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Tuesday, January 3, 2023

1968 Uniting Conference of The United Methodist Church (Video)

As the breakup in the United Methodist Church proceeds, maybe it's worth seeing how the denomination started.

The Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) and the Methodist Church (MC) came together in 1968, in a time when such mergers seemed to have been fashionable. In 1957 the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church merged to form the United Church of Christ, and in 1961 the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America consolidated to form the Unitarian Universalist Association. There were others as well, before and after. The EUB/MC merger made sense, as both were Arminian, Holiness denominations with a similar outlook. Both had bishops, practiced infant baptism, and affirmed core orthodox Christian beliefs. 

The present split doesn't seem to be specifically between representatives of the two merged faith groups. Rather, this is a division with roots in the late 1800s, when modern critical scholarship of the Bible reached the United States and began to be taught in seminaries. Over the years the camps that have formed are essentially 'progressive' vs 'evangelical,' and this goes for Protestantism in the United States generally. Within the United Methodist Church it became manifest through the organization of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, committed to promoting evangelical doctrines within the United Methodist Church. 

While the evangelicals had a bone to pick with their progressive or 'liberal' counterparts within the UMC, the issue mostly just simmered under the surface. With the move toward fully welcoming and affirming lgbtq+ folks, including in marriage and ordination, the evangelicals felt that a line had been drawn. After all, their denominational Book of Discipline expressly forbid such practices, but this was being ignored in some parts of the church. 

Looking back at this video from 1968, the optimism is palpable. I can't help but wonder if, after the impending split is formalized, the United Methodist Church won't seek a further merger with another body.