We are in a season of change in the United Methodist Church. Since our formation in 1968, there has been pressure from an outside group interested in disrupting all of the mainline Christian denominations in the United States. This outside group is named the Institute on Religion and Democracy (the IRD). It is a group formed and financed by individuals opposed to the social witness of the church in the United States. The Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church, The Presbyterian Church, and the United Methodist Church, among others, have been affected by this effort at disruption over the past 40 years.
In the United Methodist Church, this effort has coalesced around the issue of LGBTQIA+ participation in the church. A graphic novel approach to this 50 year history can be found here. Over the years, the issue has been portrayed as one of fidelity to scripture. However, the truth of the matter is that that main issue has always been about power and control, the issue of LGBTQIA+ acceptance and integration into the church has been the scapegoat.
The General Conference is the official policy making body of the United Methodist Church and its members come from the worldwide church and in our polity, they provide the official voice of the church. Normally, the General Conference meets every four years known as a quadrennium. The last regular session of the General Conference met in 2016. In 2019, a called General Conference was held. The purpose of this called General Conference was to address issues relating to the acceptance and participation of members of the LGBTQIA+ community in the life of the church.
The result of this General Conference was a narrow vote to double down on the prohibitions against LGBTQIA+ participation in the mission and ministry of the church. The reaction in the North American portion of the church was a strong backlash against the outcome of the 2019 General Conference and included the election of numerous delegations across the North American church that favored a more progressive stance for full inclusion. This promised to present a totally different attitude to the 2020 General Conference.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 intervened. The 2020 General Conference was rescheduled to 2021, then 2022, and then after there were issues with obtaining Visas for many of the delegates from outside the US, the Commission on the General Conference deferred General Conference to 2024. Our polity was not set up for this kind of delay and the delay caused many hiccups around how we move forward… we were in uncharted territory.
In the meantime, a group representative of the full spectrum of the “big tent” philosophy of the United Methodist Church met at the behest of Bishop John Yambasu of the Sierra Leone Conference to see it there might be a way forward that would be acceptable to all parties. You can follow that process here. However, the protocol would need the approval of the General Conference to move forward, and who knows what the committee process would do to change the protocol, much less what changes would be made when it would be presented on the floor of the General Conference.
Bottom line, the traditionalists rebelled when the Commission on the General Conference took into account the logistical realities of trying to put together a worldwide gathering with our particular requirements and determined that the best course of action would push the General Conference meeting to 2024. Their response was to launch the Global Methodist Church on May 1, 2022. Since then, some advocates for the Global Methodist Church have sought to distort the beliefs of the United Methodist Church to say that we seek to deny the deity of Christ and other such nonsense in order to create turmoil and fear while enticing folks to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The core beliefs of the United Methodist Church are fixed and have been fixed since 1808 when the First Restrictive Rule was enacted in our Constitution (see paragraphs 17-22, Book of Discipline 2016, “the Discipline”). The Restrictive Rules established that the General Conference shall not “revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion (or Confession of Faith), or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine (Discipline 2016, p. 31). The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church, the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, and the Standard Sermons of John Wesley comprise our statement of faith, practice, and understanding. Additionally, our Social Principles guide our Christian Witness and are approved by the General Conference but do not hold the force of church law.
In this time of division, it is important that accurate information needs to be shared within the church. Regardless of what some who seek division would suggest, the United Methodist Church will continue to hold to the standard of love and grace that has been the hallmark of Methodism through the years.
If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email at email@example.com . I look forward to navigating the possibly rough waters ahead with you.