Fun With Math

on July 9, 2019

Rev. Dr. C. Chappell Temple is the lead pastor of Christ Church (UMC) in Sugar Land, Texas. An elder in the Texas Conference, he has been a delegate to the last four General Conferences, and holds degrees from SMU, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Rice University. This post originally appeared on his personal blog. Reposted with permission.

He attributed the phrase to Benjamin Disraeli, but you won’t actually find it in any of his works. But in speaking to the power of numbers to bolster an otherwise weak argument, Mark Twain was probably correct to say that there are three kinds of untruths:  “lies, damn lies, and statistics.” And in that sense, some of my colleagues are perhaps not exactly correct in suggesting that 76% of American Methodists are against the traditional understanding of human sexuality outlined in our Book of Discipline.

It’s true that three-quarters of the annual conferences across the United States voted for a majority progressive delegation to the upcoming General Conference in 2020, and likewise more than half passed resolutions in opposition to what is no longer the Traditional Plan but is now actually the reaffirmed law of the church. But that doesn’t really tell the full story.

The Texas Conference, for example, like many across the country, pretty much split the house, electing a largely progressive/centrist delegation on the clergy side, and a wholly traditionalist delegation on the lay side.  But though eight of the nine clergy chosen were on a progressive/centrist voting list (that’s 88% if you are keeping track), because everyone elected must receive at least fifty percent of the ballots plus one, it’s a little like the winner take all Electoral College.  For look at the numbers more carefully and you will find that the progressive majority was actually only about 53% or so, roughly the same percentages as in neighboring Louisiana as well.

In Florida, the progressive margins were slightly higher at around 57 percent but again, because of the system, the clergy delegation elected was 100% progressive, and there were similar results in South Carolina and Georgia.  In West Ohio, there was also a stronger preference for progressive clergy candidates, some 64%, but even there, the 35% traditional pastors were not represented in the 100% progressive delegation.  And in Indiana, the difference between progressive and traditional clergy was only forty to fifty (or 7%) out of the 700 votes that were cast.

On the other hand, I suspect that the progressive clergy in Western Pennsylvania will not really feel represented by the traditional delegation that dominated their elections, just as I know that my progressive friends in Texas felt left out when the traditionalists swept the vote here in prior cycles.  Even this time, the same would be true for progressive laity in places like Texas where, as noted above, the entire slate on that side of the house will reflect a traditional majority.

The point is that in a system involving multiple candidates for multiple positions each requiring a majority vote it’s simply not possible to draw conclusions as to the true mind of the whole church when it comes to controversial issues.  Likewise, suggesting that the delegates who were elected reflect the viewpoints of United Methodists in the pews is more than a little disingenuous when fully half of those who will vote next May in Minneapolis–clergy who tend to be far more progressive than laity–actually represent only 0.4% of those who comprise The United Methodist Church across the globe.  And don’t even get me started on what would appear to be a “cavalier” dismissal (to borrow a term from a colleague) of the forty plus percent of the church that lives in Africa.

In the end, it’s pretty clear thus that at least on the question of human sexuality that we United Methodists are far more closely divided than the delegate count might imply.  What is incumbent upon us a church thus is to find a way to honor those differences and create new communities of faith that can live side by side, though with enough separation to stop our long internecine warfare.  We can stay family if we like, but perhaps we’re better off calling ourselves “cousins in Christ” for the time being, rather than brothers and sisters trying to live together in the same contentious household.

Of course, there’s a 43.7% chance I could be entirely wrong about all of this.  But if so, I have no doubt but that someone will tell me so.  Of that, in fact, I’m 100% sure.

  1. Comment by Eternity Matters on July 9, 2019 at 11:16 am

    No, just split the denomination. No room for sheep AND goats.

    The Christians in the UMC have tried to appease the goats for decades and it obviously won’t work. So quit trying! If the men of Sodom persisted even after being literally blinded by God, then today’s LGBTQX lobby — including the “Christian” Left – will never stop. Do not cater to them under any circumstances. It will never be enough.

  2. Comment by JR on July 9, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    I like being called a “Christian”. And being called a goat. It speaks volumes.

    But not about me.

  3. Comment by Richard on July 9, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    Dr. Temple – I suspect your math is more correct than our friends in those three-quarters of conferences across the United States care to admit. But, maybe their way of doing math helps them sleep at night. That is, even though they are up late plotting for what they have missed all along, which is scripture and church law.

  4. Comment by Andrew Hughes on July 9, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    How true. But truth doesn’t work for some.

  5. Comment by Mike on July 9, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    Well said (argued/written). I’ve been making this same point with members of my local congregation; there simply is NOT accurate representation of United Methodists in the pews. In my Annual Conference (Minnesota), like many others, even the laity who are elected as delegates to AC do not accurately represent the laity back home; they lean left/progressive for a whole host of reasons.

    I agree with the previous post. It is simply time to call it a day, and pray that leaders from both sides bring good, passable legislation for an amicable separation. It will be messy and difficult, but our division goes way beyond human sexuality, and we all know it.

  6. Comment by Mike on July 9, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    My agreement with the previous post meant with the first post – it was the only one there when I opened this page, and then later wrote my comment. Sorry for any confusion.

  7. Comment by JR on July 9, 2019 at 4:33 pm

    I do find it interesting that nobody was looking at the math like this coming out of GC2019. The what, 50 vote differential there was claimed to be a decisive victory.

  8. Comment by William on July 9, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    What margin of victory would have been decisive? What margin of victory do progressives consider decisive, legitimate at General Conference since simple majority is unacceptable to them?

    Does the Book of Discipline permit noncompliance with a church petition that passes General Conference by less than the a margin acceptable to me, to you, to the next person?

  9. Comment by JR on July 10, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    “In the end, it’s pretty clear thus that at least on the question of human sexuality that we United Methodists are far more closely divided than the delegate count might imply.”

    But it doesn’t matter. What matters is 50% +1. It’s what mattered at GC2019, and it’s what matters now. “Decisive” doesn’t matter any more then than it does now.

    The problem is, it’s not the best way to go, and that’s the point of the article. And I agree with that.

  10. Comment by William on July 10, 2019 at 7:38 pm


  11. Comment by Steve on July 10, 2019 at 8:04 am

    You may be a “Christian” or a goat if:
    1. You like being called a “Christian” or a goat.
    2. You say people called you a “Christian” or a goat when they didn’t.
    3. You constantly alleging grievances or victimhood.

    Given certain posts here, I can certainly see Eternity Matters’ point in one regard; for some people, it never will be enough, and there is no point giving an inch to such people, they will just take another and another until nothing’s left.

  12. Comment by JR on July 10, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    Don’t give an inch? Don’t turn the other cheek? Don’t go the extra mile? Do unto others as you think they might do unto you?

    I like your Bible, and would like to have one. Where can I order it?

  13. Comment by Steve on July 10, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    Hey, its not what I think you’d do, it’s what I’ve seen you do. Even Jesus threw the money temples out of the temple. There are limits.

  14. Comment by Steve on July 10, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    Sorry, money changers. And Jesus talked about separating the sheep from the goats. You do seem to not want to follow the herd, so which group would you say you fall in if you were being honest?

  15. Comment by JR on July 11, 2019 at 9:20 am

    Interestingly, while I might not be following the herd *here*, I seem to be more in alignment with the American voting reps for GC2020.

    It’s an interesting conundrum.

  16. Comment by Steve on July 10, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    I’m not interested in your version of the Bible, since once you take all the parts out you don’t like there’s next to nothing left.

  17. Comment by JR on July 11, 2019 at 9:22 am

    An interesting (and untrue) accusation.

    Probably deserved though, as I was a little antagonistic in my criticism. 🙂

  18. Comment by Steve on July 10, 2019 at 4:10 pm

    So, because Jesus said turn the other cheek, you figure you have a right to come here, slap people verbally on the cheek again and again, and they have to take it endlessly. Such a nice version of Christianity you have, all about your right to be verbally abusive endlessly and berate people when they complain.

  19. Comment by JR on July 10, 2019 at 4:43 pm

    Hi Steve! 🙂

    I don’t think I’ve verbally slapped anyone recently. I’ve been willing to challenge the echo chamber, and I’ve been willing to try to open some minds.

    I don’t think I’ve called anyone a bad Christian, but that has certainly been sent my way.

    I don’t think I’ve called anyone a bad Methodist, but that has also been sent my way.

    I certainly haven’t called anyone a goat recently. Not even my father.

    Honestly, if anyone feels that I’ve been verbally abusive, I sincerely apologize. I try to challenge ideas, not the people themselves.

  20. Comment by Steve on July 10, 2019 at 4:53 pm

    Then why would you say, as you did herein, that a comment spoke volumes about a person? What could you have possibly meant except that they were a bad person? Seems to go well beyond discussing ideas to me. Passive aggressive abuse is still abuse.

  21. Comment by JR on July 11, 2019 at 9:18 am

    What I meant was that the words being used against “me” [or people with views that I hold] doesn’t say anything about me, it says something about the speaker.

    You can use your own judgment on that. Here’s how I see it.

    Is calling someone a goat, or a “Christian” [where quote is clearly meant to imply CINO (in name only)?] the kind of action that a Christian should do? You may think that’s perfectly fine. That’s not my view, but I’m in a minority here.

    And I’m also not saying that using those terms makes someone a bad person – they might want to rethink what they are saying and how they are saying it, but being a little antagonistic is very human. I like to think that, as a Christian, my goal is to rise above that, but I fail on that all the time. Not everyone feels that way – and thus the language says much more about them than it does about me.

  22. Comment by Steve on July 10, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    Jesus said go the extra mile? Never heard that. Got a cite?

  23. Comment by Steve on July 10, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    OK, guess he did say something close enough:
    Matthew 5:41 New International Version (NIV)
    41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
    But notice he didn’t say go three, four, five, you get the idea.
    Also, he didn’t say to keep alternating cheeks; turn one cheek, that’s all. Anything above and beyond would be extra credit.

  24. Comment by JR on July 11, 2019 at 9:29 am

    Okay, this is getting into some interesting discussion.

    There’s some interesting history in that bit of scripture, but I’m going to lean on another resource.

    That article talks about both the historical references and the application of the verse today. Well worth the quick read, and it makes an interesting counterpoint to your comment.

  25. Comment by David on July 10, 2019 at 8:47 am

    Liberal media supporters who think they are methodists are not. traditionalists who follow God must not let this happen. We are losing many souls who are searching for the truth. Please search and do not allow this to happen

  26. Comment by Paul on July 13, 2019 at 9:53 am

    This analysis is one way to rationalize a result when settling questions of human behavior by voting (rather than as a matter of pastoral care in each setting). By using the same statistical logic, how would the author spin the representative voting at GC2019 where without an African voting block (which also modifies its own book of discipline for local pastoral context) there would be a decisive decision in favor of removing the punitive language about human sexuality?

  27. Comment by Justsayin on July 16, 2019 at 7:22 am

    This article is in error about Georgia, we elected a majority conservative clergy delegation.

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