United Methodists continue discerning where they best fit in our denomination’s split between the theologically orthodox Global Methodist Church and increasingly liberal post-separation United Methodist Church. On this website, we have produced a list of articles documenting important key differences between the new United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church on a range of important issues, and even made an easy-to-remember web address for this list (www.umchoices.org).
It is true that we do not yet definitively know all the precise details of what future General Conferences of these two denominations will decide on every issue.
But it is simply not honest to act like the future trajectories of the two denominations are unfathomable mysteries.
The mass exodus of theological traditionalists from the UMC—especially after the expected departures of a great many United Methodists in the Global South—will shift the politics of General Conferences for those left in the UMC dramatically. Liberal activists can look forward to new majorities supporting parts of their agenda that were blocked in the previously unified denomination. Global Methodists can similarly have a denomination committed to their theologically traditionalist values and reforms that faced fierce resistance in the unified denomination.
The more United Methodists are given the right to freely choose which way to go, the more each denomination will get what it wants.
There is no serious doubt that later this year, a major difference will be that the General Conference of the increasingly liberal United Methodist Church will officially affirm gay weddings and non-celibate gay clergy, while that of the traditionalist Global Methodist Church will not.
But how are the delegate votes shifting on other issues?
At the last unified regular General Conference, in 2016, I found 13 petitions on which the final plenary vote of all delegates was relatively closely divided. By that, I mean votes in which the prevailing side had a simple majority, but less than a two-thirds supermajority. (The vast majority of petitions either died in committee or were rushed through on consent calendars.) All of these were on issues other than gay weddings, given how “sexuality issues” were punted until 2019.
For several of these petitions, the divides are not neatly, obviously applicable to emerging differences between the United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church.
We can see further differences between those now sorting into the Global Methodist Church and United Methodist Church when we dig a little deeper. Some amendments proposed in 2016 plenary sessions showed clear dividing lines, and were decided by similarly close margins. Further divides were highlighted in relatively narrowly decided preliminary committee votes on petitions that never made it to the plenary floor. While different legislative committees have different ideological balances, a committee’s recommendation on any petition is usually a good predictor of the final action that the full plenary session would have taken if given the chance.
Unless otherwise noted, each of these are issues on which there was a close vote and on which the Renewal and Reform Coalition (UMAction and partner traditionalist groups) took a stand. See our Legislative Summary for the 2016 General Conference. As the two main factions part ways, the Global Methodist Church and what is left of the increasingly liberal United Methodist Church will each be set free to move in opposite directions on each issue below.
Abortion is a major emerging difference between the United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church.
By a 425-268 (61 percent) vote, the 2016 General Conference ended UMC agencies’ formal membership in and support of the extremist Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). As one young adult laywoman testified to delegates (see page 54/2774), RCRC
“condemn[s] any attempt to limit abortions, even partial-birth abortions. They refuse to condemn abortion as a form of birth control or gender selection. They affirm abortion in any way.”
Beforehand, some of us widely distributed a flyer to delegates, documenting key facts about RCRC. These facts included how RCRC promotes religious rituals to bless the work of abortion clinics, calling all elective abortions necessarily “holy work” and “God’s work” (see pages 31/36, 63/68, 74/79, and 101-102/106-107), how RCRC claimed to “represent” all American United Methodists in its political lobbying, and how it opposes even mild or late-term abortion restrictions supported by large super-majorities of Americans.
The wide distribution of such facts did not stop several United Methodist bishops, liberal caucus leaders, and entire annual conferences from going out of their ways to express strong, unqualified support for RCRC.
RCRC has made clear that its perspective goes far beyond the moral reluctance and ambiguity of most abortion-rights supporters. A December 2020 tweet from RCRC’s CEO (a former United Methodist general agency staffer), frankly spoke of how they “support abortion,” seeing abortion “as a moral good” and even “essential to human flourishing and liberation”! In 2022, RCRC’s New Mexico chapter proudly declared, “We are #PROAbortion” and “love abortion.”
A 445-310 majority (59 percent) of the same General Conference rejected a liberal-backed petition from United Methodist Women (now called United Women in Faith) to maintain and somewhat revise the notorious, decades-old “Responsible Parenthood” resolution. Among concerns noted with this resolution:
- It used euphemistic language to effectively promote taxpayer funding for elective abortions.
- This revision would have had the UMC oppose requiring parental consent, and perhaps even notification, for abortion surgeries performed on underage girls.
- It had the church broadly express support for abortion, making clear that this support was not just for the legality but also the morality of abortion, and that this support was not limited to rare cases of threats to the mother’s life. Rather, the resolution’s support for abortion expanded to an impossibly vague standard of also supporting abortion when no one’s life is in danger, but the unborn child’s continued existence challenges “the physical, mental, and emotional health of the pregnant woman and her family,” or there are problems related to the child’s “health” or “mental capability.” Such language effectively gave the church’s unrestricted blessing to aborting children with Down Syndrome or other disabilities.
Now the Global Methodist Church has drawn in many United Methodist leaders who most strongly opposed their denomination supporting such political agendas and promoting the values of groups who “love abortion” or call it “holy,” “God’s work,” and “essential to human flourishing.” Now RCRC-minded United Methodist leaders can expect much less opposition when they seek to forcibly devote the whole denomination’s name and resources to promoting such agendas, no matter how much it makes those who disagree feel unwelcome in the UMC.
I have written previously about United Methodism’s new leftward trajectory on abortion, challenges facing Global Methodism as it decides how to address such issues, and practical ministry steps congregations can take to help reduce abortions.
Biblical Authority is one of the most fundamental differences between the Global Methodist Church and the United Methodist Church.
As noted, it paints a misleading picture of United Methodism to highlight the nominal orthodoxy of its on-paper doctrinal and moral standards while ignoring how widely top denominational officials use their offices to disregard these standards and marginalize those who actually believe in them.
A 2016 petition from the West Virginia Annual Conference would have modestly revised the Preamble to the United Methodist Social Principles, by respectfully re-affirming the authority of Scripture. Its key line would have had the UMC officially declare “that the Bible is our foremost authority not only for doctrine but also for our moral standards and for the ways in which we relate to other people.”
This traditionalist-backed proposal was rejected by 53 percent of committee delegates, in a 36-32 vote.
This divide is consistent with what we have seen elsewhere in the previously unified denomination, including in a United Methodist Communications survey of American United Methodist laity before the 2019 General Conference. Among other things, that survey found only 29 percent of respondents naming Scripture as “the most authoritative source of their personal theology.”
While both denominations are international, Global Inclusion is another major difference between the United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church.
On this website and elsewhere, traditionalist United Methodists have long vocally protested liberal United Methodist attempts to disempower non-Americans through recurring “regionalization” or “global segregation” proposals, while we have critiqued how liberal leaders championing regionalization also marginalize non-Americans in leadership.
While Americans became a minority of the UMC in 2020, this was clearly imminent in 2016.
More than 95 percent of United Methodists outside of America have been in Sub-Saharan Africa (see page 14/26).
A 2016 petition would have amended the responsibilities of one major apportionment-funded denominational agency, the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), to make it devote more energy to addressing crises and concerns in Africa. This would have forced the GBCS to partially redirect its attention away from domestic U.S. politics.
A 35-29 majority (55 percent) of committee delegates rejected this traditionalist-backed proposal.
With sharing resources between regions with huge economic differences, we must keep in mind that the exact numbers will of course shift in any specific year or context, and the two denominations structure international partnerships very differently.
But at the 2016 General Conference, a fight over a proposed budget amendment appeared to highlight a key divergence in basic attitudes towards global resource sharing.
I have reported earlier about the details and wider context of this controversy. In summary: For theological education, the initial budget proposed essentially devoted nearly $105 million to the United States and only $5 million elsewhere. A traditionalist-backed amendment increased the latter to $10 million. This modest increase in funding for non-Americans was passed over vocal liberal opposition, by a narrow 406-379 (52 percent) vote. The liberal “Mainstream UMC” caucus later harshly mischaracterized this as a “cash-grab” by greedy Africans. There is a recent wider context of liberal Americans defunding traditionalist-minded United Methodists overseas, while GMC-bound Methodists stepped up to help those hurt by such defunding.
Significantly, I have confirmed that both of the American delegates who gave speeches in favor of this modest increase (for funding non-American theological education) are now Global Methodist ministers.
Another major difference between Global Methodists and United Methodists is contrasting beliefs about what constitutes Good Governance.
In the unified denomination, traditionalists made clear that regardless of our perspective on any issue, General Conferences should be run with basic Golden-Rule fairness. So whenever a legislative committee has taken the time to vet and preliminarily approve a duly submitted petition, we believe that the full plenary session of all delegates should have a chance to make the required final decision.
Liberal United Methodist leaders have made clear that they have a different perspective. Some have rather openly admitted pursuing a Machiavellian strategy to filibuster committee-approved petitions they disliked, but feared that the majority of delegates would probably favor. A repeatedly observed liberal strategy has been to prevent the majority of church leaders from being able to decide important issues, by “running out the clock” so that the full plenary session never had time to potentially adopt certain committee-approved petitions.
In direct response to such liberal tactics, the 2016 General Conference adopted a traditionalist-backed rule change to require a final vote on all committee-approved petitions (with an amendment further calling for at least minimally fair initial consideration of all duly submitted petitions). This was approved by only a narrow 406-361 (53 percent) majority.
With the aforementioned GBCS, traditionalists have found it deeply problematic to have such a prominent official agency using the whole denomination’s name and resources to promote the controversial perspectives of one narrow ideological faction within the denomination, while consistently aligning with one of the two major U.S. political parties. This was a fundamental concern apart from disagreements on any particular issue stance. A traditionalist-backed petition would have empowered the more broadly representative General Conference to set this apportionment-funded agency’s priorities, rather than letting the GBCS’s own factionally narrow leadership to decide its own priorities. A 44-30 (59 percent) majority of committee delegates rejected this reform.
With this history, a major emerging difference between Global Methodists and United Methodists is that the former will insist that their leaner denominational structures be much more broadly representative, responsive, and avoidant of factional bias than what they experienced in the UMC.
Relatedly, the United Methodist Church requires every annual conference to have its own board of church and society, as well as a Peace with Justice Coordinator. A traditionalist-backed petition to make these optional was rejected by a 43-27 (61 percent) majority of committee delegates.
This highlights a wider difference between the Global Methodist Church and the United Methodist Church. The former seeks to have significantly fewer specific regional and local structures and positions required by top-down mandates.
Another emerging area of difference between the United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church is Israel, or the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The liberal faction that now controls the UMC has largely, with some exceptions, singled out the world’s lone Jewish state for a special level of criticism, which traditionalists, with some exceptions, have seen as unfair.
By a 478-318 (60 percent) majority, the 2016 General Conference “encourage[d]” official UMC agencies to end their membership in a political coalition that promotes targeting Israel with Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). A similar but more strongly worded petition, also traditionalist-backed, narrowly failed in a 29-35 (45-55 percent) committee vote.
The Renewal and Reform Coalition took no public position on a 2016 resolution related to the Palestinian village of Wadi Foquin. But before it passed, a narrow 384-342 (53 percent) majority notably voted to delete an especially controversial phrase in this resolution, which would have had the UMC officially lobby the U.S. federal government to withhold foreign aid from Israel.
Meanwhile, only a 336-446 (43 percent) minority vote supported a resolution to stand against anti-Semitism. As noted, this resolution explicitly said that it is okay to challenge the fallible Israeli government, but opposition to this resolution apparently primarily centered on its acknowledgment that some criticism of Israel indeed crosses the line into anti-Semitism.
On all of the above matters, Israel’s critics can expect much less pushback, and Israel’s defenders can expect much less support, at future United Methodist General Conferences.
I have written more here on this emerging difference between the United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church.
But it is very important to understand that the Global Methodist Church includes people of a wide range of views on the Arab-Israeli conflict. I have not seen any significant energy, from any angle, to push the GMC or its leadership to pursue one-sided political activism on this or other geopolitical controversies.
Relatedly, we see a major difference between the Global Methodist Church and the United Methodist Church on denominational Political Activism Funding.
In the unified denomination, traditionalists long protested the liberal faction’s insistence on using the name and resources of the whole church for one-sided advocacy on debatable political issues, with such advocacy consistently aligned with the less moderate wing of one of America’s two major political parties. This includes the political activism of apportionment-funded agencies and the dozens of left-wing political resolutions submitted to every General Conference. This includes the numerous grants of United Methodist apportionment dollars to left-wing and even secular political groups, which the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) has extensively documented and protested for decades (here are some examples). More recently, some liberal United Methodists leaders have tried to frame the denominational split in partisan political terms, with suggestions that of the two U.S. political parties, voters of one are much less welcome in the UMC than those of the other.
This divide surfaced in 2016, among other things, over funding the National Council of Churches (NCC). As IRD has extensively documented over the years, the NCC has long been heavily involved in partisan, left-wing political activism on a seemingly unlimited range of issues, and has a record of harshly disparaging American Christians who don’t share its politics. Its partisan politicking and anti-ecumenical rhetoric have long been lavishly funded by apportionments taken from United Methodist offering plates.
Furthermore, the UMC’s share of funding this very political council has been proportionately much higher than the denomination’s size relative to other NCC-affiliated denominations (and this had been a problem for many years). In direct response, a 2016 traditionalist-backed petition would have set some limits, by calling for the UMC to no longer contribute “a dramatically disproportionately large” share of the NCC’s income, and requiring “reasonable steps to ensure that in any given year, the percentage of the [council’s] denominational income that comes from general funds of The United Methodist Church is never more than two times the percentage of American church members of [NCC] member communions who are United Methodists.”
Even such generous limits went too far for liberal delegates, who ensured that this reform died, only receiving 34 percent support (14 in favor, 27 opposed) in committee.
Controversies over the NCC reflect diverging Methodist approaches to ecumenism.
Furthermore, there appears to be a great deal of psychological projection in politically-minded liberal United Methodist leaders’ negative, politicized characterizations of Global Methodists.
Among Global Methodists, I have seen no interest in any sort of “mirror image” approach of using the name and resources of the church to promote partisan political activism, on either side, like what we have seen from liberal United Methodist leaders noted above.
The Rev. Rob Renfroe, a longtime traditionalist leader who was involved in the genesis of the Global Methodist Church, has bluntly declared, “If you want to be in a church that doesn’t affirm women in ministry; if you want to be in a church that doesn’t delight in our racial diversity, if you want to be in a church where everyone votes the same way, please go independent, because the GMC is not for you!”
This reflects wider trends in American Christianity, in which a recent academic study confirmed widespread observations that, generally speaking, theologically progressive Christians are generally much more committed to their political allegiances, while theologically conservative Christians are more accepting of political differences of opinion, relatively speaking. (Of course, individual exceptions can be cited.)
Another major difference between the United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church is Term Limits for Bishops.
In the UMC, once American bishops are elected, they are permanently elevated as bishops for life. Terms of office vary in different regions elsewhere.
In contrast, in the GMC, being a bishop “is not a lifelong office” but rather “a sacred trust held for a time” (Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline ¶501).
At the 2016 General Conference, a 482-332 (59 percent) majority supported a traditionalist-backed petition that would have made all bishops around the world elected to only a limited term. However, since this proposal involved constitutional amendments, it fell short of the two-thirds supermajority required.
A few reform-minded liberals also supported term limits for bishops. But now the mass exodus into Global Methodism has sucked much of the oxygen from any such efforts in what remains of United Methodism.
Furthermore, a greatly under-appreciated background issue in the divisive 2019 General Conference was the power of bishops. Beyond the most prominent issues, the Traditional Plan’s proponents objected to bishops’ efforts to unilaterally establish effective policies on major issues within their respective areas, with few checks or balances, while the Traditional Plan’s opponents opposed such attempts to limit what bishops could do. With those of the latter perspective now dominating the UMC, that denomination is hardly fertile ground for term limits or other dramatic new restraints on bishops.
Diverging roles of bishops will be an especially interesting unfolding difference between the Global Methodist Church and United Methodist Church to watch.
The stage is now set for very different directions by United Methodists and the Global Methodists on these and many other issues. There has been much tragedy and pain in the still-ongoing separation process. But ultimately each faction of the formerly unified denomination is being set free to develop the sort of denomination they want, no longer held back by the other.