Talk Grows of Liberal Exodus from UMC

on February 27, 2013
That about sums up the current state of UMC "unity." (Photo credit: Fight Church Facebook page)
That about sums up the current state of UMC “unity.” (Photo credit: Fight Church Facebook page)

By John Lomperis (@JohnLomperis)

Since last spring’s General Conference, there has been an unprecedented mushrooming of talk of liberal exodus from the United Methodist Church.  For all of the surrounding frustration, that landmark event in Tampa, Florida was an apparent turning point in the struggle for the soul of our global denomination. 

Delegates affirmed the denomination’s official teaching that sex is “only” for marriage and that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching” (¶161F of the Book of Discipline) by a significantly larger margin than the previous General Conference. For the first time, activists opposed to biblical teaching ultimately gave up on even contesting UMC policies aligning required behavior of clergy and denominational officials with this stand.

This happened despite the fact that for their General Conference efforts, such activists received massive funding from secular political sources, launched a massive, months-long project of lobbying delegates, pursued unprecedented outreach to overseas delegates, brought an army of colorfully clad volunteers, had biased allies strategically placed in key General Conference leadership positions, and even received the prominently touted partial support of celebrity, former evangelical pastors Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter.

Meanwhile, the “victories” celebrated by theologically unorthodox activists were almost entirely limited to widely supported evangelical reforms being defeated outside of the democratic legislative process.

Now even United Methodists who openly reject biblical teaching increasingly admit that the UMC is unlikely to change its position on sexual morality for the foreseeable future, given the UMC’s growth in more theologically orthodox regions and implosion in areas where it has pandered to secular Western culture.

Within months after the 2012 General Conference, the chief executives of both of the two main theologically revisionist caucuses within our denomination – the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) and the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) – resigned somewhat abruptly. Rev. Steve Clunn, an MFSA staffer, recalled that in Tampa, theological liberals “felt like the church was slipping away” and he had “never heard progressives talk about leaving as I heard at this General Conference.”

Such talk has continued after General Conference.  In June, the New York and California-Nevada Annual Conferences, which have long been dominated by sexually liberal theological radicals, separately adopted resolutions, each of which was entitled “A Study Committee for an Inclusive Conference,” protested General Conference’s continued orthodoxy on homosexuality, and established a committee to study structural alternatives for liberal United Methodists. The California-Nevada resolution explicitly floats the creation of a new, unorthodox Methodist denomination as one possibility. True to its separatist spirit, the New York resolution mandates the inclusion of representatives of about every caucus within that conference, of which there are many, with the singular exclusion of the evangelical Wesley Fellowship.

Last fall, two widely-circulated editorials argued the time for split has come. Rev. A.W. Martin, a long-time member of both RMN and MFSA, penned “An Open Letter to Liberal or Progressive Friends” for United Methodist News Service. Martin cogently argued that at this point, “it will do the Church and our LGBTQ-friendly congregations little good to continue the struggle as it is now playing out,” so it is time for individuals and congregations unwaveringly committed to sexual liberalism to leave the UMC “in a well-planned, organized way.” Then the United Methodist Reporter published an editorial by the Rev. Jack Jackson, a professor at Claremont School of Theology, entitled “Breaking up is hard, but right thing for the UMC.” Pointing out how the current UMC “stalemate over human sexuality” is harmful and resource-draining for both sides, Jackson urged “starting a conversation for an equitable division of the UMC” so that traditionalists and progressives could both focus on pursuing their different visions of what church should be.  The Claremont professor noted that the only three alternatives for United Methodists who refuse to accept the denomination’s teaching are: individually leaving for liberal denominations (which many are starting to do), brazen disobedience to United Methodist policies (which is destructive and unsustainable), and staying in the UMC to fight (which they have already tried for three decades and are now increasingly losing ground). “Time is no longer on the progressives’ side,” Jackson observed.

Of course, some of theological revisionists will continue to stay and fight the UMC. But support for such activism should wane as its leaders (who have already rejected core United Methodist theology) awkwardly scramble to articulate what they hope to accomplish. For instance, one notable leader in the liberal caucus coalition responded to the calls for schism by imaginatively proposing that the UMC could embrace homosexuality if only it would just merge with the liberalized, fracturing Episcopal Church and/or Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

MFSA’s own response was surprisingly measured. On the one hand, the old liberal caucus asserted that it “was not in favor of schism” and clumsily misrepresented the sort of separation for which Martin called. But on the other hand, MFSA quite notably worded its response to clearly avoid closing the door on the possibility of schism.

Meanwhile, the discussion continues.  The aforementioned editorials and resolutions were prominently referenced as a point of concern at the first Connectional Table meeting of 2013.  Both the New York and California-Nevada conferences are moving forward in implementing their explorations of church alternatives for UMC progressives.

  1. Comment by skotiad on February 27, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Pardon me if I don’t get all weepy over this situation. Having watched a lot of friends and family members flee the liberal denominations, I think it’s high time the liberals in the UM learned what it was like not to have their will prevail. They control the seminaries and the national boards, so they got the power but not the numbers. Too bad.

    The one word in John’s article that really got my attention was “merge.” I wouldn’t presume to predict whether the UM will hold together, but I do foresee a time when the shrinking mainlines may merge into one big liberal glob, probably with some pompous name like United Church of America. (There’s already a United Church of Canada.) The UCC and Disciples have already merged their mission boards (never mind that their view of “mission” isn’t remotely connected to what that term has traditionally meant. Also, shrinking mainline congregations frequently merge to form “union” or “federated” congregations, so in a sense the merger is already taking place at the local level. Perhaps they can put the Episcopalians’ presiding bishop in charge of selling the vacant churches to Muslims. As long as they are all shrinking, they may as well cooperate.

  2. Comment by eMatters on February 27, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Alternate title: “Non-Christians threaten to leave church.” And people think this is a bad thing . . . why? Best news about my former denomination that I’ve heard in a long time.

  3. Comment by Michael Snow on March 1, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I John: Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. … They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.

    In 1 John, these false teachers abruptly left. But had they remained, obedience to the commands of Scriputre would have required a call to re;pentance, and if that did not follow, expulsion by the church.

  4. Comment by Former UMC'er on December 26, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    “Alternate title: ‘Non-Christians threaten to leave church’…. Best news about my former denomination that I’ve heard in a long time.”
    My sentiments exactly. Thanks

  5. Comment by raybnnstr on February 27, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    I clicked on the links to the two liberals’ opinion pieces. Liberals definitely get a lot of mileage out of the word “inclusion,” which sounds so much more positive than “lowering our moral standards to condone something that the church has not condoned for two thousand years.” One of the pieces also refers to the “hateful” language of the Book of Discipline, though for the life of me I don’t see what is “hateful” about the phrase “incompatible with Christian teaching.” By that standard, telling a kleptomaniac he needs to stop stealing is “hateful.”

    I think this language issue is a pretty good sign that a division is long overdue. When one side gets labeled “hateful” for trying to maintain the bare minimum of moral standards, it’s pretty clear which side is doing the hating. The two sides are speaking two different languages now – faith language and “rights” language. One side is saying “Thy will be done,” the other is screaming “That’s not fair!” Considering some of the bloody religious wars that took place in times past, we can be thankful that American religious schisms are at least bloodless.

  6. Comment by cleareyedtruthmeister on February 27, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Here’s why I think this is mainly talk: conservatives give more money to the church than liberals, and liberals don’t want to leave that kind of funding and assets behind.

    While I hate to see anyone leave the church, I don’t know why anyone would remain in an institution if they didn’t agree with the major teachings of that institution (unless they had a hidden agenda, which doesn’t speak well of their character).

    We recently left the UM for the same reasons. Our liberal pastor was instrumental in hiring a same-sex marriage advocate for youth minister. I didn’t want my child being taught, ostensibly in a Christian church, by someone who didn’t believe in Christian teachings.

    You would think that any paid person on a church staff should be required to endorse Scripture and the Discipline with respect to core teachings. Evidently that’s not the case in the UM.

  7. Comment by gregpaley on February 28, 2013 at 7:52 am

    I agree, I think this is all talk on the liberals’ part. They’ve watched how the liberals in the other mainlines have succeeded in driving most evangelicals out of the churches and they are happy to repeat the same pattern. By forcing the evangelicals out, the liberals feel that they’re holding on to the “brand name” and putting the evangelicals in the position of johnny come latelys. I know some Episcopalians who laugh if you bring up the Anglican Church in North America, since the Es consider themselves the REAL Anglican church in the US (and the only one with cathedrals – so far). I also think there’s a lot of manipulation involved in the threat to split, with the liberals hoping the threat will bring them some concessions (not likely, but possible), and if the threats don’t work, they can enjoy their whining about how cold and heartless the denomination is. And if a few liberals leave in the meantime to join the Es or the UCC, well that’s no loss to the UM, is it? That’s a win-win – the UM gets rid of troublemakers, and the troublemakers get the pleasure of feeling victimized.

  8. Comment by Chuck Huckaby on February 27, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    Reblogged this on Curated Links For and commented:
    Will the Liberals actually leave the United Methodist Church? It’s hard to believe… they seem to rely on the endowments of past generations to survive because they have no message of truth of their own worth preaching.

  9. Comment by fairfaxian on February 28, 2013 at 1:22 am

    While I have never been affiliated with the United Methodist Church, I am familiar with their inner turmoil. As tough as this may seem right now, the orthodox faithful will be in a stronger position to serve the Lord and may find that their denomination will find renewal.

  10. Comment by johns79 on February 28, 2013 at 7:43 am

    THE UMC:
    Love it, leave it or change it. Always the same three choices. I agree that the liberals are unlikely to leave without a generous severance package. If they are given large, disproportionate shares of properties, trust funds, etc they might go.

    In the end, however, they don’t want money they want the approval of a large “mainline” denomination, and by extension society, for their stances. The irony is, society is less inclined to care about the church’s view.

  11. Comment by eMatters on February 28, 2013 at 7:52 am

    “I don’t know why anyone would remain in an institution if they didn’t agree with the major teachings of that institution (unless they had a hidden agenda, which doesn’t speak well of their character).”

    They do (have a hidden agenda) and it does (not speak well of their character). They infiltrated the church long ago and the Bible-believers were too lax about church discipline.

    “Liberals definitely get a lot of mileage out of the word “inclusion,” which sounds so much more positive than “lowering our moral standards to condone something that the church has not condoned for two thousand years.””

    Exactly. Whenever they use the code word “inclusion,” we need to remind people that the church is very inclusive: everyone of any sex/race/economic status/country is welcome to join when they repent and believe. That’s being inclusive. But if you don’t trust in the real Jesus, we are exclusive in that sense. The Bible teaches over 100 times that Jesus is the only way to salvation. If you don’t believe that then we have a term for you: Non-Christian. You are welcome to visit but not to be a member or to influence our church in any way.

  12. Comment by ericvlytle on February 28, 2013 at 8:51 am

    This is not about inclusion, it’s about power, about coercing the churches to change their standards. If inclusion was the real goal, gays and lesbians would join churches where they are already included, but some choose to stay and work toward the goal of making ALL churches accept them. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the Metropolitan Community church, founded by and for gays, grew considerably, but in recent years has lost members because gays see more prestige in being openly gay Episcopalians and Lutherans than in belonging to “the gay church.” The same principle is at work with the whole Boy Scout issue. If the real goal was inclusion, they could start their own progressive organization for boys, but they prefer to browbeat the Scouts into accepting them. What used to be a subculture desperately wants to be mainstream culture.

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  14. Comment by Trish English Scharmann on February 28, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    If you change an organization’s or institution’s teachings, do you not become a different organization. If we change our discipline to say something else than what is written in the Bible; When we move away from the teachings of the Bible, do we remain Christian? I think not.

    They are not attacking just the UMC, but rather the Christian faith as a whole; Beat down and conquer one at a time, little by little. They have done it with the term “Politically Correct” and now they do it with using the term “inclusion”. This battle is about much more than sexuality, it is about bringing down the Christian Faith. I appreciate what was said earlier in another post by ematters: “Whenever they use the code word “inclusion,” we need to remind people that the church is very inclusive: everyone of any sex/race/economic status/country is welcome to join when they repent and believe.”

  15. Comment by Paul Zesewitz on February 28, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    I have all the respect in the world for the United Methodist Church–my grandmother on my father’s side was Methodist. But the UMC had better watch it with its liberalism or they’re gonna go down the same road to sure death as we currently see the United Church of Christ going down. Speaking of which, I’m sure the UCC would gladly take in all the UMC liberals. With open arms.

  16. Comment by newconvert1 on March 1, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    You bet the UCC would gladly take the UMC progressives, because the UCC is losing members. They don’t care about losing the more conservative members, however, because they have an agenda, and they’d prefer we just get out of the way. Paul, I have a lot of respect for the former UMC – my great great grandfather was a Methodist circuit minister, traveling around central Illinois to various Methodist churches.

  17. Comment by newconvert1 on February 28, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Best news I’ve heard about the UMC. Hopefully they will leave. I have a place where they can go … the United Church of Christ! They are losing members and churches in droves because of their progressive, “inclusive” (unless you are a conservative, Bible believing Christian), with all of their openly gay clergy to serve them. We left, and used the IRD for research on finding another Protestant church to go to… how disappointing that most of them have been infiltrated by progressives to change the churches, instead of forming their own. The focus is to DESTROY. I was in search for the truth and eventually, found it in the CAtholic Church, almost three years ago and have never been happier! … and yes, they infiltrated the Catholic Church, as we all know .. as well. Thank God (and the POPE) for cleaning up the seminaries. The young priests coming out of the seminaries are on fire for the faith and the Church!

  18. Comment by eMatters on March 2, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    Yes, the UCC continues to decline. Must be the ejector seats! It is ironic considering how desperately they appeal to the world’s values. But the world just pats them on the head for being good like fake Christians and is glad to see the support.

    I’d love to see the UMC “progressives,” and any others, for that matter, all go to the UCC.

  19. Comment by pastormack on February 28, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    There was an episode of The Office recently which had an excellent lesson about a healthy marriage. A minor character told a story about how his breakup with his wife worsened; it seems that after much struggle, one day they realized that they didn’t care enough to fight anymore.

    Much will be lost if there is an “exodus.” If the Body of Christ cannot sustain within itself differences while remaining united by the Spirit, what hope do we have to witness to a broken, conflicted world?

    It is pathetic that so much of our language for these divisions is informed by partisan politics and unbiblical binaries like liberal/conservative.

    It is also pathetic, and deeply significant, that little of our discussion of these matters ever gets around to mentioning Jesus.

  20. Comment by Donnie on March 1, 2013 at 10:58 am

    I fail to see how the progressives leaving will be a bad thing. Ever since I found out about the existence of the GBCS I’ve been hoping and praying for a split.

  21. Comment by sandytnaylor on March 2, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    I agree with Donnie on this. I feel no sadness at all watching progressives heading for the door, and may they take their world-conforming ideology with them. Pastormack, I understand your sentiments, but unfortunately there is no way to avoid partisanship in these circumstances, nor to avoid labels. As some of the posts indicate, there are a lot of complacent UM clergy and laity who tolerate unbiblical practices and beliefs, which is how the liberals made such progress in the mainlines, facing little resistance. How ironic that these champions of “diversity” who get all misty-eyed about “perspectves from the Third World” are now flummoxed by conservative Africans in the denomination.

    The body of Christ can sustain differences, but not over big issues. Our culture has redefined marriage and sexuality, all the more reason for the churches to draw some lines and say “This far, but no farther.” If that upsets some people, so be it. The gospel comes from God, not focus groups of Politically Correct seminary hacks who are always checking their peer pressure. Pastormack refers to the need for Christianity unity in a “broken, conflicted world.” If “unity” means “united in liberalism,” forget it, that’s not going to save a broken, conflicted world, and condoning sexual sins isn’t going to save it either. Call me partisan, I don’t mind. John Wesley referred to himself as a “Bible bigot,” one who followed the Bible in all things. Too bad the movement he founded doesn’t follow his lead.

  22. Comment by albertotshudi on March 1, 2013 at 3:49 am

    The United Methodist Church is welcoming with our doors widely open to all people, if the ” progressives” want to change the church, they can at least be certain that it won’t happen in any visible future. There is no hate or harm done by the language in the book of discipline, those hurt should come to repentance and conversion to the Christian faith and life. The church is faced with a challenge that unconverted churchgoers want to impose their secular subculture unto the church in a baseless plan to ruin and lead astray Christians from salvation. The exodus of these people from the UMC won’t affect our ministry and commitment to the biblical truth. As a church we might need to develop corrective and disciplinary measures for our agencies and annual conferences staff to observe the book of discipline and act according to our common beliefs. There is a high level conspiracy by our institutions through the use of our giving and money to advance these destructive views about homosexuality which has been explicitly and clearly dealt with in the Bible as an abomination and sin.

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  24. Comment by Michael Snow on March 1, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    It is not just on homosexuality that liberal Methodists reject the Bible. Recetly the bulletin on my parent’s Methodist church in a small South Dakota town annouced that Philip Gulley, who rejects the divinity of Christ, was speaking at a nearby Methodist church in Sioux City. The pastor, who also serves the church in the university town, could not even scripturally discuss this with me. My letters to the Iowa Bishop and the District Superintendant went unanswered. There is simply no concern with apostasy among liberal Methodists.

  25. Comment by eMatters on March 1, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Exactly. We had a retired UMC “pastor” at our church and he was allowed to lead Bible studies. We had quite a wild time when I joined one and pointed out that he didn’t believe Jesus was divine (among other things). Sadly, the people who had taught my kids Sunday School, had gone on mission trips with me, etc., didn’t see a problem with him. Sad.

  26. Comment by cleareyedtruthmeister on March 1, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    It is sad. But these days it’s all about feelings. If the guy is nice, smiles at people, makes them feel good, then what he believes doesn’t matter. I have seen the same thing at my former UMC church.

    But it’s transient. Though It may take time, eventually anti-Christian beliefs will negatively impact spiritual growth.

  27. Comment by apcroft33 on March 3, 2013 at 11:02 am

    My nephew works at a LifeWay Christian Store in Richmond, VA, and even though LifeWays are owned by the Southern Baptists, my nephew says they sell a LOT of nondenominational Sunday school literature to UMethodists, who don’t like the liberal slant of the official UM publications. LifeWays are expanding, while the UMs closed their own stores (Cokesburys). It’s good that people in liberal denominations aren’t forced to buy their churches’ “official” publications, but isn’t that a pity that any denomination is so out of touch with its own laity that they won’t produce materials the laity will use? I guess the Baptists find this amusing as well as profitable.

  28. Comment by skotiad on March 4, 2013 at 8:21 am

    David C. Cook, probably the biggest nondenominational (and evangelical) publisher of Sunday school materials, has a whole line geared to Methodist/Wesleyan churches, another for Episcopal/Anglican. Would be interesting to know who sells more Methodist materials, Cook or the UMs.

  29. Comment by Sadly on September 2, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    Reading the comments here only makes me sad. I appreciate that apparently most readers of this post are theological conservatives, and that they are troubled by liberalism in the UMC, but where is that most Christ-like of attributes, love? Why would a non-Christian reading these posts want anything to do with the church, Methodist or otherwise? I know some will want to respond that by calling out the sin of others you are displaying love, but really we all know that such “love” is nothing but a nice way of dressing up fear, and distrust, and yes, hatred. When posts basically say “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” what can that possibly relay to those outside the UMC but hatred? I don’t know the solution to the liberal vs conservative split in the UMC, but I do know that this continuous airing of dirty laundry only serves to reinforce the worst stereotypes of Christians to those who already see the church as being filled with people who appear more interested in their denomination than in Christ.

  30. Comment by Agrees on November 6, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Of all the comments I have read on this thread as a current outsider that was looking into the UMC, the one above by Sadly speaks the loudest truth of them all!

  31. Comment by MZ13 on August 10, 2014 at 8:41 am

    And why would a non-Christian go to a so-called Christian church that is not based upon the bible? They might be better served getting a health club membership. The Word is the sword of the spirit. Repent, believe, and by God’s grace be Born Again, a new creature in Christ! Then find a church that stands by the Word.

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