In the American Spectator, Mark Tooley discusses the recent General Conference of the United Methodist church in a piece called “United Methodists Transition from Liberal to Global.” The article’s main argument is not surprising in light of Mr. Tooley’s strongly conservative advocacy through the years. As often in the past, he says that liberal Western denominations are losing members fast because of their failure to teach a straightforward orthodox message, while Global South churches are growing and eventually will challenge or replace those Western institutions. In this article, he suggests that beneath the bureaucratic formalities of the Conference, we see “the ongoing empowerment of millions of African United Methodists. They represent surging global Christianity. But they also are salvaging what otherwise would be another dying American Mainline denomination.”
The basic argument, as I say, is not new, but the figures he uses to back it up are striking. He notes that today, the United Methodists have 7.5 million members in the US and 4.5 million overseas, with the Congo as by far the largest foreign branch. “With the U.S. church losing about 100,000 members a year (down from 11 million 44 years ago) and the African church gaining over 200,000 a year, the denomination likely will become a majority non-U.S. church in about 10 years or less.” That numerical change has enormous political implications, particularly for debates over sexuality. “A record 30 percent of delegates [at this year’s General Conference] came from Africa this time, up from 20 percent just 4 years ago (and 10 percent 8 years ago), … In 2016, the Africans will likely have about 40 percent of delegates.”
In so many ways, those overseas delegates have concerns very different from their US counterparts. Issues of sexual morality are the most widely reported, but religious conflict and persecution are also critical. Although Nigeria has a large Methodist community, Tooley reasonably complains that the Conference failed to address the recent upsurge of extreme violence and anti-Christian persecution in that country.
It looks as if the wars rending the Anglican Communion will have plenty of other global fronts.