Self-identified theological conservatives outnumber self-identified theological liberals in the United Methodist Church, according to a recently released survey.
The UMC is scheduled to have a special session of General Conference on Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri, to determine their official stance on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
United Methodist Communications and Research NOW conducted an online survey Sept 27–Oct. 4, 2018, that had a sample space of 541 respondents who were UMC laity.
In findings released earlier this month, the survey found that 44 percent of respondents identified as “Conservative-Traditional,” 28 percent identified as “Moderate-Centrist,” 20 percent identified as “Progressive-Liberal,” and 8 percent identified as “unsure.”
Chuck Niedringhaus, senior director of marketing research and local church outreach at UM Communications, said in a statement Wednesday that the findings counter misconceptions about the UMC’s theological makeup.
“Oftentimes we think the denomination is equally divided. It was important for us to see that the plurality of people see themselves as more conservative,” said Niedringhaus, as reported by United Methodist Insight.
The survey report also found that Conservative-Traditional respondents were the most likely to report attending worship once a week at 35 percent. From there, it was Moderate-Centrist at 27 percent, and Progressive-Liberal at 23 percent.
On the other end, Progressive-Liberal respondents were the most likely to report attending worship “seldom,” at 18 percent. From there, it was Moderate-Centrist at 8 percent and Conservative-Traditional at 7 percent.
When the survey asked respondents “Which should be the primary focus of the United Methodist Church?” 88 percent of Conservative-Traditional respondents said, “Saving souls for Jesus Christ,” but only 32 percent of Progressive-Liberals said the same.
In response to the same question, 68 percent of Progressive-Liberal respondents replied “Advocating for social justice to transform this world” while just 12 percent of Conservative-Traditional respondents said the same.
After years of divisive internal debate, the UMC is holding a special session to determine whether it will maintain its official biblically-grounded objection to homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
At present, the UMC Book of Discipline labels homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching,” which includes barring clergy from performing same-sex weddings and prohibiting noncelibate homosexuals from being ordained.
Delegates to the special session in St. Louis will consider plans to resolve the internal debate, among them “The One Church Plan” and “The Traditional Plan.”
The Traditional Plan maintains the denomination's stance on LGBT issues, plus it guarantees more enforcement and might allow dissenting churches an easy process for leaving the denomination.
The One Church Plan, which is favored by most bishops, would allow regional bodies and congregations to determine their own stance on LGBT issues.