United Methodist Logo’s Cancellation?

Mark Tooley on October 19, 2020

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.

  1. Comment by bpinto on October 19, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    Whenever a change in theology occurs,ask the question: did it originate from within the church after prayer and study, or did the world think of it first, and THEN the church capitulates?
    I am thankful for our faithful Methodists, African and American, and angry at the enemies within.
    I hope God doesn’t spare an ounce of His wrath on the unfaithful in our midst.

  2. Comment by Loren J Golden on October 20, 2020 at 11:22 am

    I was only a year old when the Evangelical United Brethren merged with the Methodist Church to form the UMC, and the new denomination’s Cross and Flame logo was adopted.  Growing up in the UMC, I was taught that the Cross in the logo represented Christ, and the Flame represented the Holy Spirit, Who was poured out on the Church on Pentecost and made manifest in the form of “divided tongues as of fire…rest(ing) on each” believer then present.  The early Church was on fire with the Gospel, adding on the Day of Pentecost “about three thousand souls” to its membership (Acts 2.41) and increasing daily (Acts 2.47, 5.14, 6.7, 11.24), “and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4.31)
    The flame that ignited the early Church has gone out from the American Mainline Protestant denominations, such as the UMC, the PC(USA) (which has two flames in its logo), TEC, etc.  It is not surprising, therefore, that Mainline leaders, such as Rev. Cowley, should seek to extinguish it in their logos, just as they have been working for many years to extinguish the Holy Spirit from the lives of their churches.

  3. Comment by David on October 21, 2020 at 6:19 am

    A vague similarity of a cross with a flame and the KKK burning cross do not make them both the same. There was recent criticism of the seal of the City of New York. One of the “supporters” of the shield is a Dutch sailor holding a cord with a weight at the bottom used to determine water depth. In some line drawings of the seal, the weight looks a bit like a loop. This has been taken by some to be a little noose and therefore suggestive of lynchings. A little ignorance can go a long way.

  4. Comment by Byrom on October 23, 2020 at 6:00 pm

    I’ve stopped being surprised by revisionist history. I plead ignorance of the origin of our UMC logo, but I cherish the reminder of the Holy Spirit combined with the empty cross of Christ. They are symbols of the foundation of Christ’s church. As a traditionalist, I will regret that the logo will not transition to a probable new Weslayan denomination. However, I will keep and likely continue to wear my flame-and-cross pin.

  5. Comment by Barbara Bateman on October 23, 2020 at 9:14 pm

    The cross and flame logo was not created with the KKK in mind, so why does one person have to interpret it to his own negative thoughts. That might be his opinion, and everyone has that right to express theirs, but to put that idea in people’s minds with a forceful objective motive, is aggressive and hurtful! There are more important things that he should be worrying about. I love our logo. It’s simple and calming. Leave it alone!

  6. Comment by John Smith on October 24, 2020 at 5:09 pm

    “New symbols and names will represent a renewed form of Methodism to a world still much in need of what traditional Methodism uniquely offers.”

    1) What is traditional Methodism? The English version? The American version? And from what time? Obviously you can’t be hearkening back to Whitefied; are you hoping for a new Charles to write contemporary music which will reach today’s youth? Perhaps a new John who take the denomination firmly in hand? From the 19th century on the hallmark of Methodism appears to be social and political activism.

    2) What is it that Methodism uniquely offers? And if the current Methodist denominations (to include the UMC) aren’t or haven’t offered it why should we believe a new Methodist denomination would? (BTW isn’t the new denomination emphasizing Wesleyan identity?)

    Without giving compelling answers to the two basic questions is there a future for a “new” Methodist/Wesleyan denomination as something other than a repackaged, rebranded, remarketed organization coming out of bankruptcy court? This looks more like chapter 11 than something new.

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.