A team of theologically conservative Methodist leaders announced that conservatives will leave the United Methodist Church (UMC) to form a new Global Methodist Church (GMC). The GMC will form as soon as the UMC’s General Conference formally adopts a plan to separate.
The plan, the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, was to have been presented at the UMC’s general conference in May, 2020 for a vote. But the coronavirus pandemic delayed the quadrennial event. The next General Conference is scheduled for August 2022, but conservatives are hoping to place the protocol up for a vote on a special one-day conference, May 8, 2021.
The Transitional Leadership Council, a team of theologically conservative Methodists, is organizing the new denomination. In announcing the denomination, the group said, “If it becomes apparent that the leading bishops, centrists, and progressives who covenanted to support the Protocol no longer do so, then the council will consider bringing the new church into existence without delay. Local United Methodist churches, annual conferences, and central conferences will then be able to join the new denomination.”
The UMC is the third largest Christian denomination in the U.S., and the largest mainline denomination. Latest figures from the UMC show 13 million members, almost evenly split between membership in the U.S. and membership from Europe, Africa and Asia.
The Council believes that “if the Protocol’s implementing legislation is adopted, thousands of local churches and clergy in Africa, Eurasia, the Philippines, and the U.S. will want to join the Global Methodist Church.”
The group adds, “It is widely recognized that clergy and laity in Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia, and in parts of the Philippines are more theologically conservative than their counterparts in the U.S. Although, even in the U.S., a significant percentage of laity identify as theologically conservative, and are part of small, midsize, and large traditionalist local churches.
Dr. Bob Hayes, a leadership council member and Bishop in Residence at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas, was excited about the move forward. He said, “As a fourth generation Methodist I am excited by a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit where I see God doing a new thing! God is creating a church rooted in Scripture and the love of Jesus, and he is calling us to participate with him. We’re not there just yet, but given our vision, our hope, and our perseverance, I’m confident we’ll get there!”
While the current flashpoint in the church is over disagreements about what the Bible teaches about sexuality, relationships and marriage, the roots of the conflict between traditional and “progressive” or “liberal” Methodists go back much further.
John Lomperis is the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s UMC Director. He explains, “The impending split is the result of an extensive history which dates back long before the present debates over sexual morality.”
Lomperis traces the division to ongoing battles over church doctrine and church discipline. John Wesley, an Anglican priest who was part of revival movements that led to the formation of Wesleyan and Methodist movements, was outspoken against slavery. Early American Methodism, established in 1784, had a goal “to ‘extirpate the abomination of slavery.’” But in the 1800s, compromise crept in, with “a newly elected bishop openly involved in this inherently sinful lifestyle,” leading to a split in the church.
The doctrinal drift goes back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, Lomparis says. By 1920, theological modernism controlled Methodism, in “the colleges, the seminaries, the pastors’ schools, the Courses of Study, the Church press, the Sunday school material, the Church agencies, and finally even the Council of Bishops,” he notes, quoting from the book Evangelical and Methodist.
The modernists opposed crucial Christian doctrines such as the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the virgin birth, Christ’s death paying the price for our transgressions, Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead, and Christ’s future, physical return to Earth.
The decline in biblical doctrine has led to many UMC members and clergy in the U.S. embracing the LGBT and pro-abortion activist movements, as they adopt revisionist biblical teachings that make abortion, homosexuality and transgenderism acceptable
Lomparis writes, “We could keep fighting at the next General Conference, and the next, and the next, with lots of costly complaints and church trials and bad press in between, until one side finally wins. But by that point there may not be much of a denomination left to win.”
So the Global Methodist Church is shaking the dust off its feet and getting ready to move ahead, with a mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly.”
Photo from Global Methodist