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Thursday, March 4, 2021

A Global Methodist Church is in Formation


The conservative group splitting from the United Methodist Church has chosen a name, created a logo, and built a website. They're calling it the Global Methodist Church, and this development comes not long after the UMC announced that their General Conference will be delayed to August 29 through September 6, 2022, at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minnesota. This is shaping up to be a historic conference, as the delegates will be deciding on whether to proceed with the Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation proposal. 

Under the aforementioned Protocol, a new 'traditionalist' Methodist denomination would receive $25 million over the next four years. Further, parishes and annual conferences would have the option of joining the new entity without forfeiting their property. If they take no action, they will remain in the UMC by default. This entire situation has come about after years of internal conflict over how the Bible is viewed and interpreted, and has come to a head specifically because of a push on the part of evangelical and traditionalist United Methodists to strengthen bans on the ordination and marriage of lgbtq folks. 

While the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the text that systematizes the doctrine and legislation of the denomination, already contains such bans, they are widely ignored. A generation or more of United Methodists argue that they were welcomed through baptism and confirmation into the church, being raised in its midst, and should not be cast out or put in second class status because of who they are. The traditionalists argue that the Book of Discipline and the Bible should not be ignored on this matter.

When I was in college I got to know some people at a United Methodist parish quite well. They were part of the renewal movement that led to the formation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. What baffled me as an outsider was how often they would complain about lgbtq inclusion based solely on what the Book of Discipline says. Even now it puzzles me, given how homophobic parts of the Bible are. There's more than enough material there to sling at lgbtq folks.

Speaking of the WCA, I'm surprised that this isn't simply being reorganized as a denomination. I'd fully expected them to keep using that name, but clearly that's not the case. Take a look at this promotional video for their conference this year. It appears the theme is 'Go Global,' and now we know that this is a tie-in to the name of their new denomination.

Although at the end they reassure the viewer that safety protocols will be in place due to COVID-19, that comes along with imagery of people gathered closely and joining hands. It's hard to see how this won't be a super-spreader event. It seems certain that they don't want to lose momentum, something that can happen without in-person gatherings. The Global Methodists are clear on their website that even if the delegates don't support the proposal in 2022, they'll proceed anyway with the denomination.

The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation anticipates new expressions of Methodism emerging from The United Methodist Church. Alternatively, 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. 

All this is happening at a challenging time financially for the UMC

Ten general agencies rely on church giving for their funding. For those agencies, the total planned expenditures for 2021 is $136.5 million, a reduction from $159.4 million in 2020. That’s a 14.3% decrease. There is a wide variance in the amount of cuts at each agency, and some with deep reserve funds are making up part of the difference themselves.

The Episcopal Fund, which supports UMC Bishops, is hard up for cash already, with the Council of Bishops recommending that delegates not elect any new bishops until 2024. This is getting pushback, with some arguing that they believe the Spirit is leading people into the episcopacy and that by not electing them, the church is failing to cooperate with God. Practically speaking, I don't see how such idealism will put money in the coffers to pay the new bishops, though I suppose I'd be told that they trust God to provide. 

The GMC's site is worth a look for the curious. Scroll to the bottom of any page for links to draft editions of their new Book of Doctrines and Disciplines, available in five languages. They also have links to their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts in the footer. 

One positive point, if any is to be found in all this, is that despite their lgbtq stance, the new denomination will reportedly continue to have women in ministry. 

How 'Global' this new denomination will be remains to be seen. While it's certain that the UMC in Africa and elsewhere is quite a bit more conservative than in North America, there is also a monetary factor to take into consideration. The UMC does considerable work in other countries, providing relief and assistance, as well as subsidizing local ministries. I wonder if the GMC would be able to do so in the short- to mid-term, and I'm not familiar enough with the Protocol to know whether it will permit dual-affiliation. 

This continues to be an interesting, albeit glacially slow, development in the world of Protestant Christianity.