Annual Conferences, Statistics, and “Winner Take All”

Photo courtesy of United Methodist Communications.

By Chappell Temple –

He attributed the phrase to Benjamin Disraeli, but you won’t actually find it in any of his works. But in speaking to the power of numbers to bolster an otherwise weak argument, Mark Twain was probably correct to say that there are three kinds of untruths: “lies, damn lies, and statistics.” And in that sense, some of my colleagues are perhaps not exactly correct in suggesting that 76 percent of American Methodists are against the traditional understanding of human sexuality outlined in our Book of Discipline.

It’s true that three-quarters of the annual conferences across the United States voted for a majority progressive delegation to the upcoming General Conference in 2020, and likewise more than half passed resolutions in opposition to what is no longer the Traditional Plan but is now actually the reaffirmed law of the church. But that doesn’t really tell the full story.

The Texas Conference, for example, like many across the country, pretty much split the house, electing a largely progressive/centrist delegation on the clergy side, and a wholly traditionalist delegation on the lay side. But though eight of the nine clergy chosen were on a progressive/centrist voting list (that’s 88 percent if you are keeping track), because everyone elected must receive at least fifty percent of the ballots plus one, it’s a little like the winner take all Electoral College. Look at the numbers more carefully and you will find that the progressive majority was actually only about 53 percent or so, roughly the same percentages as in neighboring Louisiana as well.

In Florida, the progressive margins were slightly higher at around 57 percent but again, because of the system, the clergy delegation elected was 100 percent progressive, and there were similar results in South Carolina and Georgia. In West Ohio, there was also a stronger preference for progressive clergy candidates, some 64 percent, but even there, the 35 percent traditional pastors were not represented in the 100 percent progressive delegation. And in Indiana, the difference between progressive and traditional clergy was only forty to fifty (or 7 percent) out of the 700 votes that were cast.

On the other hand, I suspect that the progressive clergy in Western Pennsylvania will not really feel represented by the traditional delegation that dominated their elections, just as I know that my progressive friends in Texas felt left out when the traditionalists swept the vote here in prior cycles.  Even this time, the same would be true for progressive laity in places like Texas where, as noted above, the entire slate on that side of the house will reflect a traditional majority.

The point is that in a system involving multiple candidates for multiple positions each requiring a majority vote it’s simply not possible to draw conclusions as to the true mind of the whole church when it comes to controversial issues.

Likewise, suggesting that the delegates who were elected reflect the viewpoints of United Methodists in the pews is more than a little disingenuous when fully half of those who will vote next May in Minneapolis – clergy who tend to be far more progressive than laity – actually represent only 0.4 percent of those who comprise The United Methodist Church across the globe. And don’t even get me started on what would appear to be a “cavalier” dismissal (to borrow a term from a colleague) of the forty plus percent of the church that lives in Africa.

In the end, it’s pretty clear that at least on the question of human sexuality that we United Methodists are far more closely divided than the delegate count might imply. What is incumbent upon us a church is to find a way to honor those differences and create new communities of faith that can live side by side, though with enough separation to stop our long internecine warfare. We can stay family if we like, but perhaps we’re better off calling ourselves “cousins in Christ” for the time being, rather than brothers and sisters trying to live together in the same contentious household.

Of course, there’s a 43.7 percent chance I could be entirely wrong about all of this. But if so, I have no doubt but that someone will tell me so. Of that, in fact, I’m 100 percent sure.

Chappell Temple is the lead pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Sugar Land, Texas, a southwestern suburb of Houston. He was a long-time General Conference delegate from the Texas Annual Conference. This guest commentary appeared on It is republished by permission 




  1. Gary Bebop says

    Since the progressive sect cannot win the numbers game, their most vociferous advocates are now clamoring for membership audits to rebalance General Conference. Don’t these people have real jobs?


    How many of the “progressive/centrist” clergy delegates will be in “good standing” come January 1, 2020.

    • I personally know of at least one who is not: Rev. Carol Zaagsma, elected as (our one) clergy delegate in the Minnesota Annual Conference in June (there were reserve delegates elected, of course).

      She was elected on the first ballot in a well orchestrated vote by the liberal clergy of the MAC. Then, the evening after she was elected, during the clergy session, she came out as a lesbian living in a partnered relationship for the past 10-12 years, celebrating the fact that she would no longer hide who she “really was”. I watched clergy walk out of the clergy session when she did this.

      I can’t say for sure, but I believe someone is going to file charges against her in Jan. 2020, challenging the validity of her election since she has come out as not in obedience to her clergy vows. We shall see. I’m also wondering if this might happen in other conferences…but I won’t hold my breath! I also don’t know if Bishop Ough will follow through if charges are filed; again, we’ll see.

  3. Aren’t they just swell? After they take over the church and liberalize it — something they’ve failed to do for 50 years — they’ll ALLOW us (traditionalists) to depart!!

  4. What I don’t understand is all the plans being talked about for 2020 give up the advantages the orthodox won in 2019. Why are the orthodox leaders surrendering the victory of 2019

  5. From all that’s going on, it appears that the only group that is unified and consistent with their position is the Reform and Renewal Coalition that consists of the several traditionalists organizations. They are in unison in that what they support as a real, honest, fair, and truthful separation.

    It must be recognized that the progressives and their centrists enablers finally realize that some sort of separation is now at hand after years of denying this fact. However, they seem far apart on how that should take place. There seems to be two groups that go by the same identity (centrists/progressives), but advocate two rather conflicting approaches — one a more amicable, peaceful, negotiated separation and the other a more contentious, aggressive, winner-take-all separation. The question now —which of those two centrists/progressive groups will prevail?

    Obviously, the Reform and Renewal Coalition should become even more closely unified and more tenacious in defending and fighting for the traditional Methodist Church —the present United Methodist Church — no matter in what structural form that denomination ends up being.

  6. Richard tunison says

    when the split happens, where will we find enough pastors to serve the people who’s pastors left in the split?

  7. Richard, I think the answer to your question about where we will find enough pastors to serve will come from right out of our pews. I am not trying to over-simplify it, but all it takes is faithfulness and a willingness to answer the call and most importantly—an opportunity. I myself may not have a fancy theological education but I’d be willing to lead a small church. What is the job of a pastor? I believe it is someone who is willing to teach others how to pastor each other. With the right leadership behind me and the encouragement of a congregation, I believe I could fulfill that role and I believe there could be many more like me. Maybe I sound a bit over the top, but let me ask. How did the early church start? It started with people whose lives and hearts were forever touched by Jesus. There are people like me who long to nurture that touch.

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