RNS: Increasingly global Methodists struggle with diversity

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Once the epitome of Main Street U.S.A., the United Methodist Church is rapidly becoming an increasingly international family.

Put another way: The church of President Bush and Sen. Hillary Clinton is also the church of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

And as the Liberian president stood before thousands of fellow Methodists gathered here Tuesday (April 29), she presented herself as the personification of the church's global missions and urged a renewed effort to fight poverty in Africa.

Sirleaf, who in 2006 became Africa's first democratically elected female head of state, pointed to Methodists' centuries-old health and education ministries in her West African nation. Methodists built the first secondary school in Liberia, the College of West Africa, of which Sirleaf called herself a proud alumna.

"For more than 175 years, you, the Methodist Church, has stood by and with the Liberian nation," Sirleaf said. "The church must continue to work to assist us meet the challenges for the people of Liberia."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesMethodist

6 Comments
Posted April 30, 2008 at 4:26 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Daniel wrote:

Interesting article.  The UMC is in meltdown mode and is maybe 10-15 years behind TEC.  The big difference is that the UMC bishops have learned from TEC and are stacking the deck to stifle any meaningful orthodox dissent.  UMC bishops are a much more compliant and meek bunch than TEC bishops.  You will not find one +Iker or +Duncan among them.  The General Confernce so far has: raised the retirement age of bishops; elected a bishop-backed, liberal slate of candidates to the Judicial Council, and at the behest of the bishops is voting on whether to do away with the system of guaranteed appointments for elders in full connection.  What this means is that if a bishop wants to get rid of a troublesome pastor, all he/she has to do is stick them with an ineffective performance appraisal and then decline to appoint them to a church.  Much easier than inhibition and deposition, and just as effective!

As orthodox Anglicans in North America gather steam, there may well be a steady stream of United Methodists coming in the door when they finally wake up to the takeover of their denomination by the hard-left activists.  The orthodox Methodists have been just like their orthodox counterparts in TEC; quite polite, willing to engage in meaningful dialog, and respectful of other opinions.  It has gotten them to the same place as the orthodox in TEC.

April 30, 5:14 pm | [comment link]
2. MattJP wrote:

I’m one of those ex-UMs who is now an Anglican. I was baptized and confirmed in UM churches and just was confirmed in an Anglican congregation a few months ago. I’d like to think that I’m a better Methodist now than I was then since Wesley never left the Church. I have kept up with the latest UM general conference and the news hasn’t been very good. I had hoped that the UMC might be swinging back to a more orthodox position but it seems that the “religious left” is more organized and powerful than ever at general conference this year according to friend’s blogs who are still in the UMC.

April 30, 10:54 pm | [comment link]
3. Jody+ wrote:

Daniel,

I think you’re a bit overly negative in your assessment of the orthodox cause within the UMC.  If anything the General Conference is only going to become more orthodox in areas of human sexuality as more and more African churches are brought into the fold (Cote De Ivore is coming up next as I understand it).  Also, while their Bishops have in large part been no less flaky than TEC Bishops, the UMC does have a separate judicatory body (it doesn’t expect it’s Bishops to fulfill this role as TEC does) which has upheld the book of Discipline consistently.  As a Methodist prof from SMU mentioned in Chicago for the National Workshop on Christian unity, the vote at General Conference has become steadily more and more conservative.  I think it’s too early to pronounce the orthodox cause in the UMC dead.

May 1, 1:38 am | [comment link]
4. Jody+ wrote:

I should have read some of the news from this years General Conference before I posted that last comment.  The news about the judicial body is indeed discouraging.  Perhaps Daniel was not overly negative, but I think we can still hold out hope.

May 1, 1:44 am | [comment link]
5. Jody+ wrote:

This was the steady increase i was referring to:

Support for liberalizing United Methodism’s
stance on homosexuality peaked at the 1996
General Conference, when 15 bishops openly
opposed the church’s teachings. Also in 1996,
delegates from Africa, then comprising only 7
percent of the delegates, became outspoken
in defending the church’s stance on sexual
ethics. Since then, the margin of votes for
the current church stance has almost always
increased. This growing margin reflects United
Methodism’s demographic shift. The most
liberal regions of the church in the West and
Northeast regions of the U.S. church are losing
members the fastest. Meanwhile, the Southeast
is holding steady, while the African church is
fast growing, now representing more than 20
percent of the delegates in 2008.[/blockqote]

you can read more at the IRD’s UMAction site.

May 1, 1:51 am | [comment link]
6. Daniel wrote:

Jody,

I would like to agree with you, but pending actions, such as splitting off the U.S. branch of United Methodism as it own “Central Conference”  seem like a way to dilute the influence of orthodox Methodists in other areas of the world.  There also was a contested Judicial Council decision a few months back that kept African representation in the 2008 General Conference below what it would have been based purely on numbers of members in the African annual conferences.  I could be wrong, but this certainly seems like the very liberal church bureaucracy in the U.S. striving to minimize the orthodox influence of the African church so the U.S. is free to do whatever it wants.  Sound like any other denomination you know whose initials begin with T and end with C?

May 1, 10:08 am | [comment link]
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