The time is urgent for Bible-believing United Methodists
The decades-long battle for the soul of the United Methodist Church (UMC) is now lost. A liberal faction has secured an increasingly hostile takeover.
Christians outside of the UMC, please share this article with any Bible-believing United Methodist friends, to show the urgency of quick action. Please also learn from our mistakes.
Theologically conservative United Methodists, we have a soon-to-expire, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead our congregations out of a rapidly radicalizing, declining denomination without losing our church buildings, which are technically “held in trust” for the denomination
Sadly, some denominational officials and even pastors of conservative-leaning congregations suppressed information or actively misled people about the UMC’s new leftward shift and our slow-motion schism.
This is no longer the UMC as we have known it. As documented on www.umchoices.org, the UMC’s increasing embrace of gay weddings brings with it increasing radicalism on a range of other theological and social issues.
Already, over 2,000 U.S. congregations have left the UMC, with at least as many in the pipeline.
Entire United Methodist regions outside of the U.S. have already begun departing.
Yes, the UMC’s official doctrinal and moral standards remain biblical, including forbidding gay weddings. But these “on paper” standards do not reflect reality.
This has a long history in the UMC and our predecessor denominations. Early on, we relaxed our counter-cultural, socially costly Christian stance against the evils of American slavery. Then we became increasingly lax in doctrinal accountability.
So, for many years, there has been no clear, universally agreed upon core of doctrine to which all United Methodist clergy actually have to affirm. One newly elected bishop, Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, has even declared that in the UMC, “it is not important that we agree on who Christ is.”
Despite much rhetoric about the UMC supposedly being a big happy family of conflicting theological views, this is unworkable. Indeed, the “big tent” never really worked well for us. I have yet to meet any loyalist of any of the UMC’s unofficial but influential liberal caucus groups who meaningfully views an evangelical Christian like me as a beloved brother in Christ. There is no integrity in the common occurrence of ministers vowing to “preach and maintain” our biblical doctrines, without meaning it, just to get ordained in the UMC. Meanwhile, for decades, our denomination has often bullied pastors who support our biblical doctrine.
Diane Knippers, the former president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), observed that the LGBTQ controversies of recent decades intensified pre-existing theological conflicts because of how social-justice-prioritizing liberals see this as a justice issue while doctrine-prioritizing conservatives see it as a doctrinal issue.
Provoked by growing numbers of pastors, bishops, and entire regions of the UMC openly defying our longstanding rules against gay weddings and “self-avowed practicing homosexual” ministers, a special General Conference was held in 2019. But after that conference actually strengthened these rules, liberal leaders furiously declared that they would neither leave the UMC nor respect its standards. Destructive conflict and disobedience spread. Leaders of all stripes admitted that a split was inevitable.
Different negotiations took place between conservative and liberal leaders, including but not limited to the prominent “Protocol on Reconciliation and Grace through Separation,” to seek some means of “amicable separation.” In all of these negotiations, 1. liberals would only agree to them inheriting the UMC name and putting the burden of leaving on conservatives, 2. liberals insisted on additional, painful, one-sided concessions, and 3. the effort ultimately fizzled as liberals became greedier to seize more and more for themselves.
Nevertheless, there are several key reasons why now is the time for evangelicals to leave.
1. The impossibility of reform
For years, the UMC’s evangelical renewal movement had realistic hope that we could eventually “take back” our denomination. Now reform has become impossible.
After the 2019 General Conference strengthened our biblical standards on marriage, defiance became even more widespread. Now top UMC leaders include two openly partnered gay activist bishops.
Our official doctrine affirms Jesus Christ’s full divinity. Yet that has not stopped one of these bishops, Karen Oliveto of Denver, from promoting an essentially Unitarian view, denying the sinlessness of Jesus and bizarrely saying we should not “create an idol out of him.” Numerous other denominational leaders were complicit in defending this false teaching, including the supposedly “centrist” Bishop Ken Carter in the previously conservative-leaning Southeast, under whose leadership other United Methodist bishops simply did not follow new rules conservatives recently enacted for holding wayward bishops accountable.
At the 2016 General Conference, conservatives won key victories by repealing the denomination’s previous endorsement of the Roe v. Wade abortion case, and otherwise shifting the UMC in a more pro-life direction. But when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe, the UMC leadership was remarkably forceful and united in supporting elective abortion and lamenting Roe’s fall.
Now even hard-won conservative victories make little impact. Recent political shifts from disaffiliations and the new impossibility of electing any theologically conservative U.S. bishop have put even fleeting reforms out of reach.
2. The UMC’s new intolerance
UMC leaders scrambling to limit disaffiliations, very vaguely claim that the denomination will still “have a place” for evangelicals.
But as documented, when push comes to shove, liberal bishops and other leaders of the new United Methodism are increasingly clear and consistent in harsh intolerance, including purging non-liberals from leadership. As one official conference speaker recently declared (beginning at 1:41:34), to loud applause from UMC leaders from across the Midwest, LGBTQ liberation is a justice issue, and “It is not possible for the church to not be of one mind on a matter of justice.”
Furthermore, the new UMC’s leaders have been remarkably consistent in characterizing a congregation refusing to accept a transgendered or non-celibate gay pastor appointed over them as equivalent to the unacceptable sin of racism. So by their own logic, liberals cannot indefinitely tolerate any United Methodist congregation remaining orthodox.
3. The historic opportunity
One truly consequential reform adopted in 2019 was “Paragraph 2553,” which allows congregations to disaffiliate from the UMC and keep their properties if they meet certain conditions, including paying significant but usually possible exit fees.
For the most part, congregations were previously blocked from leaving by how our denomination has long laid claim to all local-church property.
But Paragraph 2553 expires at the end of 2023. And a congregation’s disaffiliation must be ratified by a 2023 session of its annual conference (a UMC regional administrative structure), which is usually no later than June, with voting and paperwork due much earlier.
Sadly, some regions have imposed draconian additional burdens on disaffiliating congregations, or set needlessly early deadlines, so that congregations in some places have already missed their chance to use Paragraph 2553.
But elsewhere, the deadline has not yet expired, but will very soon! A few bishops have even extended the deadline by scheduling a special annual conference session in late 2023.
A congregation that has any possibility of disaffiliating now under Paragraph 2553 is unlikely to ever get a better deal.
The best starting point to learn more about the latest options, deadlines, and policies in your area is contacting the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) Organizer in your annual conference.
Disaffiliating congregations can remain connected with other orthodox believers emerging from the UMC into the new Global Methodist Church, which is committed to doctrinal integrity, accountable leadership, lower denominational expenses, and giving congregations a greater voice.