Data about the Two New Methodist Denominations

John Lomperis on February 22, 2021

It remains widely agreed that the United Methodist Church is clearly headed for a major split. The UMC will be replaced by two new denominations. Since it is in the future, we have limited data to show about the two new Methodist denominations. But they will be different.

A new traditionalist Methodist denomination will keep the UMC’s moral standards, including the bans on same-sex weddings and non-celibate gay clergy. The liberalized post-separation United Methodist Church (psUMC), as the preamble of the Protocol legislation makes very clear, will move quickly to overturn these policies in some way.

(While the emergence of a third denomination remains theoretically possible, I see little evidence of much movement to make this happen in any a statistically significant way.)

One liberal caucus has made a habit on social media of highlighting extreme statements or actions by various non-Methodist fundamentalists and suggesting, without evidence, that this is the bad, scary direction in which traditionalist United Methodists really want to go.

Beyond wild speculation and fear-mongering, and the basic point of allowing same-sex weddings or not, do we have any hard data for what to expect from the two new Methodist denominations, before the split even happens?

Actually, we do. 

In recent years, United Methodist Communications (UMCom) has invaluably conducted two major, scientific survey of people’s views in at least the American portion of our global denomination.

Their 2015 survey focused especially on controversies around sexual morality, after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly voted to redefine marriage in civil law to include some same-sex couples. We reported earlier on how the results showed American United Methodists to be much more evenly divided than sometimes thought, with even a slight traditionalist edge in some ways. 

Say that 54 percent of American United Methodist pastors still support the banning same-sex unions for our churches, as in the 2015 survey. And let’s say the pastors who switch to the traditionalist denomination are overwhelmingly traditionalist, but account for as little as half of traditionalist pastors. Then among those left behind in the psUMC, only slightly over one-third of remaining American pastors in the psUMC would still support the traditionalist policy.

This would a dramatic shift. Over time, we could expect the depleted traditionalist minority to shrink further.

But what shifts might occur in terms of people’s views on other issues?

In 2019, UMCom released the results of another survey of American United Methodists, focused on core theological questions. This time, the respondents were only laity “identified as members or regular attendees of a United Methodist church but with no formal leadership role.” While I find these limitations problematic, this category probably makes up all but a tiny minority of the people in our churches.

In a recent blog post, megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton attempts to rebut arguments by Good News Vice President Tom Lambrecht about the true “primary reasons for our separation.” Among other things, Hamilton tries to refute Lambrecht’s assertion that theological traditionalists view the Bible as our primary source of authority and that this sets us apart from more liberal factions. In true post-modern fashion, Hamilton largely bases his counter-argument on what he reports about people he personally knows.

But the 2019 survey offers a more objective basis for evaluation.

Contra Hamilton, UMCom found only 29 percent of American United Methodists affirming Scripture as “the most authoritative source of their personal theology,” and only six percent of those who describe their theological perspective as “progressive-liberal.” Meanwhile, a combined 45 percent of American United Methodists (including 72 percent of self-described progressive-liberals) view either “personal experience” or “reason, rationality” as their primary authority, greater than Scripture.

No one can confidently predict exactly how many United Methodists will end up in each new denomination. But a theology-based division will certainly result in much fewer than 29 percent of those in the psUMC viewing Scripture as their primary religious authority. Much fewer than 45 percent in the traditionalist denomination will view reason or personal experience as theirs. 

The whole 2019 survey offers a fuller picture. Several other findings are worth highlighting. 

Hamilton also takes issue with Lambrecht’s contrasting traditionalist United Methodists viewing making disciples of Jesus Christ as the church’s primary agenda to more liberal factions instead prioritizing social-justice crusades to transform the world. But the 2019 survey found precisely this divide. One question was: “Which should be the primary focus of The United Methodist Church?” Seventy percent of all respondents (including 88 percent of those describing their theological views as “Conservative-Traditional”) picked “Saving souls for Jesus Christ.” In contrast, a strong majority of 68 percent of progressive-liberals picked the alternative top priority of “Advocating for social justice to transform this world.”

Furthermore, 28 percent of all respondents and nearly half of self-described progressive-liberals believe that “There are ways to salvation that do not involve Jesus.” Eighty-six percent of self-described conservative-traditionalists affirmed what the survey offered as the contrary position that “The only way to salvation is through a relationship with Jesus.” Relatedly, while a 70-percent overall majority “believe in a literal hell,” 82 percent of conservative-traditionalists do, while only half of progressive-liberals do.

On the person of Jesus Christ, as many as 38 percent of respondents (including nearly half of self-described progressive-liberals) believe “Jesus committed sins like other people.”

An important caveat is to remember the survey’s exclusive focus on lay members and attenders in no leadership positions. Our churches must welcome seekers. We certainly should not require perfect orthodox beliefs before anyone can even attend our worship services.

But in the UMC, revisionist views of the most basic doctrinal questions have grown to such a high level, often with the encouragement of our seminaries and denominational officials, that we have lost unity of belief on the most foundational matters

The belief of so many United Methodists in the sinfulness in Jesus Christ may perhaps stem, in part, to this being taught by contested Mountain Sky Conference Bishop Karen Oliveto. Since then, she was promoted to become president of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops. Yet within the world of liberal and so-called “centrist” caucuses, there appears to be no room whatsoever for any leader to say that Oliveto’s theological teachings have crossed a line, and that no one with such radical views should be a United Methodist bishop.

This is not an isolated case.

In a 2019 official article for the UMC’s Greater Northwest Area, Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference lay leader Jan Nelson encouraged a dismissive attitude toward the realities of Heaven and Hell, “if these places really exist.”

Just last month, an official UMC denominational agency went out of its way to promote the online ministry of a United Methodist minister who is apparently a big fan of John Shelby Spong, and who promotes a version of Christianity stripped of such basics as “faith in a God of supernatural intervention.”

In 2003, Chicago Bishop Joseph Sprague was let off with no more than a slap on the wrist after publicly repudiating core UMC doctrine, “dissent[ing] from Christocentric exclusives which hold that Jesus is the only way to God’s gift of salvation,” denying the virgin birth and miraculous physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, and teaching that “Jesus simply did not preach, teach, or describe himself as [the Gospel according to] John suggests.” Sprague was defended by South Carolina Bishop Lawrence J. McCleskey, and remains a retired bishop in good standing.

In a 2016 interview, when asked about Sprague’s denial of the resurrection, one bishop candidate in the North Central Jurisdiction awkwardly dodged answering directly whether or not she believed in the actual physical resurrection of Christ. This did not stop this candidate from receiving many votes, nor from later being promoted to another prominent position in our denominational bureaucracy.

In 2018, the Rev. Mark Holland, director of the liberal Mainstream UMC caucus, wrote of believing in Christ’s resurrection “metaphorically,” further saying, “The truth of the Gospel does not hinge on whether you and I read this literally or spiritually. Let’s just live into the mystery.”

Another major liberal caucus, the Reconciling Ministries Network, hosted a 2013 gathering in which one of their speakers encouraged forgetting about “seek[ing] to redeem all scriptural text,” and instead suggesting we should “just rip out and leave those biblical pages” we don’t like “for the wind and the rain to disintegrate them, and then start listening to the wind and the rain.” This is not terribly distinguishable from Hamilton’s own low view of biblical authority. As Hamilton has famously put it, with refreshing honesty, he believes that much of Scripture which he personally finds too challenging or offensive, such as certain passages related to homosexuality or God’s judgment, should be categorized in a “bucket” of scriptures which “that never fully expressed the heart, character or will of God.” So for Hamilton and his disciples, Scripture is not really the primary authority, but there is a more fundamental authority according to which they judge which parts of the Bible to accept or reject.

Our differing views on such core matters as the authority of Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ reflect very sincere, deeply held convictions by different United Methodists. But there is no constructive purpose in avoiding honest acknowledgement of these differences. 

The data makes clear that we have very deep theological divisions in the “United” Methodist Church. And after our denomination divides into one more traditionalist and one more liberal denomination, we will find big differences on non-sexuality matters. 

At the leadership level, the psUMC will keep the denominational officials who deny the resurrection of Christ, speak dismissively of the reality of Hell, and teach that Jesus had his own sins. The new traditionalist Methodist denomination will not. 

A relatively greater portion of rank-and-file American members and attendees of the new traditionalist Methodist church will hold to a high view of biblical authority. They will have a relatively high degree of consensus in believing that the church’s primary mission (not its only mission) is saving souls for Jesus Christ, that salvation is found through Christ alone, and that a literal Hell exists. No more than a relatively small minority of the people in the pews will believe that Jesus committed sins like other people.

We can expect a different, much more divided picture among those in the American pews of the psUMC. Only a small minority, significantly less than 29 percent, will see Scripture as their primary religious authority. They will be close to evenly divided, at best, on whether or not Jesus Christ committed sins. There will at least be very large minorities, more than one-third of the total, who do not believe in a literal Hell, do believe that salvation can be found apart from Jesus Christ, and who want the church to focus on social-justice activism more than making disciples of Jesus Christ.

As conferences, congregations, and individuals make their choices between the two emerging Methodist denominations, these are important differences to consider.

  1. Comment by Thomas Mitchell on February 22, 2021 at 10:44 am

    Shocking statistics concerning the progressive wing. If you do not believe in Scripture, then what’s there to believe?

    Without an immutable, sacred text to delineate right from wrong (and establish the tenets of the religion), you have no foundation upon which to build. Instead, you have merely the opinions of people who think themselves wise by the standard of this age.

  2. Comment by Pirate Preacher on February 22, 2021 at 10:46 am

    As with any separation / divorce we ought to be mindful of the children–the laity left after the split. Once we begin to cite the faults of one parent, it puts the kids in a tough spot. Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me. Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

    If any believe a split is imminent and that through prayer God will not convict those in positions of leadership to repent, turn back, and love him first, then part company now. Forgo any assets. Let the other party have it all. God is gracious. He can raise up a new branch if he so chooses.

    Children recognize who loves and who doesn’t. The one who gave his all for us, left his position in heaven in order to save us. If we truly love him, surely we can leave behind buildings, pews, and deeds to property. What we must not leave behind is a legacy of words that become a recorded testimony of our heart.

    The kids are watching and many do not know the rules. What they do know is compassion and kindness and when they see it expressed in a parent, it is into those arms they run.

  3. Comment by PFSchaffner on February 22, 2021 at 11:01 am

    I wonder about Mr. Lomperis’ caveat, regarding the fact that the survey included non-leader, non-member, attenders. He seems to assume that such people are more likely to be ‘seekers’, and less likely to be orthodox. That may be true, but perhaps not: my wife and I fall into the ‘non-leader non-member’ category, but are hardly ‘seekers’: we are not members in part because theologically we are not Methodists at all (she is a Presbyterian, I a Calvinistic Baptist), and in part because even at its most conservative, United Methodism was too liberal to be given our allegiance. In fact I know many conservative evangelicals who attend a UMC church out of convenience, but will never be United Methodists. Not sure what that does to the numbers.

  4. Comment by td on February 22, 2021 at 12:00 pm

    It is completely jaw-dropping that the survey found that 38% of Methodists believe that jesus sinned. This can not be blamed on people having personal opinions- this is a lack of fundamental teaching from our church leaders that jesus is god. And if god sins, then there is absolutely no point to Christianity.

    A good follow up to that question would have been to ask if jesus was go…and then to also ask, does god exist?

  5. Comment by Gary Bebop on February 22, 2021 at 12:11 pm

    Thanks for this spade work, John. In the wake of a separation, the cultivation of a new Methodist culture of evangelical-charismatic orthodoxy will become self-evidently imperative. That’s my takeaway from what you are reporting. What counts as a statistical traditional Wesleyan Christian should refer to more than the ephemera of polling. The hard work of cultivation follows a separation. Are we prepared?

  6. Comment by Richard F Hicks on February 22, 2021 at 1:22 pm

    PreCovid the US UMC only served 0.8% of the population weekly. Or 99.2% of Americans rejected them. Gnats flying around an elephant

  7. Comment by Dean Feldmeyer on February 22, 2021 at 4:52 pm

    In an article of roughly 1800 words, he spends about 1,200 of those words spinning liberal/progressive Christian views as shockingly anti-orthodox and heretical while raising not even a single hair of one eyebrow at the abusive and destructive excesses that have resulted from unchallenged, biblical literalism and conservative theology; slavery being only one of many.

  8. Comment by Loren J Golden on February 23, 2021 at 1:15 am

    “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” —Romans 3.28
     
    “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ but by faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” —Galatians 2.16
     
    “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” —Ephesians 2.8-9
     
    Regarding the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, Martin Luther famously wrote, “If this article stands, the church stands; if this article collapses, the church collapses.” (Works 40/3.352)
     
    “Which comes closest to your own view of salvation?” (from the United Methodist Theological Perspectives Among Members, linked to in the post, above):
     
    The Gospel: “Salvation is through faith alone.”  United Methodists: 27%; Conservative/Traditional United Methodists: 33%
     
    Pelagianism: “Salvation is a combination of faith and what we do in this world.”  United Methodists: 73%; Conservative/Traditional United Methodists: 67%
     
    “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1.6-9)
     
    Isaiah tells us that “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Is. 64.6)  All of our works, even our best works performed for the glory of God with the purest motives that we can muster, are indelibly tainted by our sin.  They cannot be leveraged—in whole or in part—for salvation from the condemnation that the holy God has justly laid upon us in recompense for the tremendous offense that our sin is to Him.  The only works acceptable to God that are sufficient to atone for our grievous sins against Him and His holy Word, to propitiate His justice and wrath that we so richly deserve, and to reconcile us to Himself were performed by His Son alone—the Lord Jesus Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2.6-11)
     
    “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
    “Then what becomes of our boasting?  It is excluded.  By what kind of law?  By a law of works?  No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” —Romans 3.21-28
     
    “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” —II Corinthians 5.17-21
     
    “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” —Ephesians 2.8-10
     
    “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” —Titus 3.11-14
     
    “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” —I John 4.9-11
     
    We are saved by the grace of God alone through faith alone in the person and work of Christ alone, for the purpose that we should be His own chosen people, beloved by Him, to joyfully and gratefully worship and glorify Him forever, and to do the good works that He has appointed for us to do, for the honor and praise of His glory alone.  Yet if “salvation is a combination of faith and what we do in this world,” as two-thirds of self-identified Conservative/Traditional United Methodists believe, if we are justified even in part by works, then we have something to boast about (Rom. 4.2), and God does not receive the full measure of His glory.  But even our faith is not something that we produce—“it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2.8), and His Son Jesus is “the founder and perfecter” of it (Heb. 12.2).  In the immortal words of Augustus Montague Toplady, “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy Cross I cling.”
     
    So then, let us have done with this idolatrous notion that what we do in this world can contribute to our salvation from sin and death, for when Christ declared at the end of His earthly ministry, “It is finished” (Jn. 19.30), He meant it.  For there is nothing lacking in His work on the Cross for our salvation that we, by our tainted works, can possibly supply.

  9. Comment by Douglas E Ehrhardt on February 23, 2021 at 3:15 am

    Amen Loren.thank you.

  10. Comment by There is none so blind as those who will not see on February 23, 2021 at 10:53 am

    Dean,

    I’d love to hear the rest of your list, especially since the church was the place where the anti-slavery movement began. Frankly, I grow tired of being blamed for every ill in the world because I and others do not accept leftist orthodoxy as biblical, err, religious, err, just one of many truths.

  11. Comment by Charles Walkup Jr on February 23, 2021 at 12:01 pm

    As Jesus pointed out, the religious leaders (Pharisees, et al) of his day were blinded by their traditions as opposed to really knowing God (relationship). That is what John explained so well in his gospel. Knowing that his disciples were going to face tribulation in this world, even death by those who thought they were honoring God, Jesus told them to take heart, that he had overcome the world. He brought his uneducated followers into a close relationship with the Father, so that their mature trust in God would allow them to make requests directly to God, instead of going through him as the intermediary. He was leaving them (as a visible God-in-the-Flesh form) so that God’s Holy Spirit which he had help to activate/born-again-of-the-Spirit would re-establish it’s connection with God from the moment of conception in the womb. This article simply gives evidence of the great extent to which Satan has blinded many religious leaders and followers today in the MC. It is sad that Satan (the ruler of this world/the father of lies) has blinded so many, and that there are so many lost sheep. The leaders of the UMC have demonstrated that (like the Pharisees) they are more interested in the praises of men rather than pleasing God. They would rather exclude from the church those (like Nicodemus, one of their own) who trust Jesus rather than please God themselves. False shepherds! Sheep beware!

  12. Comment by David on February 23, 2021 at 3:44 pm

    The list of Bible injustices can include slavery as mentioned, genocide (most of the Book of Joshua), hereditary guilt (Genesis et al), opposition to freedom of religion (1st commandment), opposition to democracy, “fear God and honor the king” (1 Peter), subjugation of women (throughout), and trial by ordeal (Numbers 5). Even Jesus rejected the biblical provisions for divorce as outmoded and not conforming to modern morality. Of course, people just pick and choose which passages they will follow and it is doubtful anyone follows all the biblical provision.

  13. Comment by John Lomperis on February 23, 2021 at 3:59 pm

    Thanks for the comment, PFSchaffner. To be clear, it seems that you misunderstand me. Of course I realize that this “members or attenders but with no formal leadership position” category includes a great many committed, faithful, orthodox Christians. I never meant to say or imply otherwise. I wanted to acknowledge that if a church is doing its job evangelistically, it is hopefully drawing in some people who are not yet born-again, Bible-believing Christians, but who may be eventually converted through the congregation’s ministry. If several members of my congregation invite non-Christian friends to attend with us, it is likely that these non-Christian friends will have some unorthodox views at that moment. So such dynamics are worth keeping in mind. But again, the problem in the UMC is that blatantly unorthodox views have become so widespread and even dominant in many locations, and openly promoted by much of our current denominational leadership.

  14. Comment by Loren J Golden on February 23, 2021 at 4:29 pm

    “But again, the problem in the UMC is that blatantly orthodox views have become so widespread and even dominant in many locations, and openly promoted by much of our current denominational leadership.”
     
    That would be a wonderful problem for the UMC to have, John, but I don’t think that’s what you mean.  Perhaps a word such as unorthodox, heterodox, or heretical should be used in place of “orthodox” in that sentence?

  15. Comment by John Lomperis on February 23, 2021 at 9:03 pm

    Thanks for catching that, Loren. The typo has been corrected.

  16. Comment by Brother Thom on February 24, 2021 at 4:49 am

    This is a very well-thought-out article. I do wonder how the Liberation Methodist Connexion fits into the “two” methodist denominations following the split. Seems to me we already count at least three.

    You have done a much better job at articulating the silliness that flows from Adam Hamilton’s mouth than I have ever done. Hamilton is a “feel good” pastor, and he achieves that by speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He has the ability to make you feel like you have just been given a warm hug when in reality he’s just stealing your wallet.

    As a traditionalist leader of a church with an Orthodox view of Christianity, I have to admit I have no ability to comprehend how someone can be both Christian and unbelieving of the resurrection of Christ at the same time.

  17. Comment by David, is that a serious list? on February 24, 2021 at 9:07 am

    David,

    I apologize in advance for this short comment, but you can’t be serious with your list. The one that cracks me up most is ‘hereditary guilt’. Leftists today, both in and out of the church freely proclaim that white people and POC who disagree with them are “White Supremacists” regardless of age. The left believes in Critical Race theory as a religion and you somehow pull out of Scripture that idea?

    Pray tell, how can you even look at much of Paul’s writings and conclude that Christianity keeps women down when much of ancient Roman society made women obey their father even if they were married to someone? Again, you turn Scripture into a pretzel to support your intellectual beliefs.

    No Christians have a perfect understanding of God or Scripture, but the author’s argument is that the left side of the church has dumped the authority of Scripture and ruined the UMC, so we are splitting. It’s not the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last, or have you forgotten the M.E. church and M.E. South church divide?

  18. Comment by William on February 24, 2021 at 9:09 am

    As the no longer “United” Methodist Church faces separation as a denomination — each individual Methodist will be standing at that proverbial fork in the road — one that points to Heaven, the other that points to Hell.

  19. Comment by William on February 24, 2021 at 9:23 am

    Should have said …………. one that points to Heaven on the Word of God, the other that points to Hell on the word of man.

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

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.