Editor’s note: Today’s UM Voices contributor is Kyle Eisenhuth, a current Liberty University student. UM Voices is a forum for different voices within the United Methodist Church (UMC) on pressing issues of denominational concern. UM Voices contributors represent only themselves and not IRD/UMAction.
As a faithful member of the United Methodist Church (UMC) and a junior at Liberty University, I’ve noticed some confused faces when introducing myself on and off campus. But let me throw another curve ball at you: I am also the president of the university’s pro-life student club.
It’s interesting how of the 15,000 residential students at Liberty, it is a United Methodist who has stepped up to lead the pro-life movement on campus. Despite our church’s shameful past in being complacent or downright supportive of abortion rights, my role in the pro-life movement is not an anomaly in the UMC.
In recent years, the UMC has made significant strides in upholding biblical teachings regarding the sanctity of life, and I for one am grateful. This is not an isolated event inside our denomination. In fact, our denomination is becoming increasingly evangelical and I believe we have a bright future on the horizon. Thank God!
The evangelical United Methodist movement is the entire reason a special General Conference has been called. With increasing majorities, the UMC continues to affirm the Bible’s teachings on human sexuality. When the liberal element of our denomination finally realized this was a growing trend, they called for a special conference in a Hail Mary pass to allow some level of acceptance of practicing homosexuality.
Ideally, I would suspend the trust clause for any church who votes with a two-thirds majority that homosexuality is morally permissible. This group, in my opinion, is welcome to depart and take most of the seminaries with them. Church splits are messy. But why continue to associate ourselves with ministries that seem to have so little regard for the basic authority of Scripture?
A Methodist movement centered in Biblical truth and personal holiness will be a force to be reckoned with.
On a side note, young people often look at human sexuality differently than previous generations. Many young Christians I know would be upset if their church compromised their teachings on human sexuality. But at the same time, these young Christians will publically advocate for political rights—including marriage and cultural acceptance—on behalf of LGBTQ persons. While I am opposed to efforts to normalize and celebrate homosexuality within the church as well as within the wider society, I see this view becoming more prevalent.
Another fact about me that you should know is that I was born and raised forty minutes outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Much of Western Pennsylvania communities have a declining population. Obviously, this creates some barriers for church growth. I believe one of the major issues the United Methodist Church must face is that our denomination is strongest in areas of the country where populations are declining.
Here is what I mean. In Western Pennsylvania, the UMC is by far the largest Protestant denomination. The UMC is a global denomination and the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Meanwhile at Liberty University, many young people have asked me, “What is a Methodist?” Some have never even heard of Methodism before they met me.
As our laity and clergy continue to age, I worry that this trend of ignorance about the UMC will continue among younger generations from more urban areas. However, I’d argue this trend can offer two unique opportunities.
Firstly, it gives us an opportunity to evangelize and share our soul-saving faith with individuals who might be skeptical of trendy or prosperity-oriented distortions of Christianity. We can and should focus more energy into church planting in growing urban communities, while remaining faithful to our churches in communities that are declining.
Secondly, it gives us a clean slate with those unfamiliar with our denomination’s inner bickering and public heresies. We have the opportunity to display a faithful Christian witness and share the uncompromised Gospel on behalf of our denomination, giving all glory to God.
One notable trend among young people is that they are not fond of traditional labels. Political and religious labels are especially becoming less prevalent, which is why many young Christians at Liberty gravitate towards nondenominational churches. Many of my fellow students describe themselves as nondenominational Christians, even if they attend Baptist, Nazarene, or other churches.
I’m not suggesting that we dilute our tradition Christian beliefs or change our polity to appeal to broader culture. What I am suggesting is that we have an opportunity to overcome past barriers.
For example, Methodists have the opportunity to become a more diverse body in the United States. It is 2018 and yet Sunday at 11 o’clock seems to be the most segregated hour of the week. It’s my hope that young people will transcend racial barriers to the point that there will no longer be denominations that are 90 percent white or black.
Perhaps in coming years the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and the UMC could merge. Maybe the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ) and the Free Methodists will join us. Perhaps we could form one giant body of Methodism, not defined by our race, but by Christ. If young people continue to be allergic to labels, this type of unification is possible.
The future of the evangelical United Methodist movement is a bright one with exciting potential. Imagine United Methodists spearheading the pro-life movement alongside our Catholic brothers and sisters, for example. I believe this is absolutely possible.
Even as many conferences face issues related to emigration, there is potential for growth. What it comes down to is faithful United Methodists ensuring the choices their denomination makes are ultimately honoring to God, not culture.