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.
UM Voices is a forum for different voices within the United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church on pressing issues of concern to the post-separation United Methodist Church and/or the Global Methodist Church. UM Voices contributors represent only themselves and not IRD/UMAction.
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.