North Alabama Annual Conference Way Forward Commission Book of Discipline UMC

January 11, 2018

North Alabama United Methodists Overwhelmingly Support Discipline on Sexuality

For years, liberal activist laypeople and clergy have urged the United Methodist Church (UMC) to abandon the denomination’s traditional understanding of same-sex unions and homosexual behavior. But evidence from at least one large annual conference suggests that tens of thousands of rank-and-file United Methodists do not see eye-to-eye with these activists.

United Methodist Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett hosted a series of discussions in all eight of the conference’s districts. She met with around 1,200 clergy and laypeople representing more than 130,000 congregants in the North Alabama Annual Conference about these issues in the context of the Way Forward Commission. Surveying these individuals on behalf of their congregations demonstrated striking results, according to the annual conference’s findings released on December 6.

The results excluded a small number “unknown” and non-respondents (54 individuals, approximately 4.5 percent of the total involved in the discussion). But the vast majority of the remainder reported that their congregations favored continuing to enforce the UMC’s current standards on sexual ethics and marriage.

Of clergy and lay leaders who responded, an overwhelming proportion (82 percent) said their congregations supported maintaining the Discipline and not ordaining persons in homosexual relationships. Only 18 percent said their congregations disagreed with this position. Regarding the prohibition against UMC clergy officiating same-sex weddings, 80 percent of those who responded said their congregations agreed with the Discipline and only 20 percent disagreed.

These meetings came about following months of prayer in the North Alabama Annual Conference regarding the upcoming Way Forward Commission and the Special Session of the General Conference in 2019, which will seek to settle some key questions about human sexuality in the UMC. These findings from the North Alabama Annual Conference were submitted to the Way Forward Commission for consideration.

Other significant insights from the discussion were that many clergy and lay leaders remain highly ambiguous about the Way Forward Commission. Only 18 percent had clear “positive feelings” about the commission, and 27 percent had clear “negative feelings.” Another 39 percent had “neutral feelings,” while 10 percent expressed “unclear feelings.”

Clearly uncertainty and a lack of clarity abound in the North Alabama Annual Conference regarding the Way Forward Commission and the debate about sexuality. Among the most common concerns about this controversy included:

  • The impact on the effectiveness of the UMC’s ministry as a result of ongoing disagreements and/or potential outcomes
  • Issues related to denominational unity
  • Loss of people
  • Theological concerns

Many North Alabama United Methodists surveyed were “uncertain” about what the denomination’s way forward should look like on a practical level. But some suggestions also emerged repeatedly during discussions. The most common responses included:

  • An emphasis on scriptural/theological principles
  • Continued discernment and conversation
  • Retaining the UMC’s current stance
  • A focus on the UMC’s core mission

So what does this survey signify for the broader United Methodist Church? It’s true that the North Alabama Annual Conference is part of the Southeastern Jurisdiction, which tends to be more theologically conservative. But the North Alabama Annual Conference is far from the most conservative in the jurisdiction. So it’s likely that many other United Methodists in the Southeastern Jurisdiction feel similarly.

Moreover, membership in the United Methodist Church in the United States is proportionally shifting to relatively conservative regions like the South Central Jurisdiction and Southeastern Jurisdiction. Membership in the United Methodist central conferences in Africa is growing rapidly, with these regions now claiming approximately 40 percent of the denomination’s congregants, a segment of United Methodism that tends to be far more socially conservative than the Southeast Jurisdiction. Meanwhile liberal regions of the United Methodist Church, like the Western Jurisdiction and North Central Jurisdiction, are declining rapidly and experiencing financial strain.

Of course, if survey results were gathered from some other United Methodist annual conference, surely they would differ from those within the North Alabama Annual Conference. Proportionally more members of congregations in the Western Jurisdiction, for example, probably hold different opinions about human sexuality.

But the views revealed within the North Alabama Annual Conference likely represent a significant number of congregants throughout United Methodism. Their values will presumably resonate with an increasing number of United Methodists in the years to come.

Thus, the Way Forward Commission would do well to recall that the vocal minority of activists advocating for changing the Discipline do not speak for most United Methodists, at least those in the fastest growing parts of the denomination. This survey is yet another indication of rank-and-file United Methodist laypeople and clergy being much more supportive of maintaining the UMC Discipline’s biblical standards than is often reflected among denominational elites.

14 Responses to North Alabama United Methodists Overwhelmingly Support Discipline on Sexuality

  1. Andrew Hughes says:

    I hope and pray your right Joseph.

  2. William says:

    ENCOURAGING!! General Conference 2019 MUST adopt the Commission on a Way Forward Option #1 with actual enforcement of the BOD procedures if the denomination wants to avoid a split. But, if not and the church splits, it looks like a large majority of at least the Southeast Jurisdiction is primed to lead the way into the Wesleyan Covenant Association.

  3. Mike Childs says:

    Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett is one of the brightest hopes for the United Methodist Church. May her tribe increase, and may she lead the UMC back to sanity and a Christ-centered faith.

  4. Jim says:

    Just the 82% of the North Alabama Conference who voted to maintain the Discipline and to continue to prohibit ordination of persons in homosexual relationships is more Methodists than belong to the any of the lost western conferences.

  5. Larry Robertson says:

    “…lead back to a Christ-centered faith.” But, Christ taught that remarried divorcees (those whose divorce was not caused by unfaithfulness) are living in adultery. A large part of our people are thus living in adultery. Is it not hypocritical for them to cast out (shun) those in same-sex marriages? Adultery is more acceptable than SSM ? Inconsistency in ethical standards.

    • Rebecca says:

      An interesting reply. Lenore Weitzman one of the people behind the no fault divorce law in California stated no fault divorce was all about making it easier for people to live together in unmarried relationships and for homosexuals to have marriage like relationships. No fault marital laws are anti-Christian marriage by design.

  6. Brad Pope says:

    Hats off to the NAC for genuinely wanting to know their congregants views. I am pretty sure many N Ga conference churches would not send delegates that would vote that way even if they represented the majority view of the congregations.

  7. Brad Martin says:

    I would like to see West Ohio conduct a similar survey. The results might surprise our conference leadership.

  8. Jim says:

    The ultimate debate is about Scriptural Authority. Either you believe the Scriptures as the authority over your life or you don’t. You do not get the option to believe only certain parts. Like it or not we are not a “ Secular Church”. If you believe them but do not follow them …. God will determine your fate – no one else. Faithful Christians are called to express the Word to all – God handles the rest. Go and sin no more

  9. I grew up in North Alabama. I was ordained there. I am thankful for the integrity of the folks in the North Alabama Conference of the UMC Church!

  10. Mike Lyons says:

    There are doubts that Option #1 is any remedy for UM unity. Option #1 would make “united” a word of mockery as a volume of those who identify with the Western and Northeastern constituents would leave (maybe), a certain contingency would stay to intensify their perceived righteous efforts resulting in more disorder, and there will be years of distracting internal litigation to apply the renewed effort at accountability.

  11. Karen Sinclair says:

    I pray the Commission goes back to the Book of Discipline and lets gay pastors & bishops go.

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