Today’s guest article about the results of recent political choices by self-described United Methodist “centrists,” especially among clergy, is contributed by the Rev. Arthur Collins. Collins has been a longtime elder in the United Methodist Church’s Indiana Annual Conference, who transferred into the Global Methodist Church earlier this year. He has an MDiv from Asbury Theological Seminary and a PhD from Indiana State University. In addition to blogging about the state of the church, he writes a lot about church history — especially the English church tradition, language, and Scouting ministry. He plays several instruments badly, can cook like nobody’s business, and has been married for 49 years to a very patient woman.
In Collins’s shorthand terminology, he uses “progs” for theological progressives and “trads” for theological traditionalists.
This article originally appeared on his personal blog, Aefenglommung. Reposted with permission.
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I asked a well-connected friend how episcopal elections turned out this week at the five Jurisdictional Conferences in US United Methodism just concluding. The answer was “all progs everywhere.” In other words, pretty much a horror show. The new bishops will continue, and accelerate, the trend we have seen in the UMC toward extreme positions coupled with high-handedness and a disdain for the actual rules. Having attained complete control of at least the US portion of the UMC, the progs will now burn the house down to purify it.
Now, in one sense, this has nothing to do with me. I’ve already transferred to the Global Methodist Church and am well out of the mess. Not my circus, not my monkeys. But I think it’s important to understand how this came about. If, in a couple of years, you find yourself asking, “How in the world did we come to this point?” you might want to know who was responsible.
You can’t blame the ultra-progressives. They are just living out the logical consequences of their belief system. They are serious about it. What they believe in is destructive, but they are honest about it, and willing to accept the consequences. They would prefer a smaller church standing for ever-more extreme wokery; they are apostate Puritans, and there are idols that need smashing everywhere you turn.
Nor can you blame the traditionalists. We, too, are just living out the logical consequences of our belief system. And we would have spared the UMC what it’s going to go through. We would have given everyone a fair shake and played by the rules. Playing by the rules, the trads won the day at the 2019 General Conference outright. Nor was their position an extreme one. In a delegated system such as the UMC’s, the traditionalist majority is filtered through several elite institutions in order to arrive at the 900 people who actually constitute the General Conference. For there to be a trad majority at the general level, there has to be an enormous number of ordinary folks in the Annual Conferences voting for them.
Ah, but what happened in the immediate aftermath of GC 2019 tells the tale. The trads organized themselves well and came out on top in the 2015 GC elections, which entrenched their majorities in delegates to the 2016 and 2019 GCs. They were a minority of US delegates, but an overwhelming majority of non-US delegates. In reaction to 2019, it was the US centrists who upset the applecart. When the progs announced that they would not accept the result of 2019, the centrists went with them. In elections to the ever-more delayed GC 2020, centrists abandoned the trads with horror and put all their faith in a united front with the progs. This has had the result of delivering the US church entirely into the progressives’ hands.
The centrists call us traditionalists “extreme,” but they have sold themselves and their church to the progs and will have to endure the consequences. They have elected the most extreme people – especially clergy – to Jurisdictional and General Conferences, and those extremists have now elected the most extreme bench of bishops we have ever seen in our lifetimes. Which means – bottom line – that a lot of ordinary folks who just want to ignore what’s going on in the leadership, who just want to “love everybody” and do church as usual, who think it’ll all blow over and things will be as they always have been, are going to wake up in a couple of years – after the escape hatch has been closed to disaffiliate – and see their denomination’s decline and dysfunction accelerate. They won’t be able to ignore it then, and it will be too late to do anything about it.
Maybe ten percent of the American UM church is in process of disaffiliation right now. Not all of those are going to join the GMC, but the GMC will take off and grow, I think. But what’s left of the American UMC – in theory, 90 percent of it – will take only a few years to shrink to maybe half that size. A lot of small, faithful churches – and even a fair number of large, successful churches – are going to close. People will vote with their feet; at the same time, the leadership will cannibalize resources to keep the party going for those most invested in the prog parade. The result will be an institutional loss of staggering proportions, even as the leadership proclaims ever-more exaggerated victories for “their truth.” And the people in the middle, who pride themselves on being “moderate” and “reasonable,” will have delivered their church to that future.
You can’t blame the progs. They’re just doing what progs do. Nor can you blame the trads. We are leaving quietly and ceding control to those who remain. Nope. The people who will have done this to the UMC are the people in the middle, the people who thought they could combine progressive leadership with a firm base of traditionalist belief and practice. In future years, when some of them show up at a GMC door, looking for a church that hasn’t gone crazy; when they tell their story and say, “we never thought it would come to this”; I will show them grace by not saying, “we told you so,” and take the refugees in. Because that’s what Jesus would do.
We are all the authors of our own destruction, but God has shown us mercy. And he would have us show mercy, too.
Comment by Reynolds on November 9, 2022 at 9:27 pm
I would disagree with this article. You can blame the WCA for believing the other side. Mark Tom and crew kept talking about the Protocol and wonderful it was. No one talks about the Protocol. The Baptist fought and won. The Trads got fooled and then got their ass handed to them. Now they say jump ship and Joe for the best. This is retreat of every church for themselves. This is a complete disaster that some of us saw coming and tried to warn Trads. Oh well let the pigs head to slaughter
Comment by Dan W on November 10, 2022 at 7:25 am
The Author does a good job of explaining how the UMC wound up in this mess, but not why it did. It’s a failure of leadership. The Bishops deserve all the blame. When the progressives were out of line, or the traditionalists, the Bishops should have kicked butt and taken names. It was their job and they failed spectacularly.
I think the best program the UMC had in decades was Disciple Bible Study. We should have built on it’s success. Our Annual Conference had a strong UMM and we should have built on it’s success. Programs like MUST Ministries and Goodwill were started by Methodists, and we should be ashamed that a 12 million person denomination was allowed to implode.
By the way, the good old USA seems to heading for the same fate.
Comment by Rev. Dr. Lee D Cary (ret. UM clergy) on November 10, 2022 at 7:47 am
Arthur, explanation is, IMHO, spot-on, sir. Thank you.
Comment by Sigma on November 10, 2022 at 9:59 am
Sadly, as one that has lived out this drama in the UCC, Collin’s analysis of the situation at hand in the UMC is spot on…
Comment by Dan on November 10, 2022 at 10:18 am
It’s simply TEC, PCUSA, ELCA redux. Read the Old Testament prophets about what happens when you accommodate to the surrounding culture and begin worshiping their idols.
Comment by James Culberson on November 10, 2022 at 5:18 pm
Great article Rev. Collins.
Our (my) very small umc closed the door and threw away the key on June 30 of this year. Since its closing I’ve had my name removed from the roll(s) of the umc. This article made me even happier for that action I requested.
The umc is moving in lockstep with the political climate in this country–so–at least as some of us have known this country and the umc–will be unrecognizable in a few short years. I’m an octogenarian who would not turn back his biological clock for anything.
Comment by Anthony on November 10, 2022 at 5:30 pm
Centrists certainly aided and abetted the removal of the preaching and teaching of Christ Crucified, Sin, and the Way of Salvation across large segments of the church – certainly the American branch.
Comment by Jeff on November 11, 2022 at 10:18 am
>> Read the Old Testament prophets about what happens…
What Dan said. A good place to start might be 1 Kings chapter 11.
Comment by John Smith on November 11, 2022 at 8:44 pm
This result was inevitable once the Bishops and their favorite elders were made immune to discipline. If heretics are rewarded and allowed into leadership it is no surprise when the organization follows in their footsteps.
Comment by Star Tripper on November 12, 2022 at 8:00 pm
Tolerance is not a Christian virtue. The centrists described are all of us who worried about what the World might say instead of what God commanded.
Comment by Mike S on February 20, 2023 at 9:48 pm
While not intentional, we’re seeing William Butler Yeats’ poem play out in the UMC:
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, …
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
I started out this whole thing thinking I was a centrist, only to realize there really IS no center. There are a number of people who only know what’s happening within their church’s walls. By corollary, this “I see nothing, Col. Hogan” approach allowed the foxes to run amuck in the henhouse. It might not be as immediate as the traditionalists might think, but eventually the chickens will come home to roost and find the hen house trashed.