Christy Thomas

Liberal United Methodist Pastor Seeks To Avoid Split

on June 24, 2019

Noted retired liberal Methodist pastor Christy Thomas recently appeared on the Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast to talk about issues facing the liberal wing of the United Methodist Church (UMC) and possible solutions. This podcast is especially interesting for the positions that Thomas and the hosts take on these issues. The purpose of examining this podcast is to assess what liberal Methodist thought looks like at the current moment.

Thomas and the podcast hosts focused on three main topics in the May 31 broadcast. Is it possible for the UMC to divide itself into two or more denominations? And how can liberals and traditionalists coexist within the current system?

On the issue of a split in the UMC, Thomas seems to have reversed course somewhat. She previously talked  of an inevitable split in the UMC, but seems less sure of it now. She contacted Dr. Bill Lawrence, former member of the Judicial Council and former Dean of Perkins School of Theology, to ask if a vote on dividing the UMC would itself be struck down as unconstitutional. The answer was a resounding, “I don’t know.” This constitutional problem is compounded by the problems of division and infighting already within the UMC which may doom any attempt at a formal separation from the outset.

The other major problem with a denominational split is property. The UMC, under its various boards and subdivisions, owns a substantial amount of property beyond local church facilities. Specifically mentioned facilities include: the Methodist Building on Capitol Hill, Southern Methodist University, American University, and Methodist Hospital in Houston among others. Furthermore, since all of these organizations are incorporated in different states and sometimes different countries, then a split would need to apportion property to the resultant denominations according to a litany of different state and national laws. Even if it was politically and constitutionally feasible, a schism in the UMC would take years to legally finalize if it was possible at all. To quote Thomas, a schism “could easily take us all down in a way that no one really wants to have happen.”

Since a formal schism would be difficult, their conversation turned to understanding how liberals and traditionalists could coexist in the UMC. Early in the conversation they hit upon the main issue that stops these two groups from coexisting. Liberals and traditionalists in the UMC have so internalized issues of sexuality that they believe that the church cannot remain the body of Christ while the other side still holds sway. Despite this, Thomas says that the best way forward right now would be for the liberals and the traditionalists to find a way to “live within the tension” and to go forward as a unified church body. However, she does not see a way for this to happen at the moment.

Furthermore, this attempt at reunification would be hampered by divisions that the hosts as well as Thomas see in their churches. One of the hosts commented that his church will take a vote to become a reconciling congregation in July. A reconciling congregation in the UMC context is a congregation that has publicly aligned itself with the Reconciling Ministries Network, a very liberal network of churches within the UMC. Thomas recalled a conversation in which someone said they attend a reconciling church and the average Sunday attendance had dropped by three-quarters because people are sick of all the divisions in the UMC right now. Finally, the other host said that, as a pastor, he will have to pay a fraction of his church’s apportionment because congregants are withholding their tithes due to the debate over sexuality.

In short, while liberals in the UMC may be less enthused about a schism in the UMC due to the inherent difficulties involved in it, as well as due to traditionalist control of General Conference for the foreseeable future, they have not backed away from their goal of LGBT affirmation. They are just as committed to their goals and ideology, but they now emphasize the necessity of understanding one another and trying to live within the differences of belief. However, they also understand that such a lofty goal may not be possible within the current political climate.

  1. Comment by Mike on June 24, 2019 at 11:35 am

    Why don’t the liberals see the light and just leave? Can’t they stand the fact that the average Methodist is not going to approve of queer marriage and all that goes with it?

    “someone said they attend a reconciling church and the average Sunday attendance had dropped by three-quarters because people are sick of all the divisions in the UMC right now.” No, the truth is that any conservative Methodist wants nothing to do with promoting a lifestyle that makes him or her sick to their stomach.

  2. Comment by *Another* Mike on June 24, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    To answer Mike’s question above (“Why don’t liberals just leave?”), think AAA (triple A): Assets, Appointments and Apportionment dollars – they know these will become very limited or disappear altogether because a majority of UM members in the pews are traditionalist in their theology. There are not going to be enough churches for them to serve as pastors, there will not be enough money to continue to fund their social justice agendas, and therefore they simply won’t be able to hold onto other assets they’d like to control – like seminaries and the UM building in D.C., etc. It’s always a matter of “follow the money”.

  3. Comment by John Smith on June 26, 2019 at 6:32 am

    I usually answer more simply:


  4. Comment by Eternity Matters on June 24, 2019 at 11:36 am

    Splitting sheep (Christians) from goats (the “Christian” Left) seems logical to me.

  5. Comment by John Smith on June 28, 2019 at 6:18 am

    Seems like Jesus said sorting out sheep and goats, wheat and tares was not a job for people.

  6. Comment by JoeD on June 24, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    There is apparently no self-awareness among these people that the decision to become a “Reconciling Church” causes the plummeting attendance as a result. Could it be any more clear?

    As every other mainline denom. has learned, there is no future in making that call. Your churches will empty, your finances will bleed, and your message to your befuddled remnant congregation will be self-contradictory, non-biblical, and oriented towards politics, not Christ. People aren’t stupid; they figure it out and they eventually leave.

    There’s always been an unjustified belief by church liberals that they could bring gay people to God by being “welcoming.” But they don’t really mean welcoming; they mean “accommodating.” There’s a big difference.

    Moreover, the assumption that there are lots and lots of gay people just looking for that accommodating message has been repeatedly proven wrong.

    People don’t stay at a church because it accommodates their sins; they stay because it helps them overcome their sins.

  7. Comment by Thomas Brown on June 24, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    Very well said. Oh, for such clarity in the denomination.

  8. Comment by Steve Kamerick on June 29, 2019 at 10:15 pm

    I can only assume that there will be another bible composed, leaving out the remarks of God , Jesus, Solomon, Mathew, John, Paul, Peter, James, and more. But what about Jesus’ last comment in His Revelation to John about nor adding or removing anything from this scripture.

  9. Comment by William on June 24, 2019 at 4:48 pm

    If liberals are so sure that they are right, then why are they not forming a new denomination — one that would explode in growth? What’s holding them up? They are, indeed, an enigma.

  10. Comment by John Smith on June 26, 2019 at 6:34 am

    See above:


  11. Comment by Dan on June 24, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    Ah yes, the so called “thoughtful pastor.” Quite the misnomer for her. The pieces she usually publishes are polemical rants criticizing all things orthodox, white cis-gendered male privilege, and supposedly homophobic. Be very afraid of the “live within the tension” phrase. This is just like the infamous “living into the tension” meme used by Episcopal activists as they instituted their putsch of the orthodox traditionalists in the Episcopal Church who would not bow down to the new LGBTQIA+ gods. Now that the mask has been ripped off the purported centrists and mainstream Methodists, expect the same treatment if they can get enough votes for the 2020 General Conference.

  12. Comment by William on June 24, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    Tom Lambrecht tells us that they WILL NOT have the vote:

  13. Comment by William on June 24, 2019 at 7:35 pm

    I guess I don’t run with the cool kids, because I’ve never heard of her and I’m from Texas. By the way, the results are in for RMN churches. They are hemorrhaging at a much faster rate than other UM churches. They’re also older and more white too. So much for diversity. I have friends who have stayed in a RMN because they enjoy the music ministry. But now, they’re looking around for a new church. All the young families were driven away and they’re about the only one left. The church is located across the street from a MAJOR university, yet college students stay away too. So if you want certain death, take the LGBTQi poison pill. When the split comes, liberals can keep the denominational infrastructure. It would be impossible to reform now. They’ll discover the high price tag for heresy and sexual libertinism.

  14. Comment by Bill on June 25, 2019 at 12:04 am

    What if it never gets to the GC? The whole Western Jurisdiction could leave, followed by others after the new voting delegations are in place. Using the African and Asian delegations may not be an option this time.

  15. Comment by Reynolds on June 25, 2019 at 10:07 am

    An entire AC cannot just leave. Each church will need to vote to leave and it will take 2/3 votes of people in the pews. The issue for preachers is are the going to leave the church or keep their day job when the pews vote to stay

  16. Comment by Jim on June 25, 2019 at 10:49 am

    The underlying root issue is the failure to exposit the Word of God from the pulpit. Far too many (dare I say the majority) of UMC pastors present sermons to tickle the ears of those in the pews. A verse or two of the Bible is thrown in to somehow legitimize the 25 minutes. Unless the pastors do what they are called to in presenting the scripture, you may have a congregation of likeminded conservatives still suffering from spiritual malnutrition.

  17. Comment by Mike on June 27, 2019 at 6:04 am

    Amen and Amen!

  18. Comment by Ken MacAlister on June 27, 2019 at 7:06 am

    As one who had enough of the political infighting & heresy & moved on I can tell you it’s only going to get worse. The left is not going to leave because destruction of the church is the goal, not equality for those caught up in sexual sin. If they really loved them & cared for them they would invite them in & give them the Gospel, not condone their sin & encourage them to continue their rebellion against God. They also won’t leave because, as others have said they can’t survive financially without the traditionalists. I left & joined an independent non-denominational Bible teaching church who offer all sinners the Gospel continually & don’t try to excuse or condone sin. This is what the leadership of the UMC refuse to do & it is sinking them like a stone. Sure the traditional plan passed, but it has no teeth & nothing has changed. The heretical behavior continues because those practicing the heresy are not being held to account for their actions. God may turn things around in the UMC, but until & if He does, make sure your spirit is fed & don’t allow heretical teaching & behavior to hinder that. Your relationship with God is more important than any denomination.

  19. Comment by Kevin Phillips on June 30, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    At the end of the day, I’d rather be excluded for who I include, than be included for who I exclude.

  20. Comment by John Smith on July 3, 2019 at 5:58 am

    Such a nice, trite, overused, meaningless quip. I realize that God is generally an afterthought in the UMC but casually tossing out exclude me! I am secure in my righteousness and my choices and if God doesn’t like it He can just do without the benefit of my company exhibits either colossal arrogance or mind numbing ignorance that staggers the imagination.

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