‘Not a real schism’: Four years later, UMC exodus less a gush, more a trickle

“An analysis of departing churches suggests the country’s second-largest Protestant denomination will be weakened, but it is unlikely to break.” - RNS


United Methodists Lose 1,800 Churches in Split Over LGBT Stance - Christianity Today

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

The reason why this isn’t bigger is ironically due to the great success of the circuit riders, which placed a Methodist church in the center of a huge portion of U.S. towns long ago. If a town has one church, and it’s not in Utah or Idaho, odds are it’s Methodist or Baptist. Hence that church became the social gathering place for the community, and a lot of people were “members” who (ironically considering Methodist evangelism prior to 1880) were not regenerate. It’s a lot of the same dynamics you see in older SBC churches in the South, really.

Hence, when the denomination started to adopt theological liberalism in the 19th century, many people had no big reason to oppose it. When that accelerated in the 1960s with women pastors and support for abortion, majorities didn’t really oppose it. So now this is a bit of an extension, but it’s not huge. It’s mostly peeling off churches that have been an evangelical rearguard for the denomination.

Another thing that’s going on is that the UMC has been hemorrhaging members for decades now as evangelicals in predominantly liberal congregations head for evangelical congregations. That’s where I was 35 years ago. So there has been a purging that will tend to keep theological liberals in control. I still love those evangelicals that are trying to reclaim their churches from this, but it’s hard to overstate the difficulty of what’s going on.

Side note is that I’ve got a book about the history of Methodism circa 1900, and it’s quite frankly shocking how clearly the shift from evangelical theology to liberal theology and the social Gospel is. The book resembles little so much as The Jungle, where Sinclair’s poignant tale about the abuses of the meatpackers in Chicago gives way to a glorious socialist utopia as Jurgus Rudkis finds a hotel to work at run by a socialist.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

First of all, bear in mind that the source for this report - RNS - is notoriously liberal in its views on most everything. And while it is true that the numbers of churches withdrawing from the UMC is not huge, I don’t think anyone ever thought it would be. For the most part, they are much too far down the road toward apostasy to muster great numbers of people with conviction enough to walk away. I noticed that the reporters only briefly address the roadblocks that Methodist bishops are placing in the way of churches trying to leave. (They do specifically note the situation in North Georgia.). Here in South Carolina not a single church has yet to withdraw. The bishop in this conference is operating on a totally different plan than some of the conferences where larger numbers of churches have already withdrawn. He has designed a plan here that will make it almost impossible for churches to disaffiliate without suing. Just across the state line, in the North Carolina Annual Conference, about a third of the churches have already withdrawn. I feel certain the same thing would be true in South Carolina if the rules were the same. The high-handedness of episcopal polity is showing it’s most unattractive side.