Methodists Gone Wild

Methodists Gone Wild May 7, 2024

The United Methodists were willing to break their church for the cause of homosexuality.  To clear the way, they got rid of their American conservatives and denied their African members the right to vote.  Thus liberated, they are going even further, to the point of accepting all extramarital sex.

Methodists have long been known for their strict personal morality, thanks to John Wesley’s focus on the “methods” of the Christian life and his strong emphasis on sanctification.  So even after the United Methodists joined the other mainline Protestant denominations in embracing liberal theology, they continued to hold on to traditional morality.

But today in progressive circles the one moral imperative that overrules all others is embracing the LGBTQ agenda in its entirety. But the Methodist Book of Discipline teaches that sex is reserved for marriage and specifically rejects homosexual behavior.  Furthermore, it forbids the ordination of ministers who are practicing homosexuals.  All single ministers are required to be celibate.

Progressives kept trying to change those rules but always got outvoted in the church conventions by an alliance of traditional American Methodists and the Methodist delegates from Africa.

So in 2019, the church leadership held a special General Conference meant to resolve the controversy over sexual issues.  But 53% of the delegates voted it down.  Not only that, they passed a measure increasing the penalty for ministers who violate existing church law by, for example, performing same-sex weddings.  So the progressives put forward a plan to allow American congregations to leave the denomination, sweetening the deal by allowing them to keep their property.  The traditional Methodists agreed.  Usually, the majority stays and the dissenting minority leaves.  But, for reasons I don’t understand, in this case those who rejected the laws of the church body got to keep the institution, while those who wanted to uphold those laws were the ones who left.

Under the terms of the disuniting, congregations that wanted to leave with their property had four years to do so.  During that period, which ended in 2023, 7,670 congregations left, constituting 25% of the denomination.  Not all of the conservatives left, and the 53% who voted to keep the traditional teachings included the delegates from the African churches.  Most of those who left are organizing themselves into the Global Methodist Church, though some are now “non-denominational.”  (By comparison, the LCMS has some 6,000 congregations.)  At its heyday a few decades ago, there were 11 million Methodists.  After a long slide and after this recent exodus, today there are about 4 million.

Now what’s left of the United Methodists had their first General Conference after the split.  Meeting in Charlotte, NC, on April 23-May 3, the church body, purged of its conservatives, had free rein to make all the changes the progressives wanted.

In another bit of luck for the progressives, a quarter of the African delegates were unable to get visas.  This doubtless helped to pass a new restructuring plan that, in effect, disenfranchised Africans from voting on matters pertaining to the American church.  By getting rid of the Africans, the American progressives will presumably be more free to pursue their other cause of anti-racism and critical race theory.

The move was dressed up, of course.  This “regionalization” of the church will let the different global regions set their own rules and have their own Book of Discipline.  Here is how the supportive Religious News Service describes it:

The top legislative body of the United Methodist Church passed a series of measures Thursday (April 25) to restructure the worldwide denomination to give each region greater equity in tailoring church life to its own customs and traditions.

The primary measure, voted on as the UMC General Conference met at the Charlotte Convention Center in North Carolina, was an amendment to the church’s constitution to give equal standing to its worldwide regions, including Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the United States.

According to the plan, each region would be able to customize part of the denomination’s rulebook, the Book of Discipline, to fit local needs. While church regions in Africa, the Philippines and Europe have already enjoyed some leeway in customizing church life, the United States has not. . . .

The restructuring would allow the regions to set their own qualifications for ordaining clergy and lay leaders; publish their own hymnal and rituals, including rites for marriage; and establish its own judicial courts. A new Book of Discipline would have one section that could be revised and tailored for each of the four regional conferences.

Thus the Methodists are using the language of anti-racism–“to give each region greater equity“–in order to give more freedom to the Americans! (The other regions “have already enjoyed some leeway in customizing church life,” but “the United States has not.”)

Mark Tooley, an evangelical Methodist, has published an article in World entitled The Methodist Sexual Revolution, in which he describes how the newly unbound General Conference has gone beyond its original LGBTQ agenda to liberalize other aspects of Christian sexual morality.

Not only did the delegates vote to remove homosexuality as a reason why a minister might be removed.  It went on to remove as disqualifications for ministry the other sexual offenses, taking out the prohibition of “immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage.”  That’s only fair, I suppose.  If gay clergy can have sex outside of marriage, why shouldn’t heterosexual clergy?  Why should they be celibate in singleness?  Why should they have to be “faithful in a heterosexual marriage”?

The conference passed a measure allowing for same-sex marriage, as expected, as well as removing the statement that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian  teaching.” But it also adopted a statement  that celebrates how sexuality is “expressed in wonderfully diverse ways.”

Specifically, we “affirm human sexuality as a sacred gift and acknowledge that sexual intimacy contributes to fostering the emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being of individuals and to nurturing healthy sexual relationships that are grounded in love, care and respect.”  The only moral guidance comes in this statement:  “We affirm the rights of all people to exercise personal consent in sexual relationships, to make decisions about their own bodies and be supported in those decisions.”

Comments Tooley, “This United Methodist General Conference was widely expected to delete church disapproval of homosexual behavior.  But most people likely were not expecting the church to delete opposition to adultery and extramarital sex.”

Furthermore, Tooley says, “Progressives are also successfully rolling back longstanding language on ‘respect’ for the ‘unborn child’ and ‘promoting the diminishment of high abortion rates.’”

At the end of the conference, the progressives celebrated while African delegates protested outside.

 

Photo by David Prasad from Fresno, CA., United States, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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