The post schism liberal United Methodist Church almost certainly will cancel its over 50 year old logo as “racist.” Very possibly it will also cancel the name “United Methodist” itself as racist, chauvinist and homophobic.
A July United Methodist News Service column by a Texas pastor against the logo said:
But when I saw the United Methodist Cross and Flame, I didn’t think of John Wesley’s heart being strangely warmed, I didn’t think of the flaming tongues of fire resting on the Apostles in Acts I didn’t think of how each tongue of the flame represents the former denominations that came together to form The United Methodist Church — The Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Church. My mind went back to that burning cross I saw on the side of the freeway — a symbol my mother told me was devised to cause fear in black people.
In September the North Texas Annual Conference voted by 76% to advocate replacing the cross and flame denominational symbol appearing outside most of over 30,000 churches in the USA and many thousands more overseas.
USA traditionalists who plan to join the new traditionalist global Methodist denomination emerging from next year’s schism had accepted that remaining liberals would inherit the current denominational bureaucracy including the name and logo. For some USA traditionalists, the name and logo, crafted in 1968, represent a failed experiment resulting in theological confusion, endless ecclesial battles and over 3 million lost members.
United Methodists in Africa, who account currently for nearly half the global denomination and likely will comprise two thirds of the new traditionalist denomination, are more fond of the name and logo. Under its banner they’ve gained millions of members, become a global force, and represent throughout Africa a church renowned there for evangelism, education, and ministries of social welfare. Partly for these reasons, many Africans initially opposed the Protocol agreed upon late last year to divide United Methodism. Since then African leaders have accepted the Protocol while still hoping their churches in Africa could somehow retain the logo and name even as they align with the new global Methodist denomination.
United Methodists in Africa are a deeply praying people. When they pray, get out of the way. We saw the results of their prayers at last year’s Special General Conference when liberal efforts to overturn the church’s marriage teaching were defeated. No doubt United Methodists in Africa have been praying somehow to retain the logo and perhaps the name. Their prayers are unsurprisingly being answered.
To my knowledge, there’s not yet any major initiative for post schism liberal United Methodism to replace the name. But in the current USA political climate, when the past is sweepingly denounced and cancelled for failing to abide by contemporary progressive ideals, the move seems inevitable. United Methodism since its founding by merger of two denominations in 1968 has been hyper liberal theologically and politically. But it woefully failed to attain full progressive demands of 2020 much less 2021.
At next year’s General Conference, United Methodism will effectively end after 53 years. Rest In Peace. The two or more new denominations will have distinct new identities. There will be the global Methodist church focused on traditional doctrine, ethics and evangelism. There will be a liberal mostly USA Methodist church that is Mainline Protestant, permissive on doctrine and ethics, while seeking to retain a meaningful Christian self-identification aligned with other progressive denominations like the Episcopal Church and Presbyterian Church USA. Likely there will also be a new liberationist Methodist body impatient with the progressive church and preferring a more radical approach. Each of these communions will have their own names and logos, presumably.
It will be a sad time of division and admission of past failure. But it will also be an exciting opportunity for new beginnings in which each perspective will be free to live out and advocate its version of Methodism.
The liberal and liberationist Methodist bodies will almost certainly replicate the demographic decline plaguing similar denominations in America and globally. But we can be hopeful that traditional global Methodism, with leadership from growing African churches, will have a very different and brighter future.
Methodism’s future will not include, at least in the USA, the cross and flame logo of 1968, and ultimately probably not the name United Methodist. Both represent in America a form of mid 20th century vague Protestantism that lost energy and purpose decades ago. New symbols and names will represent a renewed form of Methodism to a world still much in need of what traditional Methodism uniquely offers.