Responding to her own California-Nevada Conference, which approved a resolution urging possible departure from United Methodism over its traditional sexuality views, Bishop Minerva Carcaño and her cabinet faulted IRD for creating denominational divisions:
Some members of the Wesley Covenant Association, Institute for Religion and Democracy, and others have been planning this deconstruction of the connection for almost 40 years. The schismatic endgame of this strategy is apparent. Yet many of their movement are no longer represented in General and Jurisdictional delegations. This does not mean the tide is turning; the numbers bear witness that they are not. However, facilitating THEIR exit should be the primary goal rather than having us waste valuable time and energy planning what is ultimately the will of the WCA and IRD. Remember, it was the Methodist Episcopal Church South that left the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Last month the California-Nevada Annual Conference was one of several Western conferences urging the call of a “special session of the Western Jurisdictional Conference…To consider and develop a process for creative separation from The United Methodist Church, while defining ourselves clearly, to be able to continue to function as one church in our Jurisdiction…”
United Methodism’s fast declining Western Jurisdiction, which includes fewer than 3 percent of the church’s members, is the denomination’s most liberal area and has widely defied the church’s traditional teaching about marriage. The February 2019 General Conference strengthening penalties against defiance has prompted growing liberal calls to create a new denomination.
Some liberal activists in the West and elsewhere have also called for congregations to withhold apportioned payments to the United Methodist Church in protest, especially to punish any recipients of church missions dollars in Africa, whose growing churches are theologically conservative. Carcaño’s statement likewise rejected this strategy.
Revealingly, Carcaño admitted: “As the weakest of all the jurisdictions, the West has been dependent on the connectional church for its survival. Loss of the connectional relationship will accelerate its decline.” Why is the Western Jurisdiction, ostensibly the most “inclusive” of the church’s regions, so weak? Operating in socially liberal areas of the West Coast, it should be thriving. United Methodist progressives nationally want the denomination to replicate the Western Jurisdiction’s unalloyed theological liberalism. But why, if the result is “weakness” and “decline?”
Some progressives reacted negatively to Carcaño’s plea to remain in and financially support United Methodism. The pastor of one of the Western Jurisdiction’s largest churches, who angrily removed the denominational logo from his church after the 2019 General Conference, announced he was “disappointed.” The Mountain Sky Annual Conference, which has an actively lesbian bishop in defiance of United Methodist law, approved a “separation” resolution by more than 80 percent.
Many United Methodist progressives are tired of the decades long battle to overturn the church traditional teaching on sexuality and understandably are ready for creating a new structure. There appears to be a growing chorus across the denomination’s ideological divisions for a separation facilitating distinct churches for traditionalists, progressives and “centrists.”
Carcaño’s faulting IRD for United Methodist divisions is an old refrain from some institutionalists who prefer to ignore the nearly century old chasm between evangelicals and liberals in American Methodism. The sexuality debate is only one outgrowth of deeper differences over biblical authority, Christology, salvation, and ecclesiology.
United Methodism has long avoided formal schism by trying to elide these deep theological divisions. But the debates over sexuality, with practical implications, could not be obfuscated. Despite many decades of liberal dominance in church governance, traditionalists, joined by the growing overseas church, have kept the marriage teaching orthodox.
Blaming IRD is convenient for church institutionalists preferring a simplistic explanation for liberal failure to consolidate final control over the denomination. A Tennessee clergyman, writing on a denominational website last month, echoed Carcaño about IRD but with more detail:
…You think: this is a brilliant, calculated, political-influence machine, justifying itself as a champion of Christian ethics. But then over the past 15 years the tone changed and comes across with a slap. The current president of the IRD, Mark Tooley, is a former CIA analyst, patriot, and attends a United Methodist congregation. His newsletters read like a Christian “voters guide” and often come across with invective. The intrigue and allegations would make for great copy in a spy novel if the target shooting wasn’t so disheartening and if the IRD weren’t so effective with their mission and goals: they have helped our denominations divide.
This cleric further warns:
Another type of political maneuvering compromises the biblical gospel and divides Christians with assertions of orthodoxy. The late Tom Oden, an evangelical theology professor at Drew University, directly influenced IRD strategy with his final book, The Rebirth of African Orthodoxy, by claiming that Christian patristic orthodoxy originated in Africa, and that votes from African Methodists can be leveraged to prevent the spread of progressive biblical interpretation of Scripture.
Presumably this cleric thinks United Methodism would now be in harmony, absent IRD. But the truth is more interesting. Liberalism long ago captured the seminaries and centers of control but never fully persuaded the local church in America even after a century of trying. Meanwhile, as the USA church shrinks thanks to decades of theological schizophrenia, the African church has arisen bold and strong, untouched by and unintimidated by USA theological liberalism.
So United Methodism will divide, finally recognizing the long-suppressed reality. They who facilely fault IRD will never understand what really happened.