The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), the official Capitol Hill lobby for America’s third largest religious body, has announced its new general secretary will be the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, long-time chaplain of United Methodist affiliated Emory University in Atlanta. She will succeed Jim Winkler, who is term limited after 12 years. Henry-Crowe has affirmed same-sex unions at the chapel and advocated LGBTQ causes while a member of the United Methodist Judicial Council. So she is definitely from the liberal wing of United Methodism. GBCS has exclusively represented the liberal wing of the church for about 50 years, so there is little surprise about the new appointment.
The non-liberal majority within United Methodism has long been ignored by GBCS, which for years has disregarded the church’s official teachings about marriage and opposition to most abortion while strenuously advocating conventionally liberal or left-wing stances on dozens of political issues every year to Congress and the media. Since GBCS so clearly makes no effort to represent most United Methodists, Congress and the media largely stopped listening to pronouncements from GBCS many years ago.
GBCS has about a $5 million budget and a couple dozen staffers, which is not huge. But it is the largest denominational lobby in Washington, D.C. And the resources are not insignificant for a denomination that increasingly suffers from financial limitations thanks to 50 years of continuous U.S. membership loss. Even if GBCS did represent most United Methodists, it’s questionable how effective it could be while routinely defused across so many different topics. It’s also true that the vast majority of United Methodists don’t even know their denomination has a lobby office on Capitol Hill. Clergy, understandably anxious to avoid controversy, do not typically tell their parishioners about GBCS.
So GBCS hums along across the decades, ignored by Congress, ignored by the media, unknown to most of its own church, yet strenuously pushing its usual political menu: Big Government, Welfare Statism, apocalyptic environmentalism, pacifism, anti-Americanism, open borders, and the Sexual Revolution, including unrestricted abortion. Its worldview, rooted in an early 20th century modernist, Social Gospel liberal Protestantism that denies the transcendent, is stridently materialist and utopian. Essentially for GBCS the Kingdom of God is mostly about a massive regulatory state guaranteeing material goods and sexual autonomy to each person.
And even though nearly 40 percent of United Methodists now live outside the U.S., mostly Africa, GBCS remains almost exclusively focused on U.S. politics. Its theological and sexual liberalism is also starkly at odds not just with U.S. traditionalists but with African United Methodism, where there are over 4 million members, and where the church is growing by over 200,000 members annually while the U.S. church is losing as many as 100,000 members annually. Meanwhile, GBCS’s governing board of over 60 directors has only 3 Africans. Last year’s General Conference approved legislation for more proportionate representation, but the church structuring of which it was a part was overruled as unconstitutional by the church’s top court.
GBCS can and likely will continue for a time as the exclusive plaything for U.S. liberal political activists. But the status quo will not long last. A smart GBCS would start to reformat its agenda now so as to actually represent most United Methodists. The denomination includes conservatives and liberals. But there are important issues for which there is near consensus and that are rooted in historical Methodist social witness. What if GBCS focused on alcohol and drug abuse, pornography and sex trafficking, and gambling, which are the issues for which GBCS’s predecessor agency was originally founded? Add to this new menu advocacy for religious freedom, especially solidarity with persons globally persecuted for their faith. And also include emphasis on global disease eradication and provision of clean water, urgent issues especially in Africa. About 80 to 90 percent of United Methodists in the U.S. and around the world would support such an agenda. And a GBCS more exclusively focused on a few issues versus dozens would be effective, respected for genuine expertise, and taken seriously as the legitimate social voice for an over 11 million member global church.
For the moment, GBCS has apparently chosen to continue on its 50 year course of unreality. But the pretense can only last another quadrennium or two before there is change. Inevitably the day will come when GBCS is reclaimed for the whole church, a new church, a growing global church that is again rooted in Wesleyan social and personal holiness.