Is the United Methodist Church still Mainline?

The United Methodist Church is the largest of the denominations generally viewed as the Protestant Mainline. Of course, the Southern Baptist Convention is much larger, but due to its theological and social conservatism, it is usually described as Evangelical. The question is, given the trajectory of the Methodists in the last decade – they are becoming more Evangelical, more African, more pro-life, and firmer in their defense of traditional sexual morality – should the Methodist Church still be viewed as Mainline? For now the answer is yes. The Evangelicals and conservatives do not control the denomination, though they may be its most powerful faction. But for how long will this remain true? The African and Southern portions of the denomination are only growing with time. Evangelical churches are doing better than their more liberal counterparts. It seems that it is only a matter of time before the Methodist Church will no longer be a Mainline denomination.

Consider just two crucial events of the General Conference that ended yesterday. First, the Conference decisively (61-39%)  rejected an amendment that would have declared that the denomination “agreed to disagree” on matters of sexual morality, reaffirming its condemnation of homosexual activity.

As the Christian Post reports:

The Social Principles section of United Methodist teachings on sexuality in the Book of Discipline states: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching;” and “Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”

An amendment to these statements would have added the sentence: “As a denomination, we are conflicted regarding homosexual expressions of human sexuality.”

That amendment was rejected.

“We have to say what the Gospel says even though we love our brothers and sisters,” said one commentator from an African UMC branch against the amendment.

The second key event, though receiving less public press, was that for the first time ever the Church and Society legislative committee voted to withdraw from the strongly pro-choice Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an organization including most of the Mainline denominations that the United Methodist Church helped found. As far as I can tell (I’m having trouble finding a report on this, if someone finds one please let me know), the General Conference has not followed the recommendation of the committee. Nevertheless, this is another sign of trends within the UMC. This is not your parents’ Methodist Church.

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About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on May 5, 2012, in Social Issues and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Is the United Methodist Church still Mainline?.

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