Seven Steps for United Methodism's Future

Seven Steps for United Methodism’s Future

on February 26, 2018

The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops is meeting this week and again in April to consider proposals from the special commission on denominational controversies about homosexuality. That commission meets one more time in March to finalize its ideas for consideration by a specially scheduled General Conference in 2019.

Meanwhile, new membership statistics show USA United Methodism slumping below 7 million members for the first time in 100 years, while globally the church is at a record 12.5 million members, thanks to church growth in Africa. The emerging new majority in Africa has prevented United Methodism, uniquely among historically liberal Mainline Protestant denominations, from liberalizing its marriage teaching, defined in church law as union of man and woman.

Here are my suggested essential principles for United Methodism’s future:

1. Keep & Explain Marriage Teaching

United Methodism must retain its biblical stance on marriage and sexuality, which represents the ecumenical consensus of the faithful dating to the apostles. Any liberalization or localization of this teaching would create schism and accelerated membership implosion, as it has in every other denomination globally that has done so. It should be noted that the areas of greatest dissent from this teaching are the church’s fastest declining regions, despite rhetoric about open doors. The historic church’s rich understanding of marriage as union of man and woman, in cosmic relation to the eternal wedding feast uniting Christ and His church, must be better explained theologically as should a practical and faithful Wesleyan theology of the human body.

2. Don’t Localize Sexuality Battle

Denominational battles over sexuality, largely confined to the quadrennial General Conference or local annual conferences, should not be injected into the local church. Any plan forcing thousands of congregations to vote and choose sides would be calamitously divisive and destructive. USA United Methodism has over 30,000 local churches, and few of them are entirely conservative or liberal. Very few congregations have had formal conversations about the denominational controversy, and they are unprepared for suddenly confronting it.

3. Let Dissidents Leave

Hundreds of congregations, perhaps representing two percent of total USA churches and less than one percent of members, have openly dissented from the church’s marriage teaching. They should be permitted to leave the denomination with their property and assets. So too should other and wider entities, including regions and schools. The church’s Western Jurisdiction, which has illegally elected an actively lesbian bishop, and has two percent of total church membership, should be permitted to leave United Methodism, with its more orthodox local churches allowed to remain United Methodist. Its departure likely would include seminaries like Claremont in California and Iliff in Colorado, among others.

4. Fairness for Africa

United Methodism in Africa, with over 5.3 million members and 43 percent of total church membership, needs fairer representation in church governance. Too many church agencies and committees are led and staffed by USA persons, often from the most liberal and fastest declining regions. The General Board of Church and Society, for example, on its over 60 member board of directors, typically has only two or three Africans. Justice and reality require that exclusion of Africans must end. Church governance that looks more like the global church will be fairer and more effective.

5. Reach Beyond Older Whites

Our denomination in America is almost entirely white, older, middle and upper middle class, based in suburbs or small towns. United Methodism’s future vitality requires special evangelistic outreach to non-whites, immigrants, millennials and urbanites. Christianity in America among all these groups is thriving but United Methodism largely is not participating. Official church structures for the foreseeable future are likely incapable of such outreach, which means local churches and other entrepreneurial initiatives must fill the void.

6. Rediscover Wesleyan Riches

There must be enhanced catechesis and discipleship for church membership based on Wesleyan distinctives. Denominational traditions are dying in America in favor of nondenominational Christianity. Methodism’s future requires renewed appreciation for the theological richness of our own tradition rooted in the universal church, including liturgy, sacraments, and ecclesial connectionalism, sustained by the insights of John Wesley, the Reformers and Church Fathers. This renewal of Methodist doctrine and practice requires enhanced doctrinal education for and accountability by clergy, including bishops especially. And the church’s seminaries must enter into a new relation of mutual accountability with the whole church.

7. Globalize Further

Soon a majority of United Methodists will be in Africa, for which we thank God. But our church should be more comprehensively global. United Methodism in America has declined for over 50 years and is moribund in Europe and the Philippines. New church plants are thriving in Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam and Cambodia. There should be enhanced missions support for nascent United Methodism in Asia. Some day we pray its numbers and strength will equal Africa. We also as United Methodists must be in greater solidarity with the persecuted church in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. Their suffering should be ours, just as it is Christ’s.

  1. Comment by David Worley on February 26, 2018 at 11:15 am

    Agree 100%

  2. Comment by David Worley on February 26, 2018 at 11:15 am

    Right on the mark.

  3. Comment by Margaret DeMaris on February 26, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    Too bad our bishops won’t pay any attention. Well thought out, God based ideas.

  4. Comment by Pudentiana on February 26, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Tooley. To try to divide the Holy Spirit because of someone’s sexual proclivities is impossible and we all know that God can proclaim “Ichabod” whenever necessary.

  5. Comment by Danny on February 26, 2018 at 4:35 pm

    Well said Mark Tooley, bravo.

  6. Comment by John Dunnack on February 26, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    The most reasonable proposal I’ve read to date. Enforcement would be the real challenge.

  7. Comment by Roger on February 26, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    Item 8. Preach the Gospel of Grace and doctrines of the Apostle Paul.

  8. Comment by Dan on February 26, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    You need to be careful about too much emphasis on St. Paul. His writings lean heavily in the direction of predestination and election and these are doctrines of which John Wesley did not approve. Note that Wesley removed the Articles of Religion from the Church of England that referred to these doctrines when he created his own Articles of Religion.

  9. Comment by Brad Pope on February 26, 2018 at 9:18 pm

    Dan you might reconsider suggesting to deemphasize Paul, his is the inspired word of God. Wesley was a great visionary & man of God (maybe I missed it) but have never seen Wesley suggest his own positions were anything but subject to the authority of God’s word, including those expressed through Paul….Wesley was bold but, unlike many in UMC leadership today, never claimed to have authority over scripture, always under or through

  10. Comment by Dan on February 27, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    I’m just pointing out that Wesley definitely espoused Arminianism whereby man has free will to choose God. St. Paul preached that man was unable to do anything of his own will and God had to choose man; i.e., make him elect via God’s predestined will.

  11. Comment by Brad Pope on February 27, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    I understand, it is just a dangerous trend lately in methodism to pick and choose which scripture is authoritative, while the bible itself says all scripture is. Sometimes the tension between scriptures causes us to wrestle in ways that help us grow. When we start with the fact that all scripture is authoritative period then we at least have a chance of growing, otherwise we pick & choose verses that validate our world view rather than being transformed by His truth. On election & free will Tozer said it best: “God will not hold us responsible to understand the mysteries of election, predestination, and the divine sovereignty. The best and safest way to deal with these truths is to raise our eyes to God and in deepest reverence say, “O Lord, Thou knowest.” Those things belong to the deep and mysterious Profound of God’s omniscience. Prying into them may make theologians, but it will never make saints.”

  12. Comment by Bobby Franklin on March 4, 2018 at 10:54 am

    The debate between free will and predestination is age old. I had this with a dear friend and Presbyterian minister. Grant it, I’m just a lay person raised in the Methodist faith, but it seems to me the best way to solve the debate is to agree that we are “predestined to choose.” God gave (preordained) us the right and ability to choose. The other issues with sexuality could be solved with looking at what the bible says through the lens of Jesus’s two great commandments.

  13. Comment by Roger on February 27, 2018 at 5:13 pm

    The Apostle Paul received his instructions from the risen Lord in Arabia for 3 years.

  14. Comment by John Smith on March 5, 2018 at 6:42 am

    So your point would be that where Wesley disagrees with the bible (a disputable proposition) we should pick Wesley? Would Wesley say he should be preferred over an apostle? Isn’t this picking _____(person, changing norms, new doctrine) over the bible how the UMC got into its current mess?

  15. Comment by Ruth A. Gynther on February 28, 2018 at 11:39 pm

    Aren’t the teachings of Jesus (the Gospels) more basic than the writings of Paul? There is no record of Jesus condemning homosexuality, but He did stress “Love your neighbor as yourself”, and he went to great lengths to indicate that our neighbor includes those different from ourselves: the Good Samaritan, the leper, the Samaritan woman at the well, the tax collector–all people the Jews considered unacceptable. Should we judge who and how those different from ourselves can serve God?

  16. Comment by CJ Caufield on March 1, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    Arguments from silence are dangerous.

  17. Comment by Brad Pope on March 2, 2018 at 5:23 pm

    Picking and choosing what parts of the bible is a knee jerk reaction by those like Adam Hamilton whose world view is inconvenienced by scripture. Jesus said Paul was His “chosen instrument”. Being on the side of those who pick and choose will always be at odds with Jesus. You rightly point out Jesus emphasized loving each other. BUT He never defined love as validating our chosen lifestyles but loved us in spite of them, and always challeneges us to go and sin no more…

  18. Comment by Thomas on March 3, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Only a small part of what Jesus said or taught is in the Gospels. The Gospels are crystal clear in the definition of human sexuality as just between the sacred union of a man and a woman. St. Paul was in total accordance with that defintion. People with unnatural sexual tendencies should sublimate them. If Christianity has been right for 2000 years on human sexuality it still is. Remember that the first Christians fought the rampant homophilia of the pagan world, which has some similarities with what his happening currently.

  19. Comment by Richard Bell on March 3, 2018 at 9:53 pm

    What is contrary to nature is not necessarily sin — not necessarily contrary to God’s will. Paul makes that very clear.

  20. Comment by Penny on March 29, 2018 at 12:24 am

    I’m still praying for you, Richard.

  21. Comment by John Smith on March 5, 2018 at 6:45 am

    IF Jesus is God, if the bible is the word of God, then everything in the bible is by Jesus to include everything written by Paul. If the the first two propositions aren’t true then what does it matter what Jesus, Paul or the bible say?

    That does not mean, however, that everything is easy to understand.

  22. Comment by Roger on March 8, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    What did Jesus preach? Please read Matt. 9: 35, Matt. 4: 23, and Rom. 15: 8. All these are to Jews under the Law / Kingdom age. The Apostle Paul is sent to the Gentiles, and was instructed by the Risen Lord. Which is more important? words from the earthly Jesus or from the Resurrected Lord to Paul.? The Jews rejected their Messiah and God turned to the Gentiles under the Gospel of Grace. Paul’s letters only have Church language, such as the Body of Christ.

  23. Comment by Jun Valmores on March 6, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    Amen to this. Paul is not a monopoly of the reformed tradition. I submit that Wesley held to his convictions on the doctrines of grace precisely because he understood Paul to teach libertarian free will (see Thomas Oden’s book on Grace). Paul, rightly understood, supports UMC’s doctrinal positions on salvation. Thus, when one mentions the term “doctrines of grace”, we must disabuse ourselves that it is owned by predestinarians. They espouse just a variation of it.

  24. Comment by Mike on April 12, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    How about preaching the gospel, period.
    Embracing Darwinism as an official stance in the Methodist Church and also supporting bishop Oliveto who openly declared Jesus to be a bigot sounds more like a church that wants to be the official state church of the government.

  25. Comment by Mary Luoma on February 26, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    9. Adhere to the Book of Discipline. Many local churches look nothing like a church should look if the book was followed.

  26. Comment by William Noll on February 27, 2018 at 3:16 am

    In other words, if every United Methodist would only agree with Good News, the church would have no more problems and start growing again. This in America where an ever growing majority of people favor gay marriage and full equal rights for LGBTQ people.
    Let’s pay attention to St. Paul. In Christ there is neither male nor female. Christianity has grown when it has been an inclusive faith, not when it has embraced narrow-minded prejudice.

  27. Comment by Fred Monk on February 28, 2018 at 6:26 am

    I can get that kind of faith at the Eagles, Moose, Elks, Lions, or anywhere else. The majority of America is drifting away from Christianity anyhow. Christianity, and Merhodism in particular have a unique calling to a new life in Christ marked by forgiveness for the past, forsaking all sin, and being a new creature in Christ. It is my firm conviction that this is not accomplished by re-defining sin for the sake of being inclusive. Instead we are called to ve witnesses to a changed and holy life. That joy is contagious as we witness in the church in Africa, where there IS growth.

  28. Comment by Penny on March 1, 2018 at 1:31 am

    Succinct and correct.

  29. Comment by Rev. Penny Pelter on February 28, 2018 at 9:06 am

    An ever-growing number of Americans believing in gay marriage does NOT mean we as Christians should follow suit. Like it or not, scripture is consistent on this issue from Leviticus all the way through Paul’s epistles. There is neither make nor female supports feminism, perhaps, NOT something that is consistently called sin. We are called to be in the world, but not of it. I suggest you re-read the warnings contained both in Leviticus 18 and in Paul’s epistles (particularly the scripture about exchanging the truth for a lie) to see what happens to a nation that turns to homosexuality. You are not loving someone when you distort biblical truth. Or put another way, you’re loving them straight into hell.

  30. Comment by Penny on March 1, 2018 at 1:34 am

    Since we are sheep among wolves we need wise shepherds leading our flocks so they can be warning each of us to be in the world but not of it. So many pastors are nearing retirement age and we should all be praying for our Lord to send out workers for the harvest.

  31. Comment by Richard Bell on March 2, 2018 at 5:54 pm

    Scripture nowhere forbids same-sex marriage by the Church. In Leviticus, God forbade homosexual conduct per se as impurity, but, as Jesus and Paul and Peter taught, the Purity Law is obsolete. Paul did not condemn homosexual conduct per se as sin; he condemned homosexual conduct as fornication, violation of the Seventh Commandment.
    Read my general comment below, ask for and read a copy of my essay, and then join me in a good discussion of how scripture is consistent on this issue.

  32. Comment by Thomas on March 4, 2018 at 1:16 pm

    What you are implying is that St. Paul would endorse homosexual “love”, which was very known in the Greek and Roman world and that is nonse. Love can never rely in unnatural sexual atractions.

  33. Comment by Penny on March 29, 2018 at 12:27 am

    Richard, you are expecting to choose a particular sin for the Church to ignore or even bless. That is impossible. And Jesus consistently said to stop the sinning.

  34. Comment by Will on March 3, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    Indeed so. There is also a “growing number” who want to legalize pedophilia but it’s no reason to listen to them.

  35. Comment by Andy Wilson on February 27, 2018 at 7:00 pm

    The United Methodist Church is dead. Sadly, we United Methodists refuse to see that. As long as we throw scripture away daily and do what”feels” good, we will continue to die. Fifty years of losing people and churches weekly. Will we ever wake up?

  36. Comment by Rev. Penny Pelter on February 28, 2018 at 9:08 am

    Much of the United Methodist Church in the U.S. has become apostate, sadly, but the church is not dead. There are plenty of UM churches like the three I serve that are still faithful to the gospel.

  37. Comment by Scott on February 28, 2018 at 9:11 am

    Everyone needs to take a moment and read the article at um insight that is a report on conversations among the bishops. As I expected they are focusing solely on option #2. I hope IRD, Good News, and the WCA are prepared with a counter proposal. If they win the Methodist church will be firmly in the pro gay camp within five years. It smells like the plan is to go with #2, drive out the traditionalists, and then take over the entire denomination. Unity and status quo over the truth. Where have I heard that before?

  38. Comment by Donald on March 3, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    As I predicted in my comments, Option#2 reveals that the “wizards of smart” in Nashville have not learned anything by watching the decline of other Mainline Protestant denominations. I hope the UMC allows faithful churches to leave with their property intact.

  39. Comment by Linda Odom on February 28, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    I just stopped attending a few years ago due to no God or Jesus. I have been a lifelong Methodist but now it is too liberal and I don’t want to hear about the preacher/pastor’s weekend at theme parks or how funny their children are. Let’s get back to Sunday School and preaching the gospel not small groups. Also, the gyms have been abandoned in favor of one or two people on stage singing mindless, repetitive songs and the congregation waving their arms and swaying, repeating words on a screen. I can get the same thing at a concert. I keep waiting for them to hold up lighters. Not Godly to me.

  40. Comment by Henry Van Every on March 2, 2018 at 1:16 am

    Since the UMC started cursing Israel through Resolution 6111 and prior resolutions of boycott and divest, the church has gone downhill. Priority one is to defeat Resolution 6111. Until then I believe God will be true to His Word (Genesis 12:3). I left the UMC in 2017 after attending 71 years (58 years a member). If the church returns to scripture and worship of the One, True, Living God, Yeshua Ha’Mashiach, Jesus the Messiah, I will reconsider. The UMC should want God’s blessing, not cursing.

  41. Comment by Richard Bell on March 2, 2018 at 5:40 pm

    “United Methodism must retain its biblical stance on marriage and sexuality, which represents the ecumenical consensus of the faithful dating to the apostles.”
    United Methodism’s stance on marriage and sexuality is misinterpretation of the Bible. It is contrary to God’s stance on marriage and sexuality. The traditional ecumenical consensus is likewise.
    “The historic church’s rich understanding of marriage as union of man and woman, in cosmic relation to the eternal wedding feast uniting Christ and His church, must be better explained theologically”.
    Let me help stimulate that better explanation. I prove from scripture, in accordance with traditional methods of interpretation, that God wills His church celebrate marriages of homosexuals just as it celebrates marriages of heterosexuals. As a conservative evangelical Christian, I would rejoice at a better explanation of scripture that supports the historic church’s understanding of marriage. Ask me for my proof by email: [email protected]. Read my proof and refute it. That would go a long way toward a better explanation of the historic church’s understanding.

  42. Comment by Rebecca on March 2, 2018 at 11:47 pm

    How do you explain Genesis which is all about marriage being between one man and one woman, and then how do you explain Jesus saying the Old Testament is valid and to follow it?

  43. Comment by Donald on March 3, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    Looks like you need to e-mail him for his proof rather than ask your question here.

  44. Comment by Richard Bell on March 3, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    I have a very good answer to your question and to many other questions you may have. As Donald says, this thread is not the right way to deliver those answers to you. Just ask me by email and I will send you all I have, with a respectful request that you consider my answer(s) and let me know any error you find.

  45. Comment by Clayton D Harriger on March 3, 2018 at 8:19 am

    Thanks for the comments on what the UMC needs to do in the future — as an old fellow told me one Sunday when I was in my first year as a pastor, “Keep shooting young man, there is game in every bush!” Keep up the good and faithful work.

  46. Comment by Donald on March 3, 2018 at 9:42 am

    The UMC in Africa is quite vibrant. It should become the dominant theological center of the denomination rather than the 2% of UMC congregations in the U.S. which are rapidly declining.
    Of course the folks in Nashville are just as blind to the reality of causes for membership decline as their pals in the PCUSA, TEC, ELCA, UC and any of the other ‘progressive’ denominations. So don’t look for those folks to have a sudden ‘conversion.’ Let them leave…or better yet, fire them based on breach-of-contract.

  47. Comment by Thomas on March 3, 2018 at 10:25 am

    Very good points made by Mark Tooley. I agree that the UMC will become increasingly a global denomination and his future lies in it.

  48. Comment by Thomas More on March 3, 2018 at 10:26 am

    Very good points made by Mark Tooley. I agree that the UMC will become increasingly a global denomination and his future lies in it.

  49. Comment by Robert Pointer MD on March 3, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    Bottom line to all these discussions: either all scriptures
    are inspired by the Holy Spirit or they’re not; all statistics
    not withstanding! It’s not a question of who transribed
    the Word, but Who authored it.

  50. Comment by Karen Brothers on March 3, 2018 at 8:03 pm

    Why does the latest booklet on the beliefs of United Methodism say that everyone is going to Heaven when the Bible says otherwise? Some are leaving the church because of this.

  51. Comment by Rev. Robert J Green; FLUMC ret. on March 6, 2018 at 5:39 pm

    Agree 100%. We must fight the good fight.

  52. Comment by Michael Sonntag on April 28, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    Hi, I want to be in a group that can maintain a balance between Christian scriptural adherence and rational thought. I have attended a UMC for over a decade and eventually did join a congregation. To me the most significant aspect of the current controversy is that it offers an opportunity for the UMC to reject scripture in pursuit of inclusion. If that happens, it will set a precedent, there will be further rejections in the future, and it will make no sense for me to stay. I doubt that I am unique in this.

  53. Comment by Glenn on March 8, 2019 at 6:54 pm

    Excellent analysis Mr. Tooley. But is it “Renewal” or is it “Reaffirmation” of the book of order and the Book of Life?

    Here is the potential future (without conservative Africa) of Methodism in America. Just a skip (Given the obvious beliefs of the Bishops) behind the Episcopalians, COC, Presby USA and Lutherans. How many of these folks left in the pews each Sunday?

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