I recently reconnected with a childhood friend on Facebook. Our conversation eventually turned to spiritual matters. He told me he was a member of a United Methodist Church and he was concerned the denomination would splinter over LGBTQ issues.
I think he mentioned it to me thinking I might not be aware of what has made national news repeatedly regarding the UMC. For several years now the UMC has been wrestling with the conflicting views among its membership about what to do about LGBTQ issues.
My friend’s concerns are being confirmed; a megachurch north of Houston, Woodlands Methodist Church had a vote of whether or not to disaffiliate with the denomination over the issues of “same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ people.” Of those that voted, more than 96% voted to disaffiliate. Woodlands is the fourth largest church in the UMC constellation and second in reported Sunday attendance.
This signals what many churches within the denomination are considering, weary with the ongoing debate over LGBTQ issues. Conservative congregations and members of liberal congregations are beginning what will prove to be a mass exodus reminiscent of what occurred in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the early 2000s.
The PC (USA) had been experiencing decline in membership for decades when it appointed The Theological Taskforce on Peace, Unity and Purity in 2001. The liberals within the denomination wanted peace, the moderates wanted unity, and the conservatives wanted purity.
The Taskforce admitted that a special focus would be on the “controversies over sexuality and ordination.” When the final report was published in 2006. The final report said, “sexual orientation is, in itself, no barrier to ordination,” while admitting the debate over sexuality and ordination “may continue for many years.”
The Taskforce failed to achieve its goal; it did not bring peace, unity or purity to the denomination. Dwindling membership which had been trickling for decades opened up the floodgates in the early 2000s for conservative congregations and members to leave weary with the incessant debate over matters of biblical certitude.
This scenario is being repeated in the United Methodist Church today. Congregations and members become fatigued debating issues clearly addressed in the Scriptures. Like Elijah addressing the nation of Israel over serving the true and living God or Baal, he asked, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” 1 Kings 18: 21.
Like the Presbyterian Church (USA), liberals in the United Methodist Church want peace moderates want unity, and conservatives want purity. Though the UMC has maintained the biblical teachings on sexuality and ordination, those who question the Scriptures teaching on those issues persist in challenging them. Denominational leaders were hesitant to enforce biblical mandates, so conservatives and liberals alike are deserting the denomination.
Two truths seem apparent; the United Methodist Church, as a denomination, is united no longer, and the majority of the churches disaffiliating with the denomination are uniting with conservative coalitions. While the LGBTQ crowd claim many within the culture support them and their lifestyle, the majority of Bible-believing churches do not find their practices scripturally acceptable.
There are other denominations and communions facing the same issues. While the LGBTQ crowd has been instrumental in dismantling denominations, they have not been able to dissuade Bible believing Christians to desert scriptural truth regarding human sexuality.
The real issue is whether or not we believe there is a God who has revealed His divine will and holy nature through the Bible. If they do, then to those wrestling with these same issues I would echo the words of Elijah, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him.”