Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Where to Go in a Methodist Church Split?

 

Many of you have heard of the proposal for a formal separation of the United Methodist Church into a conservative and a liberal church. On one hand, our bishops and bureaucracy are strongly liberal. But despite being a mainline church, American Methodism has a plurality of conservative, traditionalist members, and there’s a strong evangelical current. Moreover, through our missionary work, we have grown strongly overseas, especially in Africa, and these members are overwhelmingly conservative. Last year, the number of conservative delegates grew to an outright majority and were able to pass the Traditional Plan, which re-enforced existing discipline for clergy violating rules against homosexual practice or performing same-sex marriages.

So, with the discipline clear and with a growing conservative majority, is all well for my side? It seems not. Acknowledging the liberal hold on the institutions and the episcopacy, a proposal has been put forward that anticipates the formation of a new traditional Methodist denomination and would allow individual congregations or whole conferences to vote to separate from the UMC and join the new church. There would be a $25 million payment to the new denomination. I haven’t seen anything about the ownership of local church property, but I suspect congregations would keep those. The property fights that have characterized recent splits in other denominations have been blessedly absent in our discussions.

Mark Tooley of the Institute for Religion and Democracy expects that around 3.5 million in America will remain in the UMC, which will become a liberal church. Around 2.5 million Americans will leave for the new conservative Methodist church, along with nearly all 5.5 million foreign Methodists.

So what do I do? Though I’m a Tennessean, we live now in West Virginia, which has a high Methodist population, and we’ve been settled into a church for the whole 12 years we’ve lived in this city. The subject has rarely come up, either in the sermon or Sunday school, but I kind of think our members are probably fairly well divided among the two sides. Our new pastor has been bringing the topic up repeatedly in sermons (as well as the underlying moral issues that have prompted it), and it’s clear he’s on the liberal side.* There’s a fair chance that this church may stay with the UMC.

There are lots of other Methodist churches in the area, and a few of them will probably go with the traditional side. However, when we moved here, we spent several weeks finding the right church. In several cases, the people were great, but the service was too modern for me. Projection screens, praise band, and so on. So what do I do if the churches with the theology I agree with all have cringe-inducing worship services, while the churches whose services draw me in spout politics and theology that pushes me away?

I’ll note that I’m not looking for replies of “You should quit and join denomination X, instead.” For now, I’m thinking I could transfer my membership to my old church back in Tennessee (evangelical and will go with the traditional denomination), so that I’ll be a member of the new denomination, and then I’ll keep going to our church here in town until and unless the politics drives me away.


*Incidentally, these are the only times I have ever heard homosexuality mentioned from a Methodist pulpit in my life, despite being in this denomination since I was born. Conservatives are not railing against it; it’s the other side pushing for it.

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  1. Arahant Member

    Sometimes a church gets a liberal minister because that’s what’s available, not because the congregation is liberal. The congregation may not at all be reflected in the minister’s “lessons.” Don’t give up until all the votes are counted, or however it will be done.

    • #1
    • January 15, 2020, at 7:46 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  2. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member

    I’m sure our congregation will remain with the liberal faction, should the protocol be adopted. Many of the conservatives left about 15 years ago when our pastor supported a gay couple, but didn’t officiate or host their wedding. As a result, we were even treated to a visit by the Westboro Baptists. But we stuck it out, even though it’s been tougher to keep up membership and programs. But out of stubbornness, and because someone needs to be there to challenge the liberal orthodoxy, we probably will stay put unless the anti-Semitism that seems to strike liberal denominations rears its ugly head. 

    • #2
    • January 15, 2020, at 9:00 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  3. Vectorman Thatcher

    Tim H.: For now, I’m thinking I could transfer my membership to my old church back in Tennessee (evangelical and will go with the traditional denomination), so that I’ll be a member of the new denomination, and then I’ll keep going to our church here in town until and unless the politics drives me away.

    I question why it’s important to transfer membership at all. If you continue with your present church, then nominally you support them with your offerings. Those offerings support the present Methodist structure as it is today. Your old church has the same problem.

    Most Protestant churches have relatively “easy” membership transfers. The standards I’ve heard are Profession of Faith, Reaffirmation of Faith, and by letter of transfer. When my wife and I transferred between Presbyterian to Methodist, it was (IIRC) by letter. We are now members of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The classes we took were relatively easy and painless, going through Luther’s Small Catechism.

    • #3
    • January 16, 2020, at 1:18 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  4. E. Kent Golding Member

    I believe the bishops appoint the Methodist pastors to their positions. Little or no congregational input. The pastor reflects the bishops goals, not the congregations. Tim H. is in a tough situation. Not sure what I would do. I am in a very liberal denomination, but the local leadership and the congregation have been non political. That has been slowly changing, and it is getting to the point where I need to change congregations and denominations. I mostly just want the Gospel preached and the Word taught, with some public service and missions mixed in.

    • #4
    • January 16, 2020, at 2:48 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  5. Pony Convertible Member

    I was born into a Methodist family, and married in a Methodist church. I do not share your concern about whether or not the Methodist Church splits, or anything else it does. When it moved hard left, I exited stage right. There are plenty of other churches. Find a new one.

    • #5
    • January 16, 2020, at 5:00 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  6. I Walton Member

    In the Episcopal split, the whole church went liberal and began to die. Conservatives Episcopalians became Catholic. Different church different histories, but similar dynamic. Christianity can’t become liberal in the modern meaning of that term.

    • #6
    • January 16, 2020, at 5:13 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  7. Paul Erickson Member

    I can see you’re struggling with this. I don’t want to say it’s hopeless, but it kind of is. What happens to all institutions when they start to go down the progressive path?

    I was organist / choir director at a UM church for over 25 years, ending last summer. I left because I was a little tired, but mostly because I mourned the loss of dignity and seriousness in worship. (Praise songs, Powerpoint, little kids dancing to amped-up videos during the service, interminable announcements. You get the picture.) This is New Jersey. I’m almost certain this church will stay with the liberal wing of the UMC. I’m glad I was able to avoid having to make the choice you face.

    • #7
    • January 16, 2020, at 5:29 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  8. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’ll wait to worry about the proposal actually happening. It was not asked for, and it has to be voted on. 

    • #8
    • January 16, 2020, at 5:45 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  9. Guruforhire Member

    We left a traditional service style to a contemporary one. I also preferred the traditional service, particularily a choir singing the traditional hymns.

    But we joined an established more conservative church with a more contemporary feel, with a band and the screen. I have learned to enjoy the virtues of that service though I do miss the traditional songs.

    • In many cases singing the new songs is more authentic and the band and choir are truly joyful
    • The PowerPoint is nice to follow along with
    • the sermons are good
    • #9
    • January 16, 2020, at 7:01 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  10. JoelB Member

    My mother in law, a former West Virginia United Methodist, has had to deal with this kind of situation as well. Mostly conservative congregation with a string of liberal-leaning pastors. Prayers for you and the decisions that lie ahead.

    • #10
    • January 16, 2020, at 7:13 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  11. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):
    I was organist / choir director at a UM church for over 25 years, ending last summer. I left because I was a little tired, but mostly because I mourned the loss of dignity and seriousness in worship. (Praise songs, Powerpoint, little kids dancing to amped-up videos during the service, interminable announcements. You get the picture.) This is New Jersey. I’m almost certain this church will stay with the liberal wing of the UMC. I’m glad I was able to avoid having to make the choice you face.

    Around where we live, the choices among established Protestant churches seems to be:

    • contemporary worship, center to right
    • contemporary worship, center to left
    • the dignity of traditional worship, center to left

    There are some small church plants in the Continuing Anglican movement which are exceptions, and there’s growing openness in the Orthodox world to converts. But conversion is not to be done lightly (almost like another marriage!), and given our circumstances, a very small church would pose logistical problems right now. The dignity of traditional worship is important to us. We’re not square pegs in round holes at our church, more like Spam-container-shaped pegs in oval holes, and well, can you really expect better of life than that?

    • #11
    • January 16, 2020, at 7:28 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  12. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Tim, good post and good question. It is certainly a difficult situation for you.

    I’m a baptist, not a Methodist, so I have very little familiarity with Methodist issues. It seems strange to me that so many traditional Methodists remained in a church that was, quite obviously, preaching and upholding heresy and blatant sexual immorality. Of course, this is hardly unique to Methodism. This heresy seems to have infiltrated all, or almost all, of the “mainline” denominations.

    I want to offer special thanks for your post. It happens that I’m scheduled to teach the book of Jude in my Bible study group this Sunday.

    Tim H.: So what do I do if the churches with the theology I agree with all have cringe-inducing worship services, while the churches whose services draw me in spout politics and theology that pushes me away?

    This doesn’t seem like a very difficult question to me, though the answer is probably inconvenient. I may be misinterpreting what you write, but it seems to me that you have a choice between entertainment and the truth of the Word of God. If you look at it this way, it seems to me that the choice is clear, but it’s certainly up to you.

    On another issue raised by your post, it seems quite strange to me that the traditionalists are in the majority among “delegates,” who I presume are the ultimately controlling group, and yet the proposal is that they be required to leave.

    • #12
    • January 16, 2020, at 8:00 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  13. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    The Babylon Bee has an interesting take on the Methodist split: United Methodist Church To Split Over Whether Or Not To Be Christians.

    • #13
    • January 16, 2020, at 8:10 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  14. RyanFalcone Member

    First, may God grant you the discernment and peace that He alone can provide as you and your loved ones deal with this conflict.

    Second, praise Him that He is still on His throne regardless of the trivia that we engage in at times.

    Finally, get praying and get folks praying for you (I’m there for ya). There isn’t a right and wrong answer except to fight! Your fight may be to take your giftedness elsewhere or it may be to stay were you have been planted to be that voice in the desert calling folks to repentance in some way? Either way, listen for God’s voice and be steadfast. Many of the “liberals” are actually unsaved and living a lie. In such emotional times, it is tough to hear it but we need to love them. The thought of even one perishing should be an offense to us.

    This is God’s will. The fight will make you and all of us stronger and only serves to bring the kingdom closer so be of good cheer. Victory is ours.

    • #14
    • January 16, 2020, at 8:16 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  15. Hartmann von Aue Member

    My only advice start looking for a biblically sound church to transfer to early. Vrouwe and I faced this issue at the Charismatic church we were members of in Champaign years ago and it took a while to find a new church home. 

    • #15
    • January 16, 2020, at 8:19 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  16. The Cloaked Gaijin Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    The Babylon Bee has an interesting take on the Methodist split: United Methodist Church To Split Over Whether Or Not To Be Christians.

    “United Methodist Church To Split Over Whether Or Not To Believe In Democracy” might have been a better title.

    The 2019 second-place vote finisher is now declared the winner and gets to kick out the side which won the vote?

    Didn’t we just have all of this nonsense with Brexit for 3 1/2 years?

    Get this: “Regional bodies of the UMC, known as annual conferences, would remain in the (pro-gay marriage and pro-gay pastor) UMC unless they vote (by 57% majority) to join another denomination prior to July 1, 2021.”

    That’s one of the things that offends me most. They didn’t respect democracy the first time. Then they demand a 57% vote to leave — which is actually a vote to cancel centuries of tradition to keep things the same? How can you stay with a group like that?

    This hatred of democracy is one the reasons why Boris Johnson just won in a landslide among certain Labor Party voters who actually believe in democracy and fair play. Furthermore, the homosexual marriage issue was continually voted one way in essentially all the states including California, but we all get to live within the mind of northern California native Anthony Kennedy instead. When did we all vote to live in Anthony Kennedy’s brain? He was appointed by Ronald Reagan after all.

    • #16
    • January 16, 2020, at 9:10 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  17. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A good part of my family is Methodist – I attended the funeral of a great-uncle this past weekend who was a Methodist minister, who performed my parents’ wedding over 50 years ago, and whose son, also a Methodist minister, gave the funeral homily. I have other assorted uncles and cousins who have likewise been through UMC seminaries and such, and I was baptized as an infant in the church. I have been following this closely.

    The existing body, the United Methodist Church, has an interesting history behind it. My great uncle actually didn’t start as a Methodist minister, he was originally an Evangelical United Brethren minister prior to their merger with the Methodists in 1968 (it’s where the “United” in UMC came from). And the history of that denomination is itself fascinating, formed as it was through a series of bitter denominational splits among anabaptist factions. That there is now a divorce in the UMC is, historically speaking, in a way nothing overly surprising – the history of Protestant denominations is replete with mergers and splits, followed by new mergers, new splits, bitter factional divorces, and the occasional reconciliations when the people who originally split (along with their grievances) are long forgotten. The pace of such changes in North America has been, historically speaking, especially rapid (I think the vast majority of existing Protestant denominations worldwide have all arisen here in the US in the last 200+ years). It’s something of a testament to the UMC that it held out for 52 years, when the same cannot be said for many many others. But it also seems to be the American way – no denomination here holds together for very long.

    As heartbreaking as it is to be faced with leaving one’s own church, lots of other people have been through it. You have to make that call yourself, of course, on whether to fight it out or to leave. And until things are put to a vote you cannot really tell which way it will go. What is important to you? Where will you find Christ? And what is the purpose of a church?

    • #17
    • January 16, 2020, at 9:10 AM PST
    • 11 likes
  18. Scott Rarden Member

    You could always look at it like a friend of mine did in the 90s where he considered himself to be a missionary to our Methodist Church – not sure he converted anyone one from their version of Methodist to his version of Methodist, but he always cheerfully fought his good fight.

    • #18
    • January 16, 2020, at 11:35 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  19. Thaddeus Wert Coolidge

    Tim, I hear you. I have been a member of the same UM church my entire life here in Nashville. It’s clear our ministers and staff are progressive, while the laity are probably split 50/50. We haven’t had any open conflict, but I feel things are coming to a head.

    It does tick me off that the ones who have relentlessly pushed the denomination to change get to assume the “default” position as far as staying in the UMC goes.

    • #19
    • January 16, 2020, at 1:52 PM PST
    • 10 likes
  20. Jessi Bridges Contributor

    My parents pulled us out of that sinking ship many years ago. And I have many friends who over the years have been leaving here and there. It’s been a slow fade and disappointing. But as Albert Molher commented on the issue,

    a church that will not take decisive action to remove those who are theological liberals and teaching and believing what is contrary to the faith that established the denomination, a denomination that refuses to excise people who teach contrary to their fundamental beliefs, is a denomination that will no longer have fundamental beliefs.

    Once it begins, it seems to be inevitable, unless church discipline is exercised.

    • #20
    • January 16, 2020, at 2:56 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  21. The Cloaked Gaijin Member

     Theodore Roosevelt once said that he

    “would rather address a Methodist audience than any other audience in America” because “the Methodists represent the great middle class and in consequence are the most representative church in America.”

    I suppose it all makes sense as the entire country is divided. Why should does the “United” Methodists stay united when the “United” States barely seems united?

    Politically, I live in a very conservative area, especially for a college town. One Methodist pastor seems to be the very definition of a Never Trump Republican. The other seems to have more of a old non-partisan Southern Democrat attitude and would probably never mention politics under almost any circumstances. I guess this is not the typical Methodist Church philosophy of pastors in more northern metro areas. I never remember hearing about politics in the Methodist Church. I think they were slightly against the lottery and gambling, but I can’t even remember if that was true.

    I do remember about 10 years ago that one former pastor decided to do a brief sermon that mentioned all the sexual-related stuff that Methodists were supposed to avoid all the way down to two non-related members of the opposite sex living in the same house, I guess that means unsupervised.

    • #21
    • January 16, 2020, at 3:18 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  22. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    As heartbreaking as it is to be faced with leaving one’s own church, lots of other people have been through it. You have to make that call yourself, of course, on whether to fight it out or to leave. And until things are put to a vote you cannot really tell which way it will go. What is important to you? Where will you find Christ? And what is the purpose of a church?

    And, I’ll be the one to say it:

    Sometimes the most important thing to you is not what you think is most important to God. Sometimes, you take a good look at yourself and realize you are limited, and human, and even if you believe there ought to be a better way to worship, the truth is you’re barely getting through it as it is, and messing with even partial success on this front just seems too risky.

    We find ourselves compromising on our ideals for all sorts of reasons. For family (God and family have often felt like conflicting, not compatible, duties in my own life). For friends. Even for convenience — you choose the church that fits the crazy schedule you wish you didn’t have, or the one a few minutes from home because the reality is getting anywhere on time with your zoo of a family is hard enough without the added uncertainty of an extra-long commute to the one sanctuary in your region which best matches your convictions.

    Theology is important. Convictions are important. But so is maintaining the habit of worship, and maintaining a habit requires the bare minimum of finding a habit you can keep. God willing, you’ll have stages in your life more amenable to living out your convictions. But people also go through stages where simply not backsliding, or not backsliding much, is the more realistic goal. While it seems a shame to seek God with anything less than both buttocks going full blast, many who eventually achieve ardent, double-buttocked engagement for the Lord get there by a road that involved coasting along on one buttock for a time, that still being more progress than crashing and burning would have been.

    • #22
    • January 16, 2020, at 3:55 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  23. Skyler Coolidge

    Where to go when religious authority splits and both are convinced that their version of the revealed beliefs is correct?

    Easy. Recognize that it’s all made up and stop.

    • #23
    • January 16, 2020, at 7:27 PM PST
    • Like
  24. Arahant Member

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Where to go when religious authority splits and both are convinced that their version of the revealed beliefs is correct?

    The problem here is that this is not what is happening. One group is going with the beliefs. The other is wearing the latest fashions.

    • #24
    • January 16, 2020, at 7:52 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  25. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Sometimes a church gets a liberal minister because that’s what’s available, not because the congregation is liberal. The congregation may not at all be reflected in the minister’s “lessons.” Don’t give up until all the votes are counted, or however it will be done.

    You’re right. Just because of the new minister, I don’t think the congregation has changed. I’m really unsure where the rest of the church stands, because this stuff has so rarely been brought up in our church at all.

    • #25
    • January 16, 2020, at 7:55 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  26. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.

    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler (View Comment):

    But we stuck it out, even though it’s been tougher to keep up membership and programs. But out of stubbornness, and because someone needs to be there to challenge the liberal orthodoxy, we probably will stay put unless the anti-Semitism that seems to strike liberal denominations rears its ugly head.

    You know, that’s a good point. As someone pointed out somewhere on the IRD page (I can’t find the article right now), the church needs our side in it to keep up the fight for holiness. Otherwise, they cease to be Methodists!

    • #26
    • January 16, 2020, at 8:03 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  27. Isaiah's Job Member

    I Walton (View Comment):

    In the Episcopal split, the whole church went liberal and began to die. Conservatives Episcopalians became Catholic. Different church different histories, but similar dynamic. Christianity can’t become liberal in the modern meaning of that term.

    Alternately, some of us just stayed Episcopalians. Because Christianity isn’t liberal or conservative. It radical in a way that transcends our modern political concepts. Different denominations focus in on different aspects of the Christian tradition, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s part of the founding concepts of the United States: religious pluralism. Figuring out which one you’re most comfortable with is part of being an American. 

    If I were you Tim, I would simply stay in your church and see how it goes. You seem to have put a lot of work in, and maybe not much will change in practice. Or the changes will be a source of unexpected humor for you. For example, I noticed during a Jesus-Was-A-Refugee sermon several weeks ago that the two lesbian couples in front of me were rolling their eyes at one another. That was a comic moment not to be despised.

    Of course that’s easy for me to say. Like a lot of Anglicans I see myself as part of “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” that encompasses all Christians, and don’t actually take my particular denomination’s peculiarities (some charming, some not as much so) deadly seriously. We have a half a millennium of experience with being lectured by peculiar old men in robes about fanciful ideas that are already a decade out of date before they hear about them. Sometimes these are progressive, sometimes they’re reactionary. These days were progressives. So what’s old is new again.

    When I leave my daughter’s soccer practice to go to church, I often turn toward the Catholic and Mormon parents and say sotto voce to my daughter “Come on honey: let’s go get lectured about social justice and the environment.” That’s always good for a round of chuckles. And, honestly, there’s something to be said for the welcoming, tolerant, and friendly atmosphere of an Episcopalian “medium-low” church that allows anyone to take communion. It doesn’t seem like its dying to me. It’s just Christianity in a particularly eccentric (yet somehow familiar) form that I find personally palatable. 

    And the sermons are often interesting. Even when they make me inwardly role my eyes like a lesbian couple.

    • #27
    • January 16, 2020, at 9:25 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  28. Suspira Member

    My (Episcopal) diocese will elect a new bishop tomorrow, something I’ve long dreaded. The outgoing bishop is liberal, of course, but he is not doctrinaire and has tolerated my conservative parish. I fear the next one won’t be so gracious. Of course, the fact that we contribute the most money to the diocese could continue to protect us.

    • #28
    • January 17, 2020, at 6:19 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  29. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    I question why it’s important to transfer membership at all.

    Just a matter of what I say I am, probably. And if I start taking an active role in church committees, it might be something to do.

    • #29
    • January 17, 2020, at 7:08 AM PST
    • 1 like
  30. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    The Babylon Bee has an interesting take on the Methodist split: United Methodist Church To Split Over Whether Or Not To Be Christians.

    Heh! When I was in grad school in Pittsburgh, my church there felt like that at times. I remember one sermon that didn’t mention Jesus, God the Father, or anything close. Something vague about migrating birds, I think. When our second daughter was born, we were back to living there, and the new pastor did baptisms…differently. Not “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” but instead doing them in the name of “God the creator, redeemer, and sustainer.” Now, I know who he was meaning to refer to, but I was uneasy about changing the rather specific and Biblical wording that had been used for thousands of years, especially over something as petty as disliking the word “father.”

    So I asked him if he would be willing to use the traditional baptism for our daughter. He refused! We drove nine hours back to my parents’ community to my home church and asked the pastor about this, and he was shocked at such a refusal. We baptized her there, and I don’t think we ever set foot in the other church again, instead going to my wife’s Presbyterian church the rest of the time we were in Pittsburgh.

    • #30
    • January 17, 2020, at 7:18 AM PST
    • 6 likes