relationship that we overcome the bondage of sin and we see the social ills of society healed.
The new expression adds new voices to those that have called all Methodists to a faithful future. Together these voices are recovering all that is great about Methodism. In the words of Matthew Sichel in a recent article in Firebrand Magazine: “It takes the steadfastness of ancient orthodoxy, the truth of the Protestant Reformation, the power of the Great Awakenings, the purity of the Holiness movement, and the life of Pentecostals, and it brings them together into a wonderful and unique witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
As we step out of deep theological division and an unwillingness of many to abide by the UMC Book of Discipline, surprisingly, we find it is an exciting time to be a Methodist.
At the same time, the former UMW, now UWFaith, are moving away from the Methodist brand: in fact they have dropped the name “Methodist” altogether. They seems to be moving in a direction that is farther from what has made Methodism great. UWFaith acknowledges that the UMC will separate this year and face a change in the life of the church. They believe their new name will let women know they can remain even if their church leaves the UMC.
What will not change about the former UMW is their commitment to social justice. Social justice has been the guiding principle of what defined “mission” for UMW. For them, this has been best achieved through any number of political avenues. Since UMW became an independent agency of the UMC in 2012, they have continued to lobby every level of government and corporations. They have had consultative status with the UN. Their president states in her 2020 Reflection, “We are willing to urge our government or other governments to stop injustice or intervene for justice.” But whose justice—the world’s or God’s?
UWFaith make it clear that they will act for justice and transformed local and global communities. Looking over the UWFaith new website, we see a commitment to act on behalf of several justice issues including Climate Justice, Gender Inequity, Mass Incarceration, Voter rights, Voter Suppression, and LGBTQ+ full participation in the UMC. In all my many years of reporting on the UMW board meetings (20+ years), I have seen many justice priorities and political concerns come and go in UMW’s effort to transform the world. Why have their many well-intentioned efforts failed?
The UMFaith website states, “We Connect Spiritual Women to Act Boldly for Justice and Transform Communities.” Women may want to ask, with what will they impact communities—more political solutions? While their commitment to social justice remains clear, what they mean by “spiritual” and “faith” has become more vague. They state, “Our new name makes our organization more inclusive.” Judging from their mission goals as seen on the website and 2022 Assembly speakers, UWFaith will be as focused on the institutions of society as was UMW.
Meanwhile, the GMC states, “Our Mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly.” Recently Rev. Chris Ritter, who blogs at People Need Jesus reminds us that, “Methodists are conversionist. They represent a form of Christianity that calls people to a personal transformation and a deep experience of God’s grace marked by deep repentance and leading to new birth.” Mission for the new GMC will be built by Methodists who have personally experienced transformation and are ready to reach out from their encounter with Christ to, in Wesley’s words, “Spread scriptural holiness over the land.”
As we contemplate the re-branding of UMW, we should not overlook the reality that the UMW have faced for many quadrenniums, Women in the UMC have moved away from UMW. Membership has been declining at an alarming rate. According to the official numbers of the General Council on Finance and Administration, of the 3+ million female members in the UMC, less than 10% belonged to UMW in 2020. When we take into account that many vibrant independent women’s ministries continue to call themselves UMW and report to GCFA each year as UMW units, the decline is even more staggering.
We also see from the GCFA official statistics that becoming independent from the General Board of Global Ministries did not stop women from leaving UMW, nor is rebranding likely to stop their decline going forward after the separation of the United Methodist Church. The UWFaith’s mission which sidelines Christ, de-emphasizes personal conversion, and substitutes community involvement for the powerful impact of the gospel is simply not providing the spiritual formation that is necessary for real kingdom work in women’s personal lives, or their communities. And it is certainly not providing the transformation needed in the global arena.
This lack of participation in UMW does not show that women have moved away from being a powerful force in the local church. It does indicate that women are turning to more effective ways of reaching others with the love of Christ and doing the good work of the church. Grass-roots engagement is taking center stage and gaining momentum. Women are not interested in fighting for the social goals of a by-gone day. Women want to see the lives of those they love changed for Christ. They want to see real transformation in their communities, country and world. Aren’t we all tired of failed ideologies based on empty buzz-words and sound bites?
This begs the question, should the UWFaith be taken into the GMC? Renew cannot advise that it should. The UWFaith’s goals for mission and their guiding principles of mutuality, inclusivity, diversity, and theological pluralism will be at odds with the next Methodism. To take the goals that have caused irreconcilable division in the UMC would be at the least a distraction and more likely would continue to divide the church. One female pastor in North Carolina described the rebranding of UMW as just another “mask” a “nice front” to push progressive ideas on Christian women in the name of faith.
Since the official launch of The Global Methodist Church, the WCA held a Global Gathering. There women and Renew gathered together to discuss the future of women’s ministry in the new denomination that is poised ready to bring women’s ministry into a movement some are referring to as the next Methodism. A number of women’s ministries will be available that meet the needs of women in the Twenty-first Century. More will emerge as the Global Church gains momentum. Women will be growing in Christ, transforming lives and focusing ministry on making disciples of Christ through passionate worship, extravagant love and bold witness. Indeed it is an exciting time it is to be a Methodist.
2019 General Conference Stands Firm on Biblical Teaching
2019 General Conference Stands Firm on Biblical Teaching
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,
Renew Network Team Leader
A Call To Prayer for GC 2019
Team Renew invites you to join this Call to Prayer for General Conference 2019 provided by the Wesleyan Covenant Association of the Texas Annual Conference.You will find a new prayer each day on the Renew Facebook page.
The following is from the Call to Prayer.
John Wesley said, “I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions.”
General Conference is fast approaching, demanding the United Methodist Church to make decisions that will define our future as a denomination. (Renew and) the Texas Conference members of the WCA, want to urge all our members to be in prayer each day of February leading up to and immediately following General Conference.
To make that happen, we are equipping you with a daily scripture and a prayer.
You will find that these prayers have been written around nine themes:
Mission of the Church
Healing of Brokenness
Praying for twenty-seven days (through General Conference and the following day), we will pray each theme three times.
Please make this a part of your regular daily prayer time.
Thank you for your commitment to Christ and our beloved church as we pray our way forward.
Leaning into God’s future for us,