September 11, 2014
The Not Very United Methodist Church
by Mike McManus
Will the same-sex marriage issue split the United Methodist Church?
That very real possibility surfaced in a series of articles published in the
current issue of Good News, a Methodist magazine written by evangelicals who
believe their church must remain true to Scripture which defines marriage as the
union of one man and one woman.
In 1972, UMC’s General Convention, the church’s top legislative body, declared
the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” In 1984 it
added that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be…ordained as
ministers.” In 2004, it voted narrowly (455 to 445) to prohibit same-sex
Yet a “growing number of UM clergy are performing” same-sex marriages, reported
the magazine “prompting a series of church trials which has bitterly divided the
church.” Pastor Frank Schaefer lost his clergy credentials because he had
conducted a same-sex wedding for his son. “When people choose to break the
covenant that holds us together, there has to be some accountability,” said Rob
Renfroe, a United Methodist pastor and publisher of Good News.
However, when Thomas Ogletree, the former Yale Divinity School dean, presided
over a same-sex wedding of his son, the case was dropped by a UM Church court in
New York and the state’s bishop declared no trials will be conducted in the
future for such cases.
In fact, other UMC bishops have performed same-sex marriages or openly stated
they disagreed Schaefer’s conviction. Bishop Minerva Carcano offered Schaefer an
opportunity to work in her California-Pacific Annual Conference, or diocese. In
the Pacific Northwest, two complaints against clergy were resolved by a silly
suspension of 24 hours without pay.
Renfroe called that failure to prosecute clergy who violate the UMC’s Book of
Discipline “confusing to the world and discouraging to the majority of our
In the lead article of Good News, Renfroe wrote: “The United Methodist Church
is…in a crisis and it will not be solved by laypersons, pastors and bishops who
are more interested in keeping a troubled church together than they are in
fixing the problems that trouble us. Our way forward together is to accept the
authority of God’s word, affirm our historic Christian faith, enforce our Book
“Otherwise we may move forward but it will not be together.”
In 1968 the United Methodist Church boasted 10.5 million members, but today’s
not so United Methodist Church now has 7.5 million members, a 30% decrease
during a time the U.S. population grew 45%.
The denomination is still the largest mainline Protestant church in America, and
the only one which honors the Biblical definition of marriage between and man
and a woman.
How has that been possible? Unlike the United Church of Christ or The Episcopal
Church, UMC includes 5 million members from Africa, the Philippines and Europe
in its total world membership of 12.5 million.
African churches are conservative and vote with U.S. evangelicals on moral
issues. Liberals on the East and West Coasts outnumber Methodists from the South
and Midwest and would have voted for gay marriage decades ago – were it not for
Africans. One result: churches in the Pacific Northwest have been shrinking 7% a
year while African churches are booming.
Dr. Maxie Dunnam, Chancellor of Asbury Theological Seminary declares, “There is
no viable `third way’ or `compromise,’ so why not be Christian and civil,
valuing each other, and work out a separation that will allow both groups to
serve the Kingdom with the kind of commitment and passion essential for any
Not so fast argued prominent Pastors Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter. They
proposed “local” and “regional” options on same-sex marriage and gay clergy.
They submitted an “agree to disagree” petition on homosexuality at the 2012
General Conference which delegates voted down.
Rev. Chris Ritter of Illinois proposed an alternative which would eliminate the
five U.S. geographical jurisdictions in favor of two that would be defined not
geographically but by “divergent approaches to scripture and ministry.”
Local churches could join one or the other. So a liberal church in conservative
Alabama could join a progressive jurisdiction. And a conservative church in
liberal California could chose an evangelical jurisdiction. Ritter argued his
proposal would preserve unity and move the denomination “past divisive
However, there are many critics of all compromises. Therefore, 100 evangelical
leaders drafted a statement urging the Council of Bishops meeting this fall to
“promote, defend and uphold the church’s biblical teaching that marriage is a
sacred covenant between one man and one woman.” So far that call for orthodoxy
has been signed by 3,300 pastors.
I predict this punt won’t work.
2019: Column 1961: Gun Control Laws Needed
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Pornography: A Public Health Hazard
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Cohabitation: A Risky Business
same sex marriage,
abortion and infanticide,