The United Methodist Church (UMC) is by far the largest Mainline Protestant denomination in the United States. However, the UMC is not a national, but rather a worldwide Christian denomination. The following table from the official UMC web site bears out this statement.
Note that of the over 12.6 million worldwide members 45% live in Africa, Asia and Europe. However, these non-U.S. Christians must on average form larger congregations since they comprise only 28% of the total 44,122 local churches.
Now, as a Reformed Christian I have some theological differences with the UMC. However, those differences in no way affect my acceptance of Methodists as my brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, there are theological debates that can affect our Christian fellowship, but certainly not our love for one another as followers of Christ.
Over the past week the UMC delegates at a special denomination conference voted to strengthen its teachings “against homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and LGBT clergy.” This result was a repudiation of the denomination’s bishops and top clergy, and thus was met with surprise and acrimony.
Given the experience of the PCUSA on this issue my expectation is that the minority of Progressive members led by the denominational leadership will continue pounding away on the majority until they either capitulate or leave. Yes, in the above cited article there is talk of “more than 700 churches who are thinking about making an exit” due to the UMC’s action. However, given that they have on their side the UMC leadership and the secular Progressive dominated institutions, I’m very doubtful that they will exit. Note that the likely inflated 700 churches is only 1.6% of the total.
I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the UMC delegates took into consideration the PCUSA’s experience after allowing gay ordination and marriage. The most visible aspect of the ensuing debacle is the unprecedented loss of membership and churches that occurred between 2011 and 2017. Over that time span the PCUSA experienced a net loss of 601,000 members and 1146 churches. Thus, over this period the denomination lost a net of almost 30% of its membership and almost 12% of its churches. Thus, had the UMC conference voted to allow gay ordination and marriage the flight for the exits by orthodox members and churches would have likely dwarfed the inflated 700 churches who threaten exit for the opposite reason.
Thus, I predict that this victory for orthodox Christian teaching will lead not to peace but rather to an extended period of denominational travail. Given that the 45% of membership outside of the U.S. appears to be more strongly orthodox the UMC may be able to “hold the line.” The stakes for orthodox Christianity (of the “Mere Christianity” understanding) in the United States could not be higher. Therefore I will pay attention to and report on future developments. We should also pray that the UMC will not succumb to the post-Christian onslaught, as has the PCUSA.