As 2018 draws to a close, it is worth reviewing IRD/UMAction’s biggest stories related to the United Methodist Church this year.
Obviously, there’s a lot that is debatable in terms of how important or worthy one particular article may be compared to another. But this top-ten list is based on the more objective standard of how many people viewed each story (“unique pageviews” in techspeak). In other words, which stories were our top UMC-related stories of 2018 was ultimately based on the judgment of you, dear readers.
So without further ado, here were our top United Methodist stories of 2018:
Our most-read United Methodist story in 2018 was my report on the Council of Bishops spring meeting, released within hours of that gathering’s formal conclusion. This meeting was a key milestone in concluding the “Way Forward” process ahead of the specially called 2019 General Conference, although this meeting ended up not being as conclusive as some had thought it would be.
The strong interest of people in this article likely reflects the anxious anticipation many of United Methodists in waiting to find out what will come of this process designed to address our denomination’s worsening divisions related to sexual morality and accountability.
And of course, the fact that the majority of our denomination’s active bishops expressed support for a revisionist position on sexuality was, sadly, big news in itself.
We have long heard speculation or anecdotal stories about local churches losing people when they formally declare themselves to be LGBTQ-affirming “Reconciling Congregations” affiliated with the unofficial Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) caucus.
But Esther Chung took the time to complete a comprehensive and perhaps first-of-its-kind statistical analysis of all United Methodist congregations who joined RMN within the years for which data is now available from www.UMData.org.
She found a rather consistent trend of congregations losing significant amounts of people in both formal membership and actual worship attendance after they declared this liberal stance. She also found that with only few exceptions, such congregations never grew back to the size they had had before they became “reconciling.”
Thanks to Chung’s research, it is now a well-proven fact that United Methodist congregations shrink when they formally join the movement to homosexual unions and practices.
Our third-most-read United Methodist story this year noted how in voting by United Methodist annual conferences around the world, the three proposed amendments to the UMC Constitution supported by UMAction were all overwhelmingly adopted, while the two opposed by us were both defeated.
In a season of waiting in the life of our denomination, this was a high-profile (and to many, surprising) demonstration of growing traditionalist strength in our denomination.
Perhaps interest in this matter was also increased by our bishops, with how the Council of Bishops made a bizarre, unforced choice (which was never really explained) to conceal the results for an unusually long time, coupled with the heavy-handed and misleading tactics some liberal U.S. bishops used to effectively increase the number of people voting against UMAction positions on some amendments.
It is also worth recalling other ways in which a number of bishops irresponsibly mishandled and misrepresented the truth about some of the amendments, and how UMAction formally changed our position to publicly support one proposed amendment promoting women’s equality, after a theologically problematic sentence was removed (as reported on here).
Amidst the backdrop of a Council of Bishops meeting at that time and the release of new statistics showing our denomination’s declining American membership close to being overtaken by growing global membership, UMAction founder and IRD President Mark Tooley offered seven key steps our denomination must take to have a vibrant, faithful future.
After some long delays, we eventually saw the public release of the details of the so-called “One Church Plan,” which would have the United Methodist Church join the ranks of other denominations that have officially changed their policies to allow for same-sex union ceremonies and homosexually active pastors. This plan is being heavily pushed by liberal bishops and caucus groups, often in extremely misleading ways.
In this summary, I pick apart some of the key myths being spread to sell this liberalizing plan, and counter them with some hard-to-deny facts. This summary also links to other articles offering deeper analysis of various specific shortcomings of the liberal bishops’ preferred plan.
Our denomination’s controversial, extremely politically leftist D.C. lobby office, the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), has in recent years taken it upon itself to develop a comprehensive replacement of the UMC Social Principles, our denomination’s official teaching on social and political issues,.
While this came in response to a call from some non-American United Methodists to make the Social Principles more globally oriented, the GBCS has ensured that its own monolithically liberal staff along with some of the most liberal Americans have remained in charge, including by choosing the former leader of the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) to chair this process.
When the GBCS released a draft of its rewritten Social Principles and invited feedback, I saw no public document from GBCS or anyone else tracking what exactly this rewrite had changed or maintained when compared to our current Social Principles.
So this piece outlined some of the biggest changes, which predictably reflected the biases and partisan blind spots of the liberal Americans running this process. Some highlights included the GBCS’s desire to DELETE current language which disapproves of promiscuity, promotes “fidelity” in family relationships, opposes human cloning and forced abortion, and affirms the sacredness of unborn human life while expressing at least some hesitancy about abortion. This analysis also highlighted the GBCS’s sloppy, proof-text approach to Scripture and the writings of John Wesley, including the GBCS citing the non-existent 29th chapter of Matthew.
It will be up to the 2020 General Conference to make final decisions on this process.
Joseph Rossell reported on an official survey in the North Alabama Conference of our denomination finding grassroots United Methodists there supporting, by margins of 4-1, our denomination’s rules banning on homosexually active clergy and same-sex union ceremonies. Given the uneven and changing geographic distribution of United Methodists, this conference may be much more representative of our denomination as a whole than many would think or wish.
Amidst a nationwide disobedience movement of clergy openly breaking our denomination’s rules against homosexually active clergy and same-sex union ceremonies, it was refreshing in this present climate to see a case of our standards being upheld.
Anna Golladay, who had been a licensed local pastor assigned to two troubled congregations in the Holston Conference (basically, Eastern Tennessee and some nearby regions), was swiftly, permanently removed from United Methodist ministry as a result of her performing a pastorally harmful same-sex “wedding” ceremony.
The first comment received on this article is worth highlighting: “As a [local pastor] I support the swift removal of [a local pastor] who so clearly and blatantly defied the [Book of Discipline], however I wish elders got the same consideration. I wonder if the swift decline in the churches named above after partnering with the RMN will be matched by a decline in the UMC if the bishops get their way and make us a RMN denomination.”
At the beginning of the year, Cynthia Meyer was effectively permanently removed from United Methodist ministry as a result of her “coming out” as a partnered lesbian in 2016. Meyer later admitted that she had done this as an intentional publicity stunt, as part of a wider, coordinated campaign with RMN to try to influence that year’s General Conference.
This story traced details of how this came about, how Meyer’s United Methodist congregation fared under her leadership, and where she is now.
With a leadership team that includes Adam Hamilton, Mike Slaughter, and several denominational agency leaders, among others, “Uniting Methodists” is one of a couple single-issue caucuses that have recently emerged with a focus on passing the so-called “One Church Plan” (to liberalize our standards on sexuality) at the 2019 General Conference. This group has claimed to be “centrist,” despite its leaders promoting aggressively far-left positions on everything from core theology to sexuality to the disobedience movement to abortion to Israel to marginalization of African United Methodists.
Our tenth-most-read United Methodist story of 2018 was Dan Moran’s report on a panel discussion of this caucus’s summer conference, in which official speakers conceded that the Bible indeed morally disapproves of homosexual practice, but then they countered by promoting the view that (in a direct quote) “the Bible’s wrong.”
This year, our sixth-most-read United Methodist article was actually my report on openly partnered lesbian activist Karen Oliveto, who continues to illegitimately occupy the bishop’s office for our denomination’s Denver-based Mountain Sky Area, publicly warning people to not “create an idol out of” Jesus Christ, and teaching that He actually had “his bigotries and prejudices” out of which He needed to be converted as an adult.
This story is not included in the list above because it was written and posted back in the fall of 2017, and so is technically not a 2018 article. However, the continued wide readership of this report suggests a strong, ongoing concern over someone who occupies the office of a United Methodist bishop, and who is adored heroine to so many liberal United Methodists, so blatantly rejecting core Christian teaching about the divinity and sinlessness of Jesus Christ, even aside from questions about sexual morality.
Oliveto’s heretical teachings of 2017 took on new relevance in 2018, with both a formal complaint recently filed against her for committing the chargeable offense of “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church” and how a newly adopted constitutional amendments (passed with UMAction’s strong support and opposed by Oliveto supporters) gives the global Council of Bishops new powers to discipline Oliveto, IF that group’s commitment to countering false teaching that slanders Jesus Christ is remotely comparable to the commitment of a majority of active bishops to supporting the “One Church Plan.”