In anticipation of United Methodism’s formal split next year (delayed from this year by the pandemic), a new network called the Liberation Methodist Connexion (LMX) has emerged.
As reported by RNS:
Correct doctrine is less important to the new denomination than correct action, collaborators said during Sunday’s presentation. That action includes reparations, caring for the earth, and finding new ways to live together outside of systems like colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, clericalism and heteronormativity, they said.
As one LMX leader explained:
We seek not answers that lead us to correct doctrines as to why we suffer. We seek correct actions, correct praxis, where God sustains us during the unanswerable questions.
God was there in the seeds of the movement John Wesley started, she said. “We are its queer, strange fruit,” she added.
As UMNS noted, the main proposal for United Methodism’s split designates $25 million for a new conservative denomination while also providing $2 million for any additional denominations, presumably including the LMX.
So there will be at least three bodies emerging from United Methodism’s split and likely more. While The United Methodist Church will technically continue as a coalition of self-identified centrists and liberals, United Methodism, which was founded in 1968, is essentially ending next year. Its logo of cross and flame, dating to 1968, has already been declared racist and almost certainly will be abandoned. And likely the name United Methodist itself also will ultimately be deemed oppressive and discarded.
United Methodism will effectively dissolve. It was from the start an experiment in theological pluralism, officially endorsed in 1972, which could never be sustained. Although theological pluralism was officially deleted in 1988 in favor of firmer doctrinal standards, it remained the reigning company ethos for the U.S. hierarchy and bureaucracy.
LMX will live out theological pluralism to its more logical conclusions, minimizing if not altogether dismissing theological doctrine in favor of political activisms and identity politics. No doubt LMX will start very small and will remain a small niche movement. Most radicals will stay within United Methodism, or whatever it is ultimately called, shifting what’s left of the old denominational structures ever leftward.
Self-identified “centrists” will with time mostly shift leftward to the drumbeat of the radicals. But the process will be discomfiting and divisive for them, especially as many of them by default become the new “conservatives” relative to the rest of their denomination. Centrists are largely fine with abandoning historic Christian sexual morality once U.S. Evangelicals and Africans, with some Filipinos and Europeans, form the new orthodox global Methodism. But most of them still hope to retain the architecture of creedal Christianity, against which radicals in their revolutionary zeal will constantly push.
Centrists largely come from philosophically mixed congregations, many of them in the suburbs, and still including worshippers who politically lean conservative (most United Methodists vote Republican) and, if not evangelical, who still resonate with the major themes of traditional Christianity. As post-schism United Methodism (psUMC), under whatever name, increasingly adopts more explicitly radical political, cultural and theological themes, many of these non-liberals in centrist congregations may object, resist, quit or at least quietly fade away.
How will many members of centrist congregations in post-schism United Methodism react to drag queen eucharists, mandatory pronoun fluidity, or far-left political advocacy in worship and from the pulpit? For decades, much of United Methodism’s liberal activism was indulged by the church’s agencies and seminaries but largely kept out of local churches, as pastors sought to protect their congregations from divisive controversies. Those days will end fairly quickly after the schism is completed.
Centrists likely think psUMC will resemble the Episcopal Church, i.e. sexually liberal but still mostly tasteful, liturgical, genteelly declining without imploding, and making room on Sundays for quiet Republicans and other non-liberals. Instead, psUMC will likelier resemble the more explicitly left-wing United Church of Christ and, at times, the Unitarian Universalist Association.
The LMX will trail blaze for post-schism United Methodism. It will always remain ahead, but psUMC will never be very far behind. It’s almost certain there will be divisions and formal schisms in psUMC. Centrists initially will imagine that with Evangelicals and internationals gone, and some radicals having aligned with LMX, that they will occupy the great, ostensibly noble middle. But their perch in the purported middle will not survive very long.