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.