Could Diverse and Especially Female Clergy Be What Is Killing the UMC?

Could Diverse and Especially Female Clergy Be What Is Killing the UMC? May 30, 2017
The thorny issue of inclusive and female clergy
Photo courtesy of Ceative Commons license

A third reason the UMC is dying may be because of a thorny issue we don’t want to acknowledge: the decision to be more inclusive with ordination and especially bring female clergy to positions of highest leadership. 

After a one-year stint as a professional Mystery Worshiper, I would say that the LDS (Mormon) web presence is possibly the least visitor-friendly site I’ve seen. LDS services are lackluster, noisy and unprofessional without much music and no technological bells and whistles.

The messages are shallow and amateur at best, the dress code rigid, the women oppressed, and the moral life of their founder sets the standard as a sex-obsessed charlatan.

A tiny group of old men, to who expect complete and unquestioned obedience, make all the decisions that affect the worldwide church.

And the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) continue to show rapid growth and continued impact around the world.

Latter Day prophets
Latter Day prophets

By any standard, other than adherence to anything close to orthodox Christian theology, this is a thriving church.

What’s the deal?

Two things: organizational genius and a well-developed method of meeting one of the greatest of human needs: a sense of belonging both socially and spiritually.

The Mormon Organizational Genius

The Mormon church is a tightly run, autocratic institution. The twelve Apostles and Prophets make all necessary decisions, including coming up with any new revelations about Mormon doctrine which can be pretty fluid.

No democratic process to slow things down. No general or local conferences where everyone might have a say in the decisions. It’s tight and clean, well-funded and efficient.

There are no paid clergy or staff at any location. Various councils meet periodically and assign roles and responsibilities to the members. These assignments change frequently. No one gets stuck in any particular service position for an extended period.

The Sunday messages consist of “testimonies,” usually two per week, about twenty minutes each. These are also assigned.

Each ward, a defined geographical area, has its own Bishop who stays in office for about five years. He oversees the functioning of the entire ward. The extremely time-consuming job of Bishop carries no financial compensation.

Buildings are functional, spacious, and utilized by several different wards. Because Mormons are required to tithe, massive amounts of money flow into the central offices. The Mormon hierarchy uses this funds for rapid and worldwide expansion.

Those monies build the local meeting places. The central organization also fund all utilities and building maintenance needs.

I was unable to find any information about LDS finances on their official website, so I don’t know their yearly revenue. The Wikipedia article about LDS finances stated that “The LDS Church has not publicly disclosed its financial statements in the United States since 1959.” But they’ve got to be taking in billions every year.

Even without knowing the details, it is clear that such a structure frees the local gatherings from any fiscal concerns. Energy goes to building and expanding their communities.

Because the wards are arranged geographically, people attend services with those who live close to them. Children and youth see their church friends at their local schools.

There is no such thing as a mega-church where people come from extended distances for a worship show. They are there with their friends. Home groups are a piece of cake to set up. There is an active ethos of caring for one another. They are not alone.

No female clergy for the Mormons

From the time they are eight or nine years old, boys have an active role in the church services. They distribute the sacraments (pieces of white bread and cups of water) to the congregations.

Boys are ordained deacon at age 12, Young men can obtain full priesthood, the Melchizedek Priesthood, by age 18. At that point, they have the authority to give special blessings to family members and others and, under authorization of their presiding priesthood leaders, ordain other men to the priesthood.

The strongly encouraged two years of mission is the cornerstone of the community. Young men may begin their missions at 18.

The Mormons have just given young women permission to begin their years of service at age 19. Females used to have to wait until age 21. The older age limit effectively kept many from mission as early marriages are fairly common and very much encouraged among Mormons.

Those who go on the mission experience nearly total isolation from their families. The time way forces a deep enculturation into Mormon rules and regulations, doctrine and theology.

Above all, those on their mission learn to be obedient to their superiors in the church. It’s not an environment that they could easily leave upon their return.

No independent thought allowed

It is also not an environment that teaches or encourages independent thought. Those years of mission would function much like initiation rites into fraternities or shared combat experience among veterans. It binds them tightly to one another and to the church which sends them.

Add to this the extreme secrecy that surrounds the Temple rituals and the theology that says unless a woman is “sealed” in a Temple marriage, she will not have a place in the Celestial Kingdom. The combination of the two creates high in-group cohesiveness with multiple social benefits.

People always have a group to offer support and friendship. Furthermore, by means of their missionary training, pretty well every Mormon knows how to explain the basics of their faith and invite others into the church.

Outsiders see attractive, friendly, family focused, generally moral people. Behavioral standards are high: no alcohol, coffee, tea, (soft drinks are fine), or tobacco.

Although the LDS church no longer condemns outright those who experience same-sex attraction, sexual contact of any kind may take place only after marriage. Marriage may only be between men and women. Hence, the younger age of many Mormon marriages.

The fear of leaving

Also, the LDS church can and does excommunicate members for thinking and speaking outside accepted faith guidelines. When one’s entire social and support community exists within the Mormon culture, the threat of excommunication carries significant weight.

Although the excommunicated can still attend services, they may not partake in the sacraments or participate in any leadership role. This active shunning practice keeps people in the fold.

According to the 2006 church leadership handbook “formally joining another church constitutes apostasy and is an excommunicable offense; however, merely attending another church does not constitute apostasy.” Anyone aware of these rules will be extremely hesitant to investigate other religious traditions and beliefs, although there do appear to be growing numbers of disaffected Mormons.

So about the UMC and this inclusive female clergy thing?

In the years of retirement from being a United Methodist pastor, I’ve written many analyses of various fast growing church plants. United Methodists are certainly not among them.

I keep looking for the commonalities and why we United Methodists, with our rich theology of grace, structures of accountability and important connection and more open arms are seeing such serious decline.

Two reasons are obvious:

First, we’re fighting like cats and dogs over issues of sexuality which is really a fight over biblical interpretation. Fast-growing churches permit no discussion over fundamental interpretative issues. Either agree with what the powers have decided are right beliefs or get out.

Second, our bureaucratic structure is just about to kill us. We are incapable of making quick decisions. There are times when it appears that every single detail of every single proposal has to be debated by every single delegate at outrageously expensive conferences.

But a third may be the thorny issue we don’t want to acknowledge: the decision to seek diversity in ordination and especially to bring female clergy to positions of highest leadership.

Things change when women–or any previously oppressed group–take leadership roles. Our inclusive practices (unless, of course, someone happens to be the ill-defined “practicing homosexual”), may very much inhibit church growth.

Generalities about Female Clergy

I am speaking in generalities here, but want to start somewhere.

As a rule, fast growing church do not have female clergy.

Fast-growing churches tend to utilize hierarchical decision-making structures. Most women prefer collaborative decision-making processes.

Women show less interest in empire building–and that appears to be a major motivation in some of the fastest growing churches I’ve researched. Female clergy engage more in the healing of the world and with those on the margins.

Women don’t have as much access to the male-dominated uber-wealthy who often provide massive funding for the highly conservative, more rigidly dogmatic, churches. That limits the possibilities as well.

Now, these are just my initial thoughts.

I welcome all comments. I think we should talk about this.

Ultimately, I wonder if the question is: Do we want to have big numbers and lots of money and “success.” Or do we want to follow Jesus? Who, by the way, landed on the cross, abandoned by nearly all.

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  • chrobo42

    Women aren’t in many/any fast growing churches because they still don’t generally get assigned to them. It is still an good ol’ boys club in some respects. Also, there are parishioners who still will not accept women as clergy. Just because these things are true doesn’t mean we should not have women clergy. Instead, women need to be given the opportunities that are available to men to be appointed to larger churches and serve in higher leadership roles.Only when there is parity can we truly see how women fare. Until then, all comparisons are tainted by the good ol’ boy biases in the denomination. To blame friction in the church on the presence of women clergy is just wrong and quite sexist. (Just because a statement comes from a woman doesn’t mean it’s not sexist). it disturbs me that we are even having this conversation in 2017. Women have been ordained for over 60 years. That ship has sailed. We should be looking for ways to be MORE inclusive, not less so.

    • Linda Coleman Allen

      Well said. This is the best comment made at this time.

    • Al Cruise

      “all comparisons are tainted by the good ol’ boy biases in the denomination.” I agree with all you say. But until a much deeper problem is addressed there will be no change. That is literalist/fundamentalist views of the Bible. Take the TGC, I don’t see their influence ebbing anytime soon. People revere the likes of Keller, Piper, Mohler and Graham. They are the problem.

    • John Masters

      We have to look at this at a micro level in some sense. My home church, where my mother and a sister still attend, in a small town in the North Carolina has had two women pastors recently. One was just not a great pastor, and while I don’t think there was a significant decline in membership, it didn’t grow much. The female minister they now have is well-love, dynamic, a great preacher, and challenges them to be out in the community. They are not experiencing explosive growth…not enough people in that town for that, and most are already churched where they grew up. But they are experiencing some growth, a lot better attendance.

      The same is true for men in the church, and that’s our challenge. We have to look at each situation, not in terms of just membership growth, and it should apply equally to women as men. We need to care about whether the individual is having the impact we expect, and you are right, there is a difference in how men and women are viewed by the hierarchy and congregations.

  • Jim M

    Thank goodness for the final paragraph, which I think is the only question that REALLY matters. Unfortunately for the UMC and many other denominations, we’ve become so focused on the first that we don’t have time to pursue the 2nd, which in turn leads to poor performance on the first, and so on.

  • Spencer

    A few errors in this article:

    1. “The Sunday messages consist of “testimonies,” usually two per week, about twenty minutes each.”

    Not quite. Sunday messages are typically “talks” given by members of the ward. However, on the first Sunday of each month we have a “Fast and Testimony Meeting,” in which some members (voluntarily and at their discretion) bear (share with the congregation) their profession of faith (their “testimony”).

    2. “From the time they are eight or nine years old, boys have an active role in the church services. They distribute the sacraments (pieces of white bread and cups of water) to the congregations.”

    This is not correct. Young men help pass the Sacrament once they reach 12 years old (or older).

    3. “Those who go on the mission experience nearly total isolation from their families. The time way forces a deep enculturation into Mormon rules and regulations, doctrine and theology.”

    This is somewhat debateable. The “rules” to which missionaries adhere are *very* strict, but many of them end when the mission does. Mormons grow up with, and are expected to adhere to, more generalized “rules and regulations” from childhood and throughout adulthood. So mission life just adds some temporary strict rules, that’s all.

    4. “Above all, those on their mission learn to be obedient to their superiors in the church.”

    I think “obedience to the doctrines of the Church” would be much more accurate characterization.

    5. “It is also not an environment that teaches or encourages independent thought. Those years of mission would function much like initiation rites into fraternities or shared combat experience among veterans. It binds them tightly to one another and to the church which sends them.”

    I think the LDS Church does a very good job of establishing doctrines and codes of conduct based thereon, while simultaneously strongly encouraging its members to study on their own, and to also seek out opportunities for secular education. The notion that Mormons lack the ability for independent thinking is more of a snipe than a factual claim.

    6. “Add to this the extreme secrecy that surrounds the Temple rituals and the theology that says unless a woman is ‘sealed’ in a Temple marriage, she will not have a place in the Celestial Kingdom.”

    This is rather misleading. The requirement for marriage is not gender-specific. Men likewise must be “sealed” in order to attain the (highest level of) the Celestial Kingdom.

    7. “Although the excommunicated can still attend services, they may not partake in the sacraments or participate in any leadership role. This active shunning practice keeps people in the fold.”

    This is also rather misleading. The LDS Church certainly does not “shun” excommunicated people in any material sense. Such persons are actively encouraged to continue to attend Church. Members of the Church are taught to continue to offer love and acceptance and support to such persons. Such persons are also strongly encouraged to return to membership in the Church if they so choose. These measures are not aptly described as “shunning.”


    -Spencer Macdonald

    • Al Cruise

      “Men likewise must be “sealed” in order to attain the (highest level of) the Celestial Kingdom.” Totally false. As someone who has comforted the dying for many years and worked with others, who have done the same from many different faiths, your doctrine and many others from different faiths are completely false about what happens to someone after death. These doctrines are created to give the tribe a “false power” to wield over people, by suggesting they know what will happen to them after death.

  • Jonah Barnes

    (full disclosure: I’m a mormon) In the first portion of your article, you discussed how “shallow”, “amateur” and “rigid” the LDS meetings are. Yet in the last paragraph you contrast UMC with the “big number and lots of money and ‘success'” of the Mormons. The LDS Church is not a megachurch. There are not rock concerts on Sunday, which you point out yourself. So the Mormon Church isn’t sacrificing “following Christ” for “money and success”, like you present at the conclusion. If the LDS Church wanted money and success, then the first 100 years of it’s existence would be a failure. The real question, I think, is why does the LDS Church continue to retain membership and grow after 200 years of having the same “shallow, amateur and rigid” culture, while other Christian churches are declining despite their “doctrinally mature”, “professional” and “dynamic” cultures?

    • Greg Crofford

      Jonah, welcome! A few years ago, I made a fool of myself on a plane by getting into a very combattive theological conversation with two Mormon missionaries who were just coming back from a mission in South America. I cannot publicly apologize to those two young men, since I don’t have contact with them, so please receive my apology on their behalf. While I still have questions about how Mormon theology squares with the broad historical sweep of Christianity, I have respect for the kind of commitment that taking 2 years out between high school and university requires. The LDS has had some good ambassadors in the culture at-large, including “American Idol’s” David Archuleta, and (before him) the Osmond family. I encourage you every day to be a follower of Jesus Christ and to open your heart and mind to the light that only Christ can give. He will lead you in the path that you must follow, if you sincerely seek the truth (Acts 10).

      • Jonah Barnes

        What a kind thing to say! Don’t you worry about those 2 missionaries. We get a lot worse than an argument on a plane. We are used to it. I will try to be a better follower of the Son of God. I’m trying! You do the same, Greg! God bless!

    • John Masters

      I think you may missed the author’s point. It is not meant as criticism of the LDS church. His point, as I understood it, was that despite lacking all the flashiness of a mega-church service, they were growing, while mainline churches, like the UMC are declining in membership. But I will have to disagree about the money. The LDS does have very strict rules about tithing, and if you’re not giving what’s expected, you will get a visit from the Bishop.

      • Jonah Barnes

        That’s not at all her point. She contrasts “money and success” with “following Jesus”. It’s the crux of the entire article. And — again — you’re mistaken: “not giving what’s expected” will not mean a “visit from the Bishop.” The LDS Church does not have a paid clergy. Bishops are voluntary. The LDS Church is an island of volunteerism in an ocean of paid clergy-churches. You’re trying to make it sound just like the opposite. The LDS Church is a shining, lonely example of a church that DOESN’T care about money.

        • John Masters

          Ha ha ha…man. Join the LDS and don’t pay your tithe…see if you don’t hear from the local Bishop.

          • Jonah Barnes

            And here we are, ignorant, judgemental trolls telling other people about their church … I wondered how long it would take before someone told me they were the authorities on me. John Masters didn’t waste his time. Tell me what else I believe, John. Do I beat my wife, John? Do I hate Dutch people, John?

  • It’s not just that fast growing (conservative) churches have no room for gender (or heaven forbid, sexual orientation) equality in leadership roles, they also do not value higher education and independent critical thinking. They also frequently preach confoirmity to mainstream America’s militarism, exceptionalism, and capitalist consumer culture. If this is the recipe for growth, I’m sure Jesus is constantly throwing up. He told his followers that they would always be a little flock. Why then do so many churches put an emphasis on numerical growth? Could it be that they are not following the Way of Jesus?

    • Jonah Barnes

      But the data proves otherwise. The more education a Mormon gets, the more religious they are …

      • I was not addressing the first part of the post about Mormons. I was instead addressing the growth of conservative evangelical churches over mainline denominations. The common bekied is that you must be conservative to grow. A prominant evangelical scholar once said that the problem with the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.

        • Jonah Barnes

          I suppose my experience is very different. The common belief I’ve always heard was that you needed to be liberal to grow. That the world is progressing and churches will die if they don’t accommodate… ?

          • All churches are in decline, but the conservative churches are declining less than the mainline churches due to two factors: higher birthrate and more retention because they threaten hell if members leave. Younger generations are staying away and the perecentage increases with each generation. They see the church as judgmental, homophobic, anti-female, and generally intolerant. Conservative churches see the alternative as accomodation, while others see tolerance and inclusion as the Way of Jesus

          • Jonah Barnes

            What does the data show? Conservative Churches are younger:

            Why do young people, old people and all people remain more loyal to conservative faiths than liberal ones? If these faiths are so “judgemental, homophobic, anti-female and generally intolerant”, then why do they retain members young and old??

          • They are losing them but at a smaller rate than the mainline churches. As I said, fear is is great motivator.

          • Jonah Barnes

            So again — let’s keep this grounded in data. Conservative Churches are NOT ALL losing young believers at a “smaller rate”. (One very conservative church in particular, enjoys growth, not decline.) But your central point also is not based in any kind of data: that intolerance fuels the growth of conservative churches, even among youth. Conservative churches are retaining youth better — that’s supported by the data. The question is why? Because young people prefer the intolerant conservative faiths over the more dynamic, progressive and tolerant faiths? Is that your claim? Do you see the younger generation more strict morally and less accepting of minorities or the LGBT community? Are millennials less tolerant than baby-boomers? If you believed this, then it would follow that conservative, intolerant faiths attract like-minded youth. But if you think the millennial generation is MORE liberal and progressive and “tolerant”, then it makes no sense why they are in fact sticking with conservative churches…

          • Kate Johnson

            Because “intolerant” is extremely popular. It’s actually our “natural state”, requiring no supernatural power whatsoever. Numbers are meaningless. The true church, which is characterized by fearlessness, humility, love for others, even enemies, love and advocacy for “the least of these” and fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control), has never been “popular”. Far too radical for the mainstream. Church attendance is meaningless, without true discipleship. Much of the evangelical church has tainted itself with politics, caring seemingly exclusively about abortion and homosexuality, while swimming in a sea of cowardly mammon worshipers that are far more concerned with protecting their bloated consumer lifestyle and personal comfort than widows, orphans or refugees. Who’s sole aim these days seems to be “sanitizing the world for their protection”, in order to make it more comfortable for them to live here. Full of people deeply disinclined to sacrifice or suffer and with a “grace for me, law for everybody else” mentality, particularly those they don’t like or make them uncomfortable. I grew up in the evangelical church and today it looks nothing like the church I grew up in. Seriously morally compromised and tainted, but entirely blind to it. Too busy focusing on “other people’s sin”. It’s so much easier than self examination and repentance.

          • John Masters

            Check the Pew studies. They are not retaining the young in general. They do so at a slightly higher rate than the other churches, but even among those denominations, the rate of young people leaving is increasing.

            The conservative churches are growing because older people are leaving those churches which are becoming more welcoming, and moving to the conservative churches. Young people are leaving religion altogether. As the older, more conservative members die off, you’ll begin to see a decline in their numbers.

          • Jonah Barnes

            The Pew studies show conservative churches retain at a higher rate. The question is why? Your claim that OLDER believers are switching faiths is totally unsupported by the data… So on one hand you say older believers dislike the new tolerance, yet at the same time young people prefer it as well? You cannot have your cake and eat it to. Are young people more progressive and “tolerant” than their elders or not? You cannot say young believers prefer tolerance but prefer intolerant churches. That doesn’t make sense…

          • John Masters

            Bless your heart, but you’re so confused about what I wrote, it’s not even worth trying to explain it to you.

    • Kate Johnson

      Fascism is always more popular with those that don’t like to do their own thinking. Which seems to be the majority these days.

    • Greg Crofford

      Kurt, your comment is a twist on the “we’re small because we’re pure” thinking. Growth is not a dirty word if seen in the light of the last command of Christ before he ascended, i.e. to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). My hunch is that churches are shriveling today not because we require too much, but because we require too little. We’ve only asked for people to warm seats in a building once per week (and make a financial contribution) when genuine discipleship is so much more.

  • Becca Girrell

    “Or do we want to follow Jesus? Who, by the way, landed on the cross, abandoned by nearly all.” Except, of course, the women. 😉

    • Agni Ashwin

      You go, Girrell.

    • Kate Johnson

      Could be why Mary got to see him first after his resurrection. They didn’t run off and hide.

  • Al Cruise

    There’s no better way to control women than with the creation of a religious doctrine. Just take a look around.

  • Corey Hansen-Founder

    Thanks for asking the questions. I’m a convert to the LDS Church while serving in the US military in Germany. A year after my enlistment ended I served a two year LDS mission in Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia. It was my privilege to visit with people from just about about every faith, philosophy, and nation on the earth. My conclusion was that those of us who are spiritually-minded (regardless of denomination) have more in common with each other, than with those (even in our own denomination), who were not spiritually-minded. Just my opinion, not a challenge to anyone else’s opinion.
    While serving a mission, one of the areas I assigned to was a very wealthy neighborhood of DC, where I met one of our members, who was on the national board of a billion dollar non-profit. I was a business major in college, (and eventually went on for a grad degree in organizational development), so I asked her why the “___ _____” was so successful. She said one major reason is they followed the same basic STRUCTURE that helps make the LDS Church so successful.
    Her example was the basic congregation or ward, which has a bishop and two counselors, that forms a bishopric. Then most organizations in the ward have the same structure, with a president and two counselors. All of these organizations and councils then meet and discuss what and how they should serve God, and our brother and sisters in our congregation and community. Then decisions are reached, and we move forward together in a coordinated and collaborative way, focused on results and praising God.
    From an organizational development perspective, the LDS structure makes it easier to make decisions, and take coordinated action, and it is action that changes lives, not talking issues to death. Fundamentally, If everyone has to agree, with every part of a plan, then it is very difficult to reach a workable consensus, and much less will be accomplished, except by those who in frustration go ahead with their own plans anyway. I have used this same structure in a number of business organizations and have seen results that were greater than traditional leadership structure.
    So, LDS people, like everyone else, have a lot of opinions and left on our own would rarely agree. However, most of us agree that God has placed all of us here to be of service to each other, and we are trying to do our best with the the gifts, and challenges God has given each of us here on this beautiful Earth. We also agree that we are very grateful for our brothers and sisters of all faiths and philosophies. May God bless each of us in our journey back.

  • tio2girl

    Correlation does not equal causation; however, if a denomination is declining because of an increase in women in leadership positions, perhaps the decline is deserved. The last paragraph saves the whole article. What is the purpose of the church? Men and women both fit into leadership roles quite nicely when the true purpose is kept in mind.

  • Erp

    I should point out that the LDS do not drop members until they officially resign (which they sometimes make difficult), excommunicated, known to have died, or, allegedly, reached age 100 if contact is lost. The discrepancy between the numbers the church claims and the number of people who claim to be members in a given area can be extreme. In Brazil in the 2010 census, 226,509 listed themselves as Mormon; the church reported 1,138,740 members in the same year. In other words do not trust their numbers.

  • TwizzyD

    Two suggestions: first and foremost “Ask and ye shall receive”. The Blueprint of Christ’s Church is also an informative read.

  • Jennny

    In the UK, the Anglican church would not have survived without the ordination of women in the 1990s. 40% of clergy are female in my region. I don’t share their beliefs, but ask any of them – including my DD who, like others, gave up a very high-flying career – and they will say they had no choice, it wasn’t their choice, they are sure they were called to the ministry and could do no other. Are they all mistaken or deluded? I agree that any church that denies women equality does not deserve to flourish.

    • Jonah Barnes

      Yet, Jesus Christ himself didn’t ordain women. He had wonderful, unapologetic and faithful women beside him, but his Apostles were 12 out of 12 men… ? If we’re striving to follow Jesus, should we ordain women?

      • Agni Ashwin

        Did Jesus ordain anyone?

        • Lynn

          even rabbis were not ordained…. The Jewish people began with the male familial line of Levi (Levites) being the religious leader but ‘rabbis’ were often wandering spiritual people with a following.
          I’ve always thought Jesus was amazed that a new religion ensued…. after all he was a Jew and was hoping to change their hearts.

          • Jonah Barnes

            Ordinations were conducted in the Old Testament as well. Joshua was ordained by Moses, the sons of Aaron were all ordained. The Apostles ordained by Jesus subsequently ordained others in the New Testament. And, as it were, all of them were men … I’m just sayin’ that the discussion Christy wants to start is worth a discussion… That’s not a lot to ask.

          • John Masters

            But the Jews also had many Judges who were women, and make not mistake, that was not a “secular” position as we think of it today.

            As Jesus was sending out his apostles to spread the message, his choice of men may have been driven less by some belief he hoped to convey, and more the reality of the society of the time…where it would be unusual, and perhaps dangerous, for women to travel alone over long distances.

            But we also know he referenced the importance of some of his female followers, and considered at least one of them an apostle.

          • Jonah Barnes

            So were women ever ordained? No. They weren’t. Was a woman ever an Apostle? No. Never. And I don’t think Jesus was bowing to societal pressures of the time. He was crucified. He threw people out of the temple. He wasn’t running a popularity campaign. If women should have been Apostles, Jesus would have made them Apostles. No matter what any mortal said. He was the Son of God, the Almighty incarnate in the flesh. The Red Sea parts, the great flood sweeps the earth, worlds are and were created, but He’s afraid of being politically correct???

          • John Masters

            Man, you’ve got some serious issues with having your authority (manhood) challenged. You should seek some help for that. In the meantime, learning a little something about Christianity from the Bible would be a good thing before posting the drivel you’ve been putting up here.

            There were many women who exhibited leadership in
            both the Old and New Testaments:

            Exodus 15:20: Miriam, the sister of Aaron was a prophetess and one of the triad of leaders of Israel during the Exodus from Egypt.

            Judges 4 & 5: Deborah, a prophet-judge, headed the army of ancient Israel.

            2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22 Huldah, a prophet,
            verified the authenticity of the “Book of the Law of the Lord given through Moses.” She triggered a religious renewal.

            Acts 9:36 The author of Luke referred to a female disciple by her Aramaic name Tabitha, who was also known by her Greek name Dorcas. She became sick had died; Peter brought her back to life.

            Acts 21:8: Philip the evangelist had four unmarried daughters who were prophets.

            Philippians 4:2: Paul refers to two women, Euodia and Syntyche, as coworkers who were active evangelicals, spreading the gospel.

            Romans 16:1: Paul refers to Phoebe as a minister (diakonos) of the church at Cenchrea. Some translations say deaconess; others try to obscure her position by mistranslating it as “servant” or “helper”.

            Romans 16:3: Paul refers to Priscilla as another of his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (NIV) Other translations refer to her as a “co-worker”. But other translations attempt to downgrade her status by calling her a “helper”. The original Greek word is “synergoi”, which literally means “fellow worker” or “colleague.”

            Romans 16:7: Paul refers to a male apostle, Andronicus, and a female apostle, Junia, as “outstanding among the apostles” (NIV) The Amplified Bible translates this passage as “They are men held in high esteem among the apostles” The Revised Standard Version shows it as “they are men of note among the apostles”. The reference to them both being men does not appear in the original Greek text. The word “men” was simply inserted by the translators, apparently because the translators’ minds recoiled from the concept of a female apostle. Many translations, including the Amplified Bible, Rheims New Testament, New American Standard Bible, and the New International Version simply picked the letter “s” out of thin air, and converted the original “Junia” (a woman) into “Junias” (a man).

            Mark also tells us that a great number of women had come with Jesus to Jerusalem. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) all describe the women as those who had followed Jesus. The Gospel writers use “follow” over 75 times to show that following Jesus means being a disciple of Christ (for example, Matt 4:19, Mark 1:18, Luke 5:11, 27-28).

            Mary Magdalene “was a prominent disciple of Jesus who followed him in Galilee and to Jerusalem. She is always listed first in groups of named female disciples” (The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 884). She is mentioned in all four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion.

          • Jonah Barnes

            Good! This is refreshing after telling someone you know their church better than they do. Let’s talk about the Bible instead of reciting painfully, ignorant libel against Mormons … It is helpful that I read Greek! As Mormons, we study the Bible in depth and in any and every form we can find it! So let’s talk Greek! Your main confusion is the difference between “disciple” and “apostle”. “Disciple” means “one who follows”, while “apostle” means “one who is sent”. In English, these words seem similar, but in Greek they are worlds apart.

            Great catch about Junia in Romans 16:7! Junia seems to be a feminine name, but it actually isn’t. Epiphanius, the historian of the 4th century, refers to Junia as “Junias”, a man, saying that he later served as a bishop in Syria (it’d be weird for an apostle to serve as bishop.) Even closer to the point, Origen said he was a man, and Origen is as close as you get.

            But Junias wasn’t an Apostle anyways. The verse Romans 16:7 translates: ιουνίαν οιτινές εισιν επίσημοι εν τοις αποστόλοις. “…Junias who/which are prominent in(εν) the apostles.” The dative preposition “εν” is the key. The closest preposition we have in English is “to”. Junias was prominent “among” the Apostles, he was well-known “TO” the apostles.

            So, if we know greek and some patristic history, not only was Junias a man, he wasn’t an apostle either.

            These are all getting into the weeds. The simple fact remains, Christ chose 12 out of 12 men for his Apostles. Did He not? No one can argue women are treated dramatically differently by Christ in the Gospels. The question is “if” He did, the question is “why did He?”

            I believe that God and His Son Christ know the differences between men and women very well. They have different strengths and roles. Conflating the two demeans men and insults women. In my religion, the Priesthood cannot be fully possessed by a man OR by a woman. The Priesthood can only be fully possessed by a couple. I think that’s beautiful! I know it’s true.

        • Zampona

          “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go forth and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever y shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”

          John 15:16

          So yes, he at least ordained the Apostles.

          • Agni Ashwin

            Only the King James, Jubilee, and Webster’s Bibles translate the Greek as “ordained”. All others, as seen here, translate the Greek “etheka” as “appointed”. If “ordain” (as a priest) is the proper translation, then that would mean that Jesus gave priests, and only priests, the ability to receive anything they ask of the Father.

          • Zampona

            Seems like a distinction without a difference to me. Whether ordained or appointed, Jesus have His apostles a special commission that was not given to the people generally. He chose the Apostles and sent them forth to preach and baptize. The Apostled subsequently chose Bishops, Deacons, etc. to preach, baptize, lay on hands, etc. presumably in the manner taught them by the Savior Himself.

            John 15 includes Jesus’ words to His apostles only, and not to His followers generally. The blessing given to them was not given generally. That of course does not preclude that same blessing being given to others, as you imply, but there was clearly something special about the Apostles in their commission and their authority.

  • Jonah Barnes

    But didn’t you say: “A church that declines to remain in the growth and reproductive cycle
    needs to be ripped up, placed on the compost heap, and let its remains
    serve as fertilizer for healthy churches and new plantings” ??? Shouldn’t the UMC try to grow?

    • John Masters

      The UMC should seek to serve God and its neighbors. Jesus never said much about attendance statistics…but he did spend his ministry going about Galilee organizing communities to care for one another.

  • Kate Johnson

    The gospel will never be “popular”. it’s why Jesus called it the “narrow road”. It’s far too radical for the average church goer. The whole “church growth” thing seems based more on ambition and pride, than anything to do with God.

  • rtgmath

    I find it laughable that people who adore the fast growing fundamentalist churches pretend to talk about grace when all they have is legalism. The fast growing churches — all of them — point to some group to hate. By encouraging group-think and corporate hatred, they imitate the techniques all dictatorial regimes (including Nazi Germany) have taken. Demonize some, and the non-thinkers will flock to you.

    So perhaps being a shrinking church isn’t such a bad thing after all? Following Jesus isn’t popular. It is the narrow road. And by challenging people’s prejudices, you force them to make a choice. Will they follow Jesus or will they follow their itching ears and gravitate toward those who bring out the worst in them?

    It isn’t women preachers who are killing the church. The church was already dying. There was too much dead wood. Too many dead branches on the vine sap the energy from the plant.

    So perhaps the pruning is expedient? Perhaps the faithful who are left will be a living and energetic church? Remember, growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of a cancer.

    • John Masters

      If one looks at the Pew and Barna surveys, you’ll see that these “growing” fundamentalist churches are about to arrive at a rather significant demographic cliff. There is a perfect storm going on in religion right now, and the overall shrinking of the church is the result.

      First, there is the loudest “Christian” message being put out there. Like it or not, the conservatives have a few more leaders (yes men), who tend to get the most national press. We’re talking about the established TV preachers and TBN, combined with the likes of Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, the folks at Focus on the Family and the American Family Association. This is the message of the religious/political right, and it does not sit well with young people, but it is the loudest, most pervasive voice the public square…so young people are simply shunning religion in general, without discovering there are warm and welcoming places. The conservatives have done a better job getting their message out there.

      As other mainline denominations have inched towards more inclusion, young people have been leaving due to the exclusionary beliefs of the loudest message, and older, more conservative folks have migrated to the more conservative denominations and churches. So, it is a statistical fact that more welcoming churches are seeing a decline, while the more conservative churches are showing an increase.

      We’re already seeing a leveling off of that growth. In short, the growth was not in net-new Christians, but existing Christians moving…everyone who is inclined to move, has. The statistics show these tend to be older people. The fact is, this group will begin to die off. It remains to be seen if younger people will ever return to organized religion, but it will most certainly not be those denominations and churches known for the conservative exclusionary religion, and their political involvement…hence, the significant demographic cliff.

  • Zampona

    Just to add to Spencer’s excellent fact- and opinion-checking of this article, your criticism of the LDS website is misplaced. The site you link to is geared explicitly towards people who are already members, while mormon dot org is geared towards visitors. It is an extremely easy site for visitors to navigate beliefs and practices, as well as to find worship services.

    I also think that it is interesting that you claim a failure to adhere to “orthodox Christian theology” but criticize practices that have been orthodox during the vast majority of Christianity’s existence (e.g. all-male priesthood, excommunication, etc.)

  • Frederick William Schmidt

    Christy, thanks. My wife is an Episcopal priest and, although I’m a priest as well, I teach at a Methodist Seminary. So I care about this subject for more than one reason.

    I think that this article is a useful point of comparison for some of the questions you raise:

    It notes the same trends in Canada. It raises some real problems with the supposition that people resist church’s with female leaders. It offers some other statistics that raise some questions about the generalizations that we might make, as well as some alternative interpretations; and it offers some questions that require statistical investigation that probably hasn’t been done here or in Canada.

    The other thing that I think needs to be kept in mind is that the Methodist system works in a different fashion with large congregations. Most appointments in the UM follow the lead of bishops and district superintendents, but large UM congregations operate on what I would describe as the “free agent” system. At any rate, the church in Canada is probably a better basis for comparison than the LDS, which is not a Christian denomination.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that there are Christians — and I would count myself among them — who would argue that there is a difference between offering people a compelling reason for the imperative of going to church and the refusal to permit “independence of thought.”

    If independence of thought means the right to think anything, but still belong to a church, that’s good reason for the failing numbers across the mainline whether men or women are leading. After all, if there isn’t anything compelling or necessary about the church’s message, then why spend 52 Sundays a year drinking bad coffee and listening to the political views of clergy who, by and large, have no background in political science and macro-economics, only to be tapped for a contribution on top of it all?

    If that’s the problem, then its important to remember that as early as 1939 Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted that mainline Protestantism had forgotten that — in its rush to be inclusive (Bonhoeffer would have said, offer “cheap grace” — that if there is no place into which someone is being invited with definable religious, spiritual, and moral content, then sociologically and ecclesiologically, there is no place in which to be included.

    Some women may be contributing to that impression now, but not all of them do. (My wife doesn’t.) They’ve simply arrived in larger numbers concurrent with a decline set in motion roughly 80 years ago.

    • It’s historically sloppy to call the object of Bonhoeffer’s critique “mainline Protestantism,” as though it’s a monolithic, ahistorical reality.

      • Frederick William Schmidt

        It might be, if I had been making that point, Morgan, but that’s not what I intended. In a (perhaps, too) condensed form, what I was suggesting is that there were forces at work in mainline Protestantism in 1938 and 1939 that made our denominations susceptible to forms of proclamation that offered inadequate reasons (spiritually, theologically and morally) for going to church. That’s been true in different ways, with different alternatives on offer, but Bonhoeffer’s indictment still has purchase today and — judging from the trajectory our respective branches of it are taking — we would do well to consider his opinion. Or we can each find our our non-monolithic path to extinction.

    • Shelly Conrad Ray

      Yes I wouldn’t use the LDS as a comparison, because of a big factor of grow from within due to large families. The statistics of membership also include those that have left the church for a Christian church or went inactive, but didn’t formally remove their names from record. I didn’t want to show as one of their members, so I (and my husband) removed our names. There’s alot of pressure to join as converts, who find out eventually that LDS are NOT as other churches (“We’re like other church, but we have more”), including that Jesus is not God incarnate to them. They seem to people whose doors they knock on like they must know their Bible, but if people knew their Bibles fully, they would see what they are teaching are not in line with Christianity.

  • NTSue

    So perhaps “church growth” is not our ultimate goal.

    • John Masters

      Unfortunately “church growth” is our ultimate goal, and there is much hand-ringing and many commissions and committees to try to find a solution. If the LGBT issue is ever settled, you’ll start hearing nothing but discussions about church growth. It will become THE dominant issue.

  • Diane

    Sounds more like a cult then a religion.
    When I think about Jesus, I think of a man that went against the prevailing structure of his time. He was inclusive, from the sick, poor to women! He did not have to threaten and intimidate to have people believe in him. He did not use fear and shunning.
    He was changing a culture for the better.
    I want no part of a system that does not include all.
    Hitler and other dictators have tried the system you described; people always rebel in the end.

  • lsomers

    Jesus never heard of a church. There were none when he was alive. The religious authorities of the Temple and the local Synagogues were not dictators of religious beliefs, but practitioners of religious rituals that defined Jews as a separate people from the rest. Jesus didn’t have much use for them either nor they for him. Contrary to the message purveyed by preachers, Jesus never founded a church, never appointed pastors and seemed to have little use for such organizations. Jesus was a wandering prophetic healer and teacher of wisdom. He was not a god nor a practitioner of magic; these stories grew up in word of mouth transmissions. None of the Gospel writers knew Jesus personally, they only heard exaggerated tales that had become legends. Were Jesus to suddenly be awakened from the sleep of death today, the last place he would be interested in would be a Christian Church which is little more than paganism with a Christian coat of paint.

  • From afar, I would say that the problem of growth has to do with the message more than the messenger. People typically want structure in their organizations and not constant dissension. A stable organization allows the members to concentrate on service without distraction.

    I know members of the LDS church. They are lawyers and doctors. They allow their children to serve in the most dangerous countries. They spend time on church projects where they live. This despite the most unbelievable doctrines imaginable including the one where the men have to shout the secret word to raise their wives at the resurrection or else the wives stay in their graves. What woman would agree with this doctrine? Hard to imagine but true.

    The LDS has many, many former members who have documented LDS shortcomings in doctrine and practice in books and articles seen around the world. These have had little impact on that church. So believe it or not, putting the dissenters out of the church works well for the LDS. This shows me that many people do not want to be responsible for their own salvation. They prefer to delegate it to the church hierarchy blindly believing that this will ensure their salvation. It never occurs to them that they will stand alone before the Son of Man without a church intercessor pleading their case.

  • No. Next question?

  • RolloMartins

    What does the average church goer want? He/She wants to be told that they are on the right road. They want to be spoon-fed. They do not wish to investigate, to question, to dive into questions that might shake their foundations. Give the people what they want and watch them show up. Give them what they need…and occasionally you might find someone to greet, talk to, and to teach.

  • Real fact checker

    You guys still don’t get it. What’s killing the UMC is the liberalism. Reading the comments on here is laughable, send homosexual females to rural Southern churches and expext membership to grow…lol. The youth in America has shown with Trump they are shifting back to the middle right. Fundie church growth is exploding, so keep on pushing oppressed “women” all the way to the loss of your pension fund because at the rate the UMC is declining, that won’t be long.

  • Ian Grant Spong

    I have kept my mouth shut while serving in the UMC ministry, simply because I was a small minority and did not want to offend my sisters in ministry. However our disobedience to scripture began long ago. And, “husband of one wife” is pretty clear.

  • WearyFox

    The Methodist Church is in decline because it has long ago abandoned Scripture as a real source of authority. You can’t insult the Lord who authored the Bible and still expect his blessing. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” For all their talk of loving Jesus, they prove that they don’t love him by their commitment to pursue disobedience.