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US United Methodists vs African & Asian United Methodists

US United Methodists vs African & Asian United Methodists

iuThe United Methodist Church (UMC), at 7.2 million US members, is the largest mainline Protestant church, the 2nd largest Protestant church and the 3rd largest Christian church in the US. The UMC is the result of the union of the Methodist Church (US) and the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968. Like TEC the UMC has overseas units. The UMC units are mostly in Africa and Asia, with a combined membership of 4.4 million. The worldwide membership of the UMC was almost 12 million in 2014.

The UMC is a modified episcopal church, without claim to Apostolic succession. Methodists are cousins to Anglicans. The founders of Methodism were John & Charles Wesley, both priests in the Church of England. The Methodist Church became separate from the Church of England in the US colonies in a similar fashion as the Episcopal Church after the defeat of the British in the Revolutionary War. When John Wesley was unsuccessful in getting the Church of England to send a bishop to Methodists in North America, Methodist Anglican priests resorted to ordaining Methodist clergy themselves. The UMC embraces elements of both the liturgical and evangelical forms of Christianity. The UMC consists of 122 Annual Conferences united into 69 episcopal regions. Some Methodist bishops preside over more than one Annual Conference.

For as long as TEC has been struggling with LGBT equality of all the baptized, so has the UMC. And like TEC’s overseas units, the UMC overseas units are more conservative than their US counterparts. Unlike TEC, the UMC overseas units are large enough that their representatives at the UMC quadrennial General Conference have so far been successful in preventing the UMC from embracing the full equality of its LGBT baptized. And the overseas units, unlike their US counterparts, are growing larger.

The UMC is governed by the United Methodist Book of Discipline (BoD). The BoD is agreed to every 4 years at the General Conference of the church. The BoD affirms that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God and encourages United Methodists to be in ministry with and for all people. However, the BoD also states that homosexuality is incompatible with scripture and that avowed, practicing homosexuals may not be ordained as ministers. It further states that marriage is only between one man and one woman and further, forbids UMC clergy from officiating at the celebrations of same gender unions or marriages. Over the years a number of UMC clergy have been tried and defrocked for participating in same gender unions/marriages.

At the last General Conference in 2012, there was a showdown between progressive US Methodists and conservative Methodists boosted by folks mainly from Africa and Asia, regarding removing the sections of the BoD forbidding the ordination of LGBT candidates for ministry and officiating at same gender unions/marriages. The conservatives prevailed and those provisions of the BoD remained. In light of the consistent failure of pro-LGBT equality measures at UMC General Conferences, there have been calls for schism. Some progressive Methodists have voiced the opinion that failure to agree on LGBT equality in the UMC are sufficient grounds to divide the church.

Since 2012, two regional Annual Conferences in the US have taken steps to sidestep the BoD. Candidates for ordained ministry in each region’s Annual Conference must be approved by the Annual Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry (BoOM). The BoOM of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference recently approved the candidacy of a married lesbian to the provisional diaconate. They did so by ignoring the BoD’s sections with regard to the sexuality and married life of the candidate. Weeks later the regional New York Conference’s BoOM issued a statement welcoming sexual minority candidates for ministry to apply. Other regional BoOMs have also quietly gone forward with sexual minority clergy candidates by observing an unspoken “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy.

Many believe that this is leading up to another General Conference showdown in MAY 2016 in Portland OR. LGBT issues are once again scheduled for the conference agenda. Four years after 2012, there is a larger head of steam for LGBT and marriage equality.

The images are from
The information for this story was gathered from the Wikipedia entry on the UMC and from the articles linked in the story


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Gerry McDaniel

Being nice people this is a nice coup, but a coup none-the-less. The action of these two AC’s proceeds from the same spirit that creates a, “one person, one vote, one time” situation.

If ever these AC’s get their wish you can be sure any further disagreement or dissent with them will be squashed without grace. It is the nature of Progressives.

Kurt Hill

“…there was never a schism, neither church has ever officially declared the work of the other invalid (although this was believed for a time in Pan-Methodist circles).”–Thomas Coates

Well, maybe that is the predominate Methodist view, but many of us Episcopalians know a schism when we see one. The local Methodist societies in America were well aware of the discussions taking place within American Anglicanism in the aftermath of the War of the Revolution. The Rev. Dr. William White’s controversial essay, “The Case of the Episcopal Churches in the United States” (1782) was hardly a secret to them. Throughout Episcopal parishes people were debating these ideas. Some High Church people, such as those who chose Samuel Seabury to be a bishop, disagreed with White’s proposals. Anglican Evangelicals could have easily been a part of this process, but they decided to walk out when the Episcopal Church at its lowest ebb and to set up shop with their own administrative apparatus.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Dr. William A Flint, MDiv, PhD

What happened to the social gospel and the social principles on the UMC?

Thomas Coates

When the homophobic language was added to the BoD, it wasn’t controversial (1972). Progressives have been good at keeping anti-Trans* language out, but don’t have the numbers to strike out the homophobic language.
I asked my Methodist history professor, he said that many of the former Methodist Protestant congregations and their spiritual successor groups (like the huge non-UM, but UM-approved Asbury Seminary) were on the forefront of women’s ordination and (racial) Civil Rights, but cannot get there regarding LGBT inclusion– their understanding of personal holiness does not permit it (this is equally true in other Wesleyan/Methodist denominations, like the Nazarenes and Free Methodists who were champions of social justice in their times).
If conservative UMs had their way, our social justice boards and social creeds would be abolished– there’s such a tension there between the left and right wings of the denomination. Again, since most US clergy at LGBT-affirming (including our liturgical scholars and those on our social justice boards/GBCS) they can push towards inclusion, but have to be careful (only funding for HIV+ is allowed, nothing for any direct LGBT-related cause).

Kurt Hill

Some of us Anglo Catholics consider that Methodism, at least in its earlier stages, was definitely a High Church movement.

For example, one colonial American rector who was enthusiastic in his promotion of frequent private confession was the Rev. John Wesley, Rector of Christ Church Savannah, Georgia. Wesley’s ecclesiology was that of the British Usager Non-Jurors, having been influenced by the Rev. John Clayton (1709 -1773) and the Manchester Non-Jurors around 1732. Following the lead of other High Churchmen of his day, Parson Wesley laid great emphasis on the sacraments of the Church.

While he was Rector of Christ Church (1735-37), he worked to imitate what he believed to be the practices of the primitive Christian Church: he taught confession, penance, ascetic self-discipline and fasting. He had a High Church appreciation of the Holy Sacraments, including the promotion of weekly celebrations of the Holy Eucharist. Daily celebrations of the Holy Eucharist took place during Holy Week (except, of course, for Good Friday).

Parson Wesley was opposed to compulsory auricular confession as mandated by the Roman Catholic Church, but he believed that voluntary confession had great merit. Wesley even went so far as to urge followers to practice group confession with each other, in addition to the individual auricular confession to an Anglican priest for absolution.

The Rev. Mr. Wesley is also said to have used a Western (Dominican) rosary in his devotions. His beads are among the historical treasures cared for by The Leys School in Cambridge, England.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Thomas Coates

I can see it. At my UM seminary we use the prayer book (1979) to some extent and read books by ELCA and Episcopal liturgical scholars. UMs also claim a “via media”. UM-affiliated Duke Divinity may be more high church, but my seminary has thurible lessons, gospel processions, chasubles are rare but they make an appearance, and there are a few “high church” services in churches throughout the area.
Any UM-related seminary with an active chapter of the UM-affiliated Order of Saint Luke is likely going to be involved in ecumenical liturgical renewal.
It’s fun to read UMC-TEC ecumenical dialogue texts and the interim Eucharistic sharing agreement and learn shared history between the two denominations, as well as ecumenically awkward practices that must be explained (usually on the UM-side: commissioning, grape juice, open table, our view of apostolic tradition/”local adaptation”, etc).
I’ve been cautioned to not read the high church movement of the Tractarians back into the time of the Wesleys, but I don’t know enough to know where this line is.

William Bockstael

The Book of Discipline…it sounds like something that has to be read along with 50 Shades of Gray

Wayne K. Kamm

One need only check out the definitions of “discipline” in a dictionary to realize that the word also describes a way of life; i.e., a “system of government regulating the practice of a church as distinguished from its doctrine.” Along this same line, it’s interesting to note that the Qumran Community also had what was known as “A Manual of Discipline.”

Margaret Sjoholm-Franks

It also means “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience”, according to the dictionary …so that name can have several interpretations

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