Radiant Scars

Radiant Scars

Radiant Scars

By Stephen Seamands

The marks of death that God chose never to erase,
The wounds of love’s eternal mark,
When the kingdom comes, with its perfect sons,
He will be known by the scars.
–Michael Card

As its cover story, the March 27, 2000, issue of Newsweek featured “Visions of Jesus: How Jews, Muslims and Buddhists View Him.” Though he is not considered as in Christianity the utterly unique Son of God, the article showed how Jesus is still greatly revered and admired in all the world’s major religions.

Muslims, for example, recognize Jesus as a great prophet. They even believe he was born of a virgin and ascended into heaven – spiritual prerogatives lacking in Mohammed himself, the greatest of all the prophets. In recent centuries, Jews have gained greater admiration for Jesus, viewing him as a reformer within Judaism who sought to liberalize his own religious tradition. His followers mistakenly went on to worship Jesus and establish a new religion, they say – something Jesus himself never intended. At some Jewish seminaries, a course in the New Testament is even required of rabbinical candidates.

Although they find his notion of a single god unnecessarily restrictive, Hindus also view Jesus as a virtuous man. Like Mahatma Ghandi, many are drawn to Jesus because of his compassion for others and his commitment to nonviolence. Some even maintain that when Jesus was a teenager he journeyed to India where he learned Hindu meditation. Later he returned to Palestine and became a Jewish guru.

Buddhists are quick to point out the striking similarities between the stories of Jesus and Buddha. One Zen Buddhist monk maintains Jesus and Buddha are “brothers” who both taught that the highest form of human understanding is universal love. Like Buddha, many regard Jesus as a perfectly enlightened being who sought to help others find enlightenment.

Yet having clearly shown the universal appeal of Jesus by observing him in the mirrors of Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, the article had an unexpected conclusion. Instead of suggesting that the universal admiration of Jesus may serve as a bridge in uniting Christianity with the other major world religions, it focused upon the central element in the Christian view of Jesus which creates a stumbling block for them all: his violent death on the cross. As the article put it,

“Clearly, the cross is what separates the Christ of Christianity from every other Jesus. In Judaism there is no precedent for a Messiah who dies, much less as a criminal as Jesus did. ln Islam, the story of Jesus’ death is rejected as an affront to Allah himself. Hindus can accept only a Jesus who passes into peaceful samadhi, a yogi who escapes the degradation of death. The figure of the crucified Christ, says Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘is a very painful image to me. It does not contain joy or peace, and this does not do justice to Jesus.’ There is, in short, no room in other religions for a Christ who experiences the full burden of mortal existence – and hence there is no reason to believe in him as the divine Son whom the Father resurrects from the dead.”

Attributing crucial significance to Christ’s agonizing, shameful death is thus utterly unique to Christianity. Unlike the other world religions who reject or downplay it, Christians do the very opposite. In their theology, worship, preaching, art, hymnody, and architecture, they celebrate, lift high, even glory in the cross.

From the second century onwards, not only have Christians drawn, painted, and engraved the cross as the central pictorial symbol of their faith, they have also made the sign of the cross on themselves and others. Around 200 AD, Tertullian, the North African theologian, described Christian practice like this: “At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at [the] table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign [the cross].”

What the irreligious and those of other religions find contradictory, bewildering, and offensive, Christians, in stark contrast, consider essential, indispensable, and precious.

In the Christian scheme of things, even after Christ had been raised from the dead and given a glorious new resurrection body, the scars in his hands and feet and side, emblems of his gruesome death, are still there. God’s power had overcome all other evidence of violence done to him. Suffering and death had been left behind. He was alive as never before. Yet these marks of humiliation were not erased. In fact, his scars became his identifying marks. On that first Easter when his disciples were hiding behind closed doors, he appeared in their midst and “showed them his hands and his side.” Then they were absolutely sure it was Jesus and “rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20).

Tragedy into triumph

Why is it that Christians glory in the cross? While every other religion is repulsed by Christ’s suffering and death, why do Christians rejoice over it? Because they believe the cross is God’s supreme instrument in redeeming fallen creation.

In the Christian scheme, God’s solution to the problem of suffering and evil is not to eliminate it, nor to be insulated from it, but to participate in it; and then having participated in it, to transform it into his instrument for redeeming the world.

Christians believe that God uses the suffering and evil of the cross. Rather than hindering, they are actually weaved into God’s redemptive plan and pattern for the salvation of the world. So God takes the terrible tragedy and turns it into a triumph.

God took the awfulness of that event – the diabolical evil, the flagrant injustice, the excruciating pain – mixed them all together, and through a marvelous divine alchemy transformed them into medicine for the healing of the nations.

Through the suffering of Christ on the cross, God, once and for all, took onto himself the very pain and curse of humanity, declaring his love for all persons in humble sacrifice. Through that blood, because of the “evil of the cross,” the festering wounds of alienation between God and humanity, one person to another, and between humanity and creation are healed. A new order of grace and transformation, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is initiated and the world – through the people of God – begins to taste the glory of the heavens.

God overcomes evil not through passive resignation or brute strength, not through coercion or a dazzling display of force, but through the power of suffering love. God uses suffering redemptively to accomplish God’s will and purpose in the world.

That’s why Christ’s scars are still there even when he returns with a glorified body after his triumphant resurrection. And they will always be there. But with one crucial difference: now they are radiant scars. A verse in the hymn, “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” conveys this so beautifully: “Crown him the Lord of love; behold his hands and side, those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.” The scars now have become bearers of divine glory! The light of God’s presence radiates from them, transforming everything it encounters. His scars now have become instruments of healing. By his wounds we are healed!

Garbage into gold

Not only have his scars become radiant through the healing power which they can impart to us, our scars, especially those resulting from our emotional wounds, can also become radiant! They too can become instruments in God’s service for the redeeming of ourselves and others.

At a summer camp in Canada where I was speaking, a woman explained during a time of public sharing how God was teaching her this. “Just a few weeks ago,” she began, “My husband and I made a compost pile. We put all sorts of garbage in it – cracked egg shells, darkened banana peels, piles of rotten leaves and grass – you name it. We mixed it all together and then covered it up. And when you go near it now, believe me, your nose knows it’s there! But next spring when we use it in our garden, what’s decaying garbage now will be pure gold. That compost will be so much better than any fertilizer we could buy at the store.”

As she made the application to her own life, I thought of the scores of people I have worked with who could say the same thing: “There has been lots of garbage in my life – rotten things done to me and rotten things I’ve done in response. For years I refused to deal with the garbage, but several years ago when my life began to unravel I was forced to. Thank God for that. As a result, he has worked to bring so much healing and restoration in my life.

“But while all this has been going on, I have often found myself thinking, ‘I can’t wait until this is finally over. I’ll be so glad when I can put all the garbage behind me and never have to think about it again. Maybe I’ll even be able to pretend it never happened.’

“Then as we were making the compost pile the Lord spoke to me: ‘All your life you’ve run from your garbage. Now even though you’re finally dealing with it and receiving healing, you’re still wanting to run from it. But don’t you see? I not only want to heal and free you from the effects of the garbage in your life; I want to use your garbage. Like the garbage in your compost pile, if you’ll let me, I’ll turn it into pure gold. I’ll use it to build character in you and bring healing and freedom to others.’

“So instead of being ashamed of the garbage, I’m learning to give it to him. And I’m discovering the Lord is the great Recycler! He doesn’t waste anything. He can turn our garbage into gold – pure gold, if we’ll just offer it to him.”

What she had discovered is the message of the cross and the entire New Testament. For example, in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul shares candidly about a “thorn in the flesh”(12:7) he had to constantly contend with. Skolops, the Greek word for “thorn,” can mean either a stake which actually pegged a person to the ground or a splinter which was constantly irritating.  According to H. Minn, it conveyed “the notion of something sharp and painful which sticks deep in the flesh and, in the will of God, defies extraction. The effect of its presence was to cripple Paul’s enjoyment of life, and to frustrate his full efficiency by draining his energies.’’

Scholars have conjectured about the exact nature of Paul’s “thorn.’’ Was it a particular person who relentlessly opposed Paul, persecution in general, a besetting sin or temptation, a speech impediment, a physical infirmity such as epilepsy, or an eye disorder? All have been suggested. The fact that Paul doesn’t specify, however, has made this passage an even greater blessing to Christians. They have been able to apply what he says to various kinds of “thorns” in their lives, including those resulting from emotional wounds.

It is significant that Paul refers to his thorn as “a messenger of Satan to torment me” (12:8). He recognized it was evil in nature, something which was intended to thwart God’s purposes for him. So at first, he vigorously and persistently prayed for its removal: “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me”(12:8). His specific mention of praying three times reminds us of how Christ himself prayed three times in Gethsemane, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mt. 26:39).

In relation to thorns caused by emotional hurts, it would therefore seem right for us, like Paul, initially to intently pray for healing in terms of their total removal. No doubt that is God’s ultimate will. No doubt there will come a day when “he will wipe every tear from [our] eyes … mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev. 21:4). By praying for complete healing we are exercising our faith that it will be so. And – praise God – there are times when God can and does heal by complete removal and deliverance. For some, what will be true for all believers in the future age miraculously breaks into the present.

But that’s not how Paul’s prayer was answered. His thorn was not taken away. Instead he heard the Lord say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (12:9). God’s response to Paul’s thorn was not to remove it, but to give Paul grace to victoriously endure, and then to use Paul’s resulting weakness as an opportunity to demonstrate divine power. Just as Christ himself was “crucified in weakness” (2 Cor. 13:4) and his weakness in death became a demonstration of the power of God (1 Cor. 1:22-25), Paul’s thorn-created weakness had similar results. In fact he claimed that power is made perfect in weakness. No doubt, God could have demonstrated his power  by removing it. But by not removing it, God chose to do something even better – to perfect his power through weakness.

As a result, Paul’s attitude toward his thorn was transformed. Instead of its non-removal fueling anger or self-pity, the weakness caused by the thorn’s presence gave him something to boast about. “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses,” he exclaims, “so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (12:9). Contrary to what we would think, Paul’s thorn-produced weakness doesn’t create frustration and dissatisfaction in him. Instead it leads to contentment. “Therefore I am content with weaknesses,” he declares, for he realizes that “whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (12:10).

Made radiant in weakness

Is it possible for us to come to the place where we view our emotional scars the way Paul came to view his thorn? Eventually I believe we can, but not at the beginning of the healing process. At that point our most crucial task is to embrace the pain, confront the truth, and come to terms with the havoc our hurts have wreaked in our lives. As we honestly and carefully survey the damage, how can we not view them as evil messengers of Satan sent to destroy us – and therefore as enemies to be fought against and overcome? Taking the first steps toward healing requires looking upon them that way.

But there comes a point in the healing process where we are called to face our wounds in a different way, viewing them this time not as enemies, but as friends. Like Paul, while recognizing their evil intent, we actually come to glory in them because of what they produce in us (weakness) and consequently what they release through us (God’s power).

A young woman who had been physically and emotionally abused by her parents shared with me a poem she had written in which she reflected on her scars in the light of his. Here is part of her poem called “The Stripes I Wear”:

The scars I wear –
I wish weren’t there …
but with injury
such markings are made.

The scars that Christ bears –
Just marks that he cares …
not worn with pride
or hidden in shame.

Love grafted in hands –
stripes part of a plan …
imprints of beauty;
just marks

My scars I can’t hide –
Though oft I have tried …
imprints of beauty;
just marks in disguise.

As we stand before him gazing at his scars, allowing their radiance to penetrate ours, as we offer our scars to him, the time will come when we will find ourselves saying about our scars what we say about his: “imprints of beauty, just marks in disguise.”

Stephen A. Seamands is emeritus professor of Christian doctrine at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is the author of numerous books such as Wounds That Heal, Ministry in the Image of God, and The Unseen Real. This essay originally appeared in the March/April 2001 issue of Good News. The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio (1571-1610). Public domain.

The Both/And Solution

The Both/And Solution

The Both/And Solution

By Thomas Lambrecht

A recent article by Jefferson Knight, a Liberia General Conference delegate, crystalizes the “critical decision” (in his words) facing United Methodists in Africa. He sees disaffiliation in Africa as a threat to “disintegrate the UMC in Africa and erase [it’s] rich history and heritage.” He sees regionalization as “a viable alternative … that promises to uphold the unity and continuity of the church while honoring its legacy.” The title of his editorial speaks of “Embracing Regionalization Over Disaffiliation.”

I will engage with some of his arguments in a moment, but first I want to call attention to his framing of disaffiliation and regionalization as stark alternatives that demand one to choose between them. What if General Conference delegates chose both?

There is no question that regionalization would mark a radical readjustment in the way the UM Church is governed. Many important decisions that used to be made at the global level would now be made at the regional level, potentially leading to significant differences in practices and governance between regions.

Regionalization is a legitimate path for the UM Church to take, although I personally disagree with it. It is a choice to go in a different direction from the way our denomination has functioned for over 230 years.

The question is: What accommodation will the UM Church be willing to make for those who disagree with taking this new direction? The church may be radically changing, but not everyone is on board with the trajectory of those proposed changes.

This is where disaffiliation comes in. It provides a way to accommodate those who strongly disagree with the new direction proposed by regionalization. For some who disagree, the new direction is not a big enough concern that they would want to depart from the denomination over it. For others, however, it represents a fundamental reworking of the church’s governance that they cannot in good conscience accept.

Much of the African UM Church has grown up over the past 20 years. New annual conferences have been added to the denomination. Existing annual conferences have seen tremendous growth in some areas. All of this growth has taken place under the current covenant of global governance.

Now, the terms of the membership covenant are proposed to change to regional governance. Would it not be fair to allow those who cannot embrace this change to exit from the denomination? They should not be forced to accept such a fundamental change just because they are in the minority.

It would be like a baseball league deciding that it wanted to change to adopt the rules of cricket. Some of the league’s teams might be willing to make such a change. But other teams might say, “We joined the league to play baseball, not cricket. If you are going to play cricket, we don’t want to play anymore.” Given the fundamental nature of that change, it would be fair to allow such teams to depart from the league and keep all their equipment, so they could continue to play baseball in a new league.

The same is true of United Methodism. Not only is there proposed a fundamental change from global to regional governance, it is also likely that the denomination will change its definition of marriage, allow pastors to perform same-sex weddings, and ordain partnered gays and lesbians as clergy. This level of change would in some ways transform the nature of the denomination. Those “teams” (annual conferences and local churches) that do not want to go along with such a fundamental transformation of the “rules” should have the opportunity to depart and keep their “equipment” (buildings and property), so they can continue to do church in the way they have done it in the past and according to their deeply-held beliefs.

Allowing annual conferences outside the U.S. and local churches to disaffiliate also helps the cause of regionalization. Those who remain would be those committed to implementing the new way of doing church. Those who oppose the new direction would not be around to resist its implementation.

Regionalization would require amendments to the constitution, for which it is necessary to have a two-thirds vote of approval both at the General Conference and in the cumulative voting of annual conferences. More than half the members of the UM denomination are located in Africa. If even a significant portion of participants in African annual conferences vote against regionalization, it would be defeated, even if it passed at the General Conference, since it would only take one-third of the total votes to block it.

Would it not be better for regionalization to allow those opposed to disaffiliate, rather than risk losing this new direction in order to hang on to the dissenters? Opponents of regionalization may or may not choose to disaffiliate. That is their choice to make – or it should be. But those opponents who choose to remain in the UM Church would be agreeing to go along with the new direction, even if they disagreed with it previously. The important point is that it would be their choice, not forced upon them due to the lack of an opportunity to disaffiliate.

If a disaffiliation pathway is provided at the General Conference, it is entirely possible that the regionalization proposal would pass the two-thirds vote, both there and in the annual conference vote. If there is a way for churches to disaffiliate, they would no longer feel bound to block regionalization, since they would not be forced to live under that new system.

Rather than choose one side or the other of a false dichotomy, General Conference delegates could choose a both/and solution, providing both disaffiliation and regionalization.

Arguments Against Disaffiliation

Knight makes a number of arguments against disaffiliation. These are valid points to consider by those discerning whether or not to disaffiliate. After all, there are pros and cons to disaffiliation, just as there are pros and cons to remaining United Methodist. The point is that Africans should have the opportunity to do that discernment and make their own choice, just as Americans did.

Knight believes that by disaffiliating, Africans would “risk isolating themselves from a broader network of support and resources … Moreover, disaffiliation could result in the loss of vital connections with sister churches worldwide, hindering opportunities for collaboration and mutual growth.”

Such isolation and loss of connection is certainly possible if those who disaffiliate remain independent or autonomous. However, if those who disaffiliate from the UM Church also affiliate with a new denomination, they can maintain some of their existing support and connections, while having an opportunity to build new ones. For example, the Global Methodist Church emphasizes missional partnerships that link grass-roots churches in the U.S. with churches in other areas for mutual ministry and support. These partnerships hold the potential for increased connection, not the loss of connection. Other denominations have similar missional approaches.

Knight further states, “the dissolution of the UMC in Africa through disaffiliation would represent a profound loss of heritage and history for the church.” Disaffiliation would probably not result in the “dissolution of the UMC in Africa.” Some would want to remain UM, and the UM Church would continue to have a presence at least in some parts of Africa. And the heritage and history of Methodism would remain, even if expressed through a different denomination. Parts of Africa were evangelized under the Methodist Church, prior to the 1968 founding of United Methodism. Their heritage and history continued in the new denomination. If those who disaffiliate remain Methodist in their beliefs, practices, and associations, the “wealth of knowledge and experience accumulated over centuries” would be maintained and strengthened, not “forgotten and diluted,” as Knight worries.

Depending upon how it is carried out, disaffiliation could “lead to fragmentation and discord within the church” as Knight contends, or it could be the beginning of a new chapter of growth in discipleship as a continuation of Methodism in a new vessel. African United Methodists tend to operate on a consensus model, meaning that they tend to act in unison, for the most part. There is hope that those who choose to disaffiliate would be able to do so as a united block, bringing the vast majority of their annual conference together in the direction chosen.

Arguments for Regionalization

Knight maintains that “regionalization offers a path forward that preserves the unity and continuity of The United Methodist Church in Africa and elsewhere while honoring its heritage and legacy.” He envisions the African church able to form “a cohesive network within the global denomination,” thus “maintain[ing] their connection to the broader church body while fostering a sense of solidarity and shared purpose.”

Without the opportunity for disaffiliation, regionalization alone will not “preserve the unity and continuity” of the church in Africa. Advocates for same-sex marriage and the affirmation of homosexuality continue to visit churches in Africa in order to promote their views. Division over these issues will come to Africa, just as it has come to America.

We have seen some more progressive churches in the U.S. draw back from their partnerships with churches in Africa and elsewhere because of differences over sexuality. As the U.S. church becomes more openly and officially affirming of same-sex relationships, the pressure will grow on African churches to change their views. That pressure might include conditions attached to missional support from U.S. churches that would force African churches into awkward choices between remaining faithful to their long-held traditionalist views or adapting their views in order to receive more support.

As we have made the case before, regionalization is more likely to lead to differentiation between regions and increased regional autonomy, rather than the unity and cohesion that Knight envisions. As regions feel empowered to adapt the Discipline to their liking, different regions are likely to function in different ways, have different standards, and even evolve different teachings on some issues. This is hardly a recipe for cohesion and unity.

The points Knight raises are valid points to consider, and they are ones where people of goodwill can disagree. The discussion is important to have in the context of whether to disaffiliate or to remain in a regionalized UM Church. African churches can and should make their own choices, and Americans should honor those choices. Adopting disaffiliation pathways at General Conference in addition to any regionalization proposals would enable there to be real choices for African churches. Out of respect for the dignity of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we can do no less.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News. Bishop David Bard (center) confers with fellow bishops on an issue during the 2019 United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis. File photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

African Delegates’  Urgent Requests Unanswered

African Delegates’ Urgent Requests Unanswered

African Delegates’ Urgent Requests Unanswered

By Thomas Lambrecht

We are less than six weeks from the opening session of the 2024 United Methodist General Conference. That is why it is troubling that African delegates continue to be beset with delayed responses from the staff running our UM General Conference and are experiencing problems that threaten their ability to participate.

For the last several months, the delay in sending non-U.S. delegates their official letters of invitation to attend the General Conference has been noted and criticized, including by Mainstream UMC, the self-identified “centrist” caucus. Receiving the invitation letter is required before the delegate can have an interview at the U.S. embassy to obtain a visa to attend the Conference.

In recent correspondence, the Rev. Dr. Jerry Kulah, a long-time Liberian General Conference delegate, identified a number of remaining problems facing African delegates.

Invitation Letters

It appears by now that almost all African delegates have received their invitation letters. The letters came so late, however, that a few delegates could not even schedule a visa interview at the embassy. Others have had to travel to a different country’s embassy, where there were still interview openings, in order to apply for a visa. This entails paying for air fare, hotel, and food for the trip, including a stay of two to seven days to allow processing of the visa and picking it up at the embassy before returning to one’s home country.

The General Conference is supposed to pay for this cost to obtain a visa. The delay in sending invitation letters means that more delegates have needed to travel to obtain a visa, which means that the cost to the general church is higher. In some cases, the funds are not being sent in a timely fashion, jeopardizing the ability of the delegates to travel for their visa interview. Most African delegates cannot just put the expenses on a credit card and wait three weeks to be reimbursed.

A new problem is that, in some places, embassy staff are becoming stricter in awarding visas. Even some who have traveled to the U.S. before are being denied this time. In Liberia, two of eight clergy delegates have been denied, while three of five lay delegates have been denied. (Others are still awaiting a scheduled interview.) In the past, UM leaders have contacted U.S. embassies to let them know delegates would be coming for interviews and to request their assistance in granting visas. It appears that did not happen this time around.

Because of the denial of visas (some of which happen every quadrennium), alternates need to be prepared to step in to fill out the delegation. However, alternates also need letters of invitation to get their visas. Alternates are now having trouble receiving their letters in a timely fashion. And because of how late the original delegates received their letters, there is now not enough time for some alternates to schedule a visa interview. In some places the wait time for scheduling a visa interview is three to six months, well past the dates of General Conference.

The end result is that Africa will not be fully represented at the 2024 General Conference. At the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis, more than ten percent of the African delegates did not receive visas to attend and were not able to have their slots filled by alternates. It looks like that number may be higher this time. All of this could have been avoided by having invitation letters sent out last fall, instead of waiting until the last minute. This has been a perennial problem with how General Conference organizers have handled the visa situation, but it appears much worse this time.

Travel Plans

For past General Conferences, the general church has sent funds to the annual conferences in Africa to enable delegates to purchase their own air ticket. This allowed delegates to come on their own schedule. Many wanted to arrive several days early, in order to allow their bodies time to adjust to the 6-9 hours of time difference between the U.S. and Africa. Some would come early or stay past the conference in order to visit partner churches in the U.S. and cultivate ties for ministry, as well as visit family members. Coming early or staying later did not cost the general church any money, as the extra days were at the delegate’s own expense, and the air fare would be the same.

This time, in an admirable effort to save cost, the General Conference Commission is requiring all non-U.S. delegates to have their tickets purchased by a travel agency. This would be fine if the travel agency could accommodate the individualized schedules of delegates. Unfortunately, the Commission has decided to restrict travel dates for delegates, so that they arrive in Charlotte the day before delegate orientation begins and leave the day after adjournment. If delegates want to come earlier or stay beyond those dates, they will have to pay for the whole air fare themselves, which most African delegates cannot afford.

Some question the motivation behind these restrictions on travel. It could be that organizers want to avoid complicating the travel agency’s job by allowing individual itineraries. It is also a fact that many UM leaders have been displeased that the Africa Initiative in the past has organized a pre-conference gathering for African and other non-U.S. delegates to learn about the issues and discuss strategy for the General Conference. Restricting travel has meant that such a gathering could not take place this time. That will unquestionably hamper the ability of African delegates to have a unified and strategic impact on decisions at General Conference.

Remarkably, as of this writing, our information is that no African delegates have yet received their air tickets. Because the travel agency is now so late in making flight arrangements for the African delegates, the cost will undoubtedly be higher, and the itineraries available may be less desirable. Under the best of circumstances, travel to and from Africa takes 18 to 30 hours. If certain flights are sold out, that may add to the travel time and mean long layovers without any accommodation in airports. This creates hardship for the delegates and puts them at a physical disadvantage dealing with jet lag, travel exhaustion, and the stress of being in a different country, perhaps for the first time. They will be less prepared to fully participate as equals in the business of the General Conference.

This is fundamentally unjust, and African delegates are being treated differently from U.S. delegates. U.S. delegates can travel to Charlotte whenever they want and stay as long as they want on their own dime, but African delegates are only allowed to travel on certain restricted dates. This unequal treatment sends a message to African delegates that they are second-class members of The United Methodist Church, belying the aspiration that we are a truly global and inclusive church.

(Author’s correction: After publishing this piece, I was informed by a U.S. delegate that they are also expected to travel on those certain limited dates and use the official travel agency for travel arrangements. He said that there appeared to be a way to change to different dates of travel, but it was difficult to access and figure out. African delegates with little knowledge or experience in maneuvering complex online forms would find this option inaccessible.)

Other Issues

Other requests from Dr. Kulah have gone without a response from General Conference staff. Africa Initiative has requested space to hold an African worship service on the Sunday of General Conference, as they have in previous quadrennia.

New this year is the fact that delegates will be fed prepared meals at the convention center to save time and avoid the need for the conference to pay each delegate a per diem to cover meals. Kulah raises the concern that the meals prepared may not take African dietary desires into account, and that African delegates might prefer to seek out meals more in line with their health needs. He requested a return to the per diem approach.

The Mainstream UMC blog linked above also lamented the fact that many delegates did not have working ID numbers that would enable their free access to the General Conference website to learn more about the details of the conference and view proposed legislation. This is still true of many delegates in Africa. Without this access to legislation ahead of time in their preferred language, delegates will be less prepared.

There is no contact list or even a list of names of delegates available. No hotel information has been shared with African delegates. There is no map of the convention center indicating room assignments. There is no map of downtown Charlotte indicating the hotels that will be housing General Conference participants. All this information would normally be public four months before the General Conference. Emails to the General Conference secretary and staff are not being responded to in a timely way (or even at all, in some cases).

Preparing the logistics for a General Conference is a challenging task. However, organizers have had over two years to plan this conference since its last postponement from 2022. Furthermore, they have done this before. They are not newbies. It is difficult to fathom how so many issues have fallen through the cracks. The lack of communication and lack of transparency, as well as the failure to assure the basics of universal delegate participation, have damaged the credibility of organizers and threaten the very legitimacy of this General Conference. It leaves the door open for some to attribute nefarious motives for these shortcomings. At the very least, it inspires “no confidence” in the leadership being provided.

It is uncertain where things will go from here. We pray that what can be straightened out will be, and that God’s Spirit will move in spite of the obstacles to a smoothly run conference.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News. Photo: Shutterstock.

African Regionalization Support Not Unanimous

African Regionalization Support Not Unanimous

African Regionalization Support Not Unanimous

By Forbes Matonga

(This week, UM News ran two commentaries from United Methodists from Africa dealing with pivotal issues that will be before the upcoming General Conference in Charlotte. We encourage United Methodists to read both pieces. For this week’s Perspective, we are featuring the commentary by the Rev. Forbes Matonga, a pastor and General Conference delegate from the Zimbabwe West Annual Conference. – Editor)

The United Methodist Church continues to be an exciting organism. It never stops, especially during General Conference season. We are exactly in that season again.

One of the complex dynamics of The United Methodist Church is the existence of pressure groups, commonly known as caucuses. Historically, caucuses were largely an American phenomenon, unknown to African United Methodists.

In the U.S., these groups took the flavor of national politics. Thus, the division was clearly along the lines of conservatives vs. liberals or traditionalists vs. progressives. It used to be that when Africans got to General Conference, they were amazed to see how these groups would solicit their votes, at times using demeaning methods I shall not describe here.

Over time, Africans realized that they do not exist at General Conference to push American interests. They have their own. African interests have included funding for Africa University, funding for theological education in Africa and fair representation on boards and commissions of the general church, to name a few.

The need for Africans to advocate for their own interests led to the formation of the first African caucus, named the Africa Initiative. This group was able to galvanize African delegates into a force that could not be ignored.

American conservative caucuses quickly formed alliances with the Africa Initiative that included providing financial support to gather and strategize. Progressive American caucuses, meanwhile, supported the startup of other African groups that differed from the Africa Initiative. They provided funding and helped these groups strategize.

Africa was targeted because its delegate numbers were growing, while American numbers were decreasing.

This sets the context to understand what was happening in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, recently, where Africans attending the United Methodist Africa Forum gathering are said to have unanimously endorsed regionalization and rejected disaffiliation by the same margin. Those who made this big decision included some African delegates and alternate delegates to the upcoming General Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The first thing that makes this gathering interesting is the presence of big names in the United Methodist hierarchy, such as the chair of the Connectional Table, who happens to be the resident bishop of the hosting episcopal area including Tanzania. This is a sign of an express approval of this group by the powers that be in the denomination, both in Africa and globally. By contrast, in 2022, the African bishops denounced the Africa Initiative and the Wesleyan Covenant Association.

The question must be asked: How legitimate was the Dar es Salaam gathering?

I am the head of the Zimbabwe West Annual Conference delegation to General Conference. We were not invited to Dar es Salaam. I know in fact that no delegates from either Zimbabwe West or Zimbabwe East or the Malawi Mission Conference attended this gathering or the first Africa Forum gathering in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2023. I may not be qualified to speak for all African delegations to the General Conference, but this is the case for the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area.

The United Methodist Africa Forum may speak for itself and pronounce its position, but it does not speak for me or the Zimbabwean delegates. The Africa Forum is not a forum for all African delegates.

The Africa Initiative, which has a substantial number of General Conference delegates as its members, clearly opposes the regionalization agenda. The initiative’s position is regularly articulated by its general coordinator, the Rev. Jerry Kulah of Liberia, a General Conference delegate himself.

A few African delegates have since moved away from The United Methodist Church in response to a wave of disaffiliations that hit the U.S. United Methodist Church, leading to the birth of the Global Methodist Church. However, most African delegates to General Conference chose to remain in The United Methodist Church, contending for the retention of the disciplinary language that prohibits same-sex weddings and the ordination of “self-avowed practicing” homosexuals anywhere in The United Methodist Church. This African group is very much alive and very capable of frustrating the liberal agenda to change the position of the church on human sexuality.

Let me stress this point: Regionalization as proposed does not go far enough to assure Africans that their position against the affirmation of same-gender relationships will not be compromised under the so-called big tent theological umbrella. Indeed, as long as the Council of Bishops itself is not regionalized, then this whole talk of regionalization is a smokescreen.

Currently, bishops of The United Methodist Church are bishops of the whole church. A gay bishop elected in America is a bishop for Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is what Africa is rejecting. I hope our progressive and centrist brothers and sisters will understand that this time around.

The regionalization legislation requires a constitutional amendment, which needs approval by two-thirds of the delegates, plus two-thirds of all annual conference members across the globe. That’s not going to happen.

Many African delegates, who are the principal reporters to annual conferences on the outcomes of the General Conference, will advocate against regionalization, and it will fail at the annual conference level — even if progressives somehow get a favorable vote at General Conference.

It is instructive to note the pushback Pope Francis is getting from African Catholics for trying to promote liberal theology on human sexuality. They are rejecting his reasoning that one can bless gay people without marrying them while they are living as married couples. The United Methodist Church will, if it veers from its current policies on human sexuality, face similar pushback from Africans.

It is written, “A man will leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, NIV). “…. and he (Jesus) said, ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’” (Matthew 19:5, NIV). “For this reason, a man will leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31, NIV).

We African United Methodists shall listen to no other voice, be it from angels, those who call themselves apostles, theologians, biblical scholars, or philosophers of this world. We trust the Word of God as given in Scripture! SOLA SCRIPTURA!

 Forbes Matonga is an ordained pastor and a General Conference delegate in the Zimbabwe West Annual Conference. The Rev. Forbes Matonga, a clergy delegate from the West Zimbabwe annual conference, speaks to the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMNS. 

(As a counterpoint to Rev. Matonga’s piece, UM News also ran a commentary from the Rev. Gabriel Banga Mususwa. You can read it here​​​​​​​– Editor)

Why We Will Be in Charlotte

Why We Will Be in Charlotte

Why We Will Be in Charlotte

By Thomas Lambrecht

Two recent stories from United Methodist News deserve a response. The first was a news article about the announced intention of Good News and the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) to participate in the upcoming General Conference in Charlotte, NC, in April.

The second article was a commentary by the Rev. Lovett H. Weems Jr. further criticizing Good News and the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) for our involvement. The argument voiced in both articles is that only those who have a long-term commitment to the UM Church should participate in deciding the future of that church.

In the words of the Rev. Drew Dyson, a delegate from Greater New Jersey, “Our polity should be determined by those whose intention is to remain faithfully within the UMC. In my estimation, Good News and the WCA are simply attempting to undermine and harm the work of the UMC under the guise of ‘fairness’ for their allies.” There were a handful of other critical responses in the news article. Fair enough. (It should be noted that both Good News President Rob Renfroe and I remain ordained clergy in good standing in the UM Church.)

Since 1972, Good News has participated in every General Conference by expressing our views on topics up for consideration at the conference. We have helped to organize like-minded delegates to support traditionalist positions on issues. Other caucus groups, such as Methodist Federation for Social Action, Reconciling Ministries Network, and other more liberal groups have engaged in similar activity at these same General Conferences. In the past, the Love Your Neighbor Coalition has even recruited non-United Methodists to come and participate in protests that have disrupted the functioning of the General Conference.

Our participation in the 2024 General Conference, however, will be different. Rather than lobbying the delegates on a host of issues of concern, Good News and the WCA are in Charlotte to focus on only two issues. First is the need to provide equitable, feasible disaffiliation routes for annual conferences and local churches outside the U.S. who have been denied the possibility that we in the U.S. had to discern our future. Second is to support our African friends in their opposition to the proposed regionalization of the church.

We will not be in Charlotte to “undermine and harm the work of the UMC” in any way (unless one considers enacting fairness and justice harming the work of the church). We will not be lobbying on the budget or attempting to block changes to the denomination’s definition of marriage and ordination standards. We will not be critiquing the proposed new Social Principles or weighing in on the number of bishops the church should have.

The future of the UM Church is for those who will be living with that future to determine. The question is, however, who will be part of the future UM Church. Will the church be a “coalition of the willing” or a “fellowship of the coerced?”

Is Disaffiliation Over?

The heart of the institutional UM narrative is that, in Weems’ words, “The period of disaffiliation is over. It is time for all groups to move on from dividing to unifying and disciple-making.”

Who gets to say that the period of disaffiliation is over? Institutional leaders in the U.S.? People who have already had the chance to discern their future in the UM Church?

How can disaffiliation be over when more than half the UM Church has not had an opportunity to consider disaffiliation, much less act on it? If the shoe were on the other foot, would the charge of colonialism be leveled? U.S. leaders should not be the lone arbiters for determining that the privileges and opportunities available in the U.S. will not be allowed in the central conferences outside the U.S.

There are other questions of fairness:

  • How can disaffiliation be over when several annual conferences convinced some of their churches to wait to see what the 2024 General Conference does before considering disaffiliating?
  • How can disaffiliation be over when a dozen U.S. conferences imposed such draconian costs on the process that it has been nearly impossible for churches in those conferences to afford to disaffiliate?
  • How can disaffiliation be over when one annual conference said in late 2023 that churches had no grounds under the Discipline or Par. 2553 to disaffiliate and denied all further requests?
  • How can disaffiliation be over when there are at least four lawsuits underway in annual conferences that have made it nearly impossible for churches to disaffiliate?

Weems writes, “The upcoming General Conference is for those who remain after the chaos of recent years. … They have chosen to remain not because they all agree, but because they are willing to live together despite differences.” Unfortunately for Weems, nearly half the delegates there have NOT chosen to remain. They have not been given the choice. In denying them the choice, the UM Church has handicapped itself and compromised its ability to move forward in a new direction.

Disunity Incompatible?

Weems states that “disunity is incompatible with Christian teaching.” It is easy to make that glib statement and point to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21, “that all of them may be one.” At the same time, one must acknowledge that Christian unity is not necessarily expressed by all Christians being in the same denomination. Otherwise, we would all have to become Roman Catholic.

Unity is built on a common faith in Jesus Christ and a willingness to work together for the cause of the Gospel, regardless of denominational affiliation. Such unity and cooperation is less likely to develop in the aftermath of the imposition of punitive costs or the denial of equal rights and fairness.

At times, it may be pragmatically better to separate and work independently for the Gospel when people are unable to agree sufficiently to work together. Paul and Barnabas found that to be the case, as recorded in Acts 15:36-41. In the wake of the unity engendered by the Council of Jerusalem, they had a “sharp disagreement” and parted ways for their second missionary journeys.

Weems recounts that John Wesley and George Whitefield disagreed “vehemently” over some aspects of doctrine. Weems believes, however, that “Wesley concluded that it was better for the cause of Christ for them to work together, despite their differences, than to separate.” However, Wesley and Whitefield did separate in 1741. While they still considered each other brothers in Christ, and Wesley preached Whitefield’s funeral sermon in 1770, they did not work together in any organized way after 1741. Those who held a Calvinist doctrine were not allowed to preach in Methodist preaching houses.

This was one of the first of many separations that occurred within Methodism, on average one every ten years during the first century of Methodism’s existence. Separation, however, does not have to mean disunity. It will take a time of healing of wounds on both sides of the latest separation, but the possibility remains of some form of cooperative unity in the future between those who remain United Methodist and those who have separated. All on both sides should continue to strive now to maintain an attitude of graciousness toward those with whom we disagree in order to minimize the healing that is needed and hasten the opportunity for constructive cooperation.

I agree with Weems’ invitation to that graciousness: “In a country seemingly unreconcilably divided today, is not God calling us to put aside the accumulated acrimony and bitterness from years of words and deeds for which we all could have done better and wish for each other God’s blessings for the future?” Absolutely! Restoring fairness for all could go a long way toward putting “the accumulated acrimony and bitterness” behind us and enabling a positive future working relationship.

Agree on All Topics?

Weems describes the people who choose to remain United Methodist as “compatibilists.” He defines them as those “who do not expect all other members to agree with them on all topics.”

Anyone who has read a Twitter feed or Facebook group of Global Methodists and other disaffiliated persons knows we do not agree with each other on “all topics.” Traditionalists have remained a constructive part of United Methodism and its concomitant pluralism for over 50 years. It is only when the church failed to uphold its own teachings and disciplines that many traditionalists could not in good conscience remain in connection.

From all indications, the upcoming General Conference will most likely change the church’s definition of marriage to allow for same-sex marriage. Furthermore, it is expected to change the ordination standards to allow for the ordination of partnered lesbians and gays. For many traditionalists, this would be a contravention of the plain teachings of Scripture.

Not all traditionalists believe that disagreement over these issues is a church-dividing issue. But we believe those who do should have a fair opportunity to disaffiliate from a church that is changing its teachings and practices in these vital areas. Congregations and annual conferences that in conscience cannot support this change should not be required to forfeit their buildings and property and abandon their mission in order to disaffiliate.

We will be in Charlotte to give voice to those traditionalists who have not had a fair opportunity to disaffiliate, some in the U.S., but mostly in the central conferences outside the U.S. We pray the General Conference delegates will see the justice of our cause and respond in a way that opens the door for congregational self-determination and ends the unfair discrimination against Africans, Filipinos, and Europeans who cannot support the evident new direction of the UM Church.

 Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News. Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo: Andres Nino, Pexels

Unpacking Disaffiliation

Unpacking Disaffiliation

Unpacking Disaffiliation

By Thomas Lambrecht

By my count, as of December 31, 2023, 7,651 churches have disaffiliated from The United Methodist Church in the U.S. since 2019. This represents 25.8 percent of the number of churches that were listed by the denomination in 2019.

Dr. Lovett Weems, of the Lewis Center at Wesley Theological Seminary, has published a helpful report analyzing the results of disaffiliation, noting the common characteristics of disaffiliating churches and pointing out salient differences. This Perspective will piggy-back on Weems’ analysis with some points of my own.

What conferences were most affected?

The Southeast Jurisdiction led the way with 37 percent of its churches disaffiliating. The conferences most affected were:

  • South Georgia – 61 percent disaffiliated
  • North Alabama – 52 percent
  • Kentucky – 50 percent
  • North Georgia – 48 percent
  • Alabama-West Florida – 46 percent
  • Tennessee-Western Kentucky – 42 percent
  • North Carolina – 41 percent

Besides the Red Bird Missionary Conference, which lost no churches to disaffiliation, the only conferences that showed fewer than the 26 percent denominational average for disaffiliation were South Carolina, which blocked disaffiliation for many churches and for a long period, and Virginia, which imposed additional fees for disaffiliation. South Carolina continues to allow churches to disaffiliate via Par. 2549 by moving to “close” the church and then sell it to the congregation. An additional 100 churches or more are reportedly currently engaged in this process.

The South Central Jurisdiction had 32 percent of its churches disaffiliate. The jurisdictional numbers were heavily influenced by high levels of disaffiliation in some of the Texas conferences. The conferences most affected were:

  • Northwest Texas – 82 percent disaffiliated
  • Texas – 51 percent
  • Central Texas – 45 percent
  • Louisiana – 38 percent

The rest of the South Central annual conferences experienced percentages much closer to the denominational average of 26 percent. The three Texas conferences above facilitated disaffiliation by absorbing the cost of the pension liability and, in Northwest Texas, absorbing even the cost of the two years’ apportionments. So churches in those conferences were able to disaffiliate at a minimal cost.

The North Central Jurisdiction had 22 percent of its churches disaffiliate. The conferences most affected were:

  • East Ohio – 38 percent disaffiliated
  • West Ohio – 34 percent
  • Indiana – 31 percent

Northern Illinois made it very difficult for churches to disaffiliate and had only 2 percent do so. Illinois Great Rivers imposed additional costs for disaffiliation and had only 10 percent of their congregations do so in a conference that tends to be more conservative. Minnesota had 7 percent and Wisconsin 10 percent disaffiliate. The rest of the conferences were near the average.

The Northeast Jurisdiction had only 12 percent of its churches disaffiliate. Seven of the ten Northeastern annual conferences imposed additional costs or otherwise discouraged disaffiliation. Six annual conferences therefore experienced less than 5 percent of their churches disaffiliating. Two of those conferences are currently in lawsuits filed by churches unable to disaffiliate who wanted to do so. The only outlier was Western Pennsylvania, which had 38 percent of its churches disaffiliate.

The Western Jurisdiction had only 6 percent of its churches disaffiliate. Four of the seven annual conferences imposed additional costs or otherwise discouraged disaffiliation. One of the conferences is in a lawsuit with churches unable to afford the imposed 50 percent payment of property value in order to disaffiliate.

Who Is in the GMC?

Weems’ report mentions that fewer than half of the churches that disaffiliated have joined the Global Methodist Church (GMC). That was based on the information he had at the time, but churches are joining the GMC each week, so that number is increasing. At the time of this writing, there were approximately 4,100 churches in the GMC, of which about 3,850 are in the U.S. Therefore, at this point about half of the U.S. churches that disaffiliated have joined the GMC. Many are still in the process of discernment, while paying off the debt incurred for departure fees. Others are waiting to see how the denomination develops in light of its inaugural General Conference scheduled for September of this year.

One can see from this that joining a denomination was not a high priority for many disaffiliated churches. It is sad that their experience with the UM Church was such as to make them reluctant to join another denomination after disaffiliation. It may be that some churches would just rather be independent, but it may also be that a number of churches are suffering from post-denominational trauma and need healing before considering aligning with another denomination. Eventually, many of these wounded churches will see the value of being part of something bigger than themselves and seek out an alignment that fits their ministry passion.

One should also acknowledge that several dozen disaffiliated churches have joined other denominations, such as the Free Methodist or Wesleyan Churches. Some have formed their own independent networks. The percentage of non-aligned churches may be less than it appears, and it will shrink over time.

Reasons for the difference in disaffiliation

As pointed out above, some annual conferences made it much easier to disaffiliate, while other annual conferences made it more difficult. Conferences that followed a straight Par. 2553 process without additional costs experienced an average 28 percent disaffiliation rate. Conferences that imposed additional costs or made the process more difficult experienced an average 13 percent disaffiliation rate.

Conferences in the North and West that had a low disaffiliation percentage also have a history of more liberal/progressive policies. This was exhibited in resolutions on social issues, as well as a bias against admitting theologically conservative clergy and such clergy receiving less prestigious appointments. More traditionalist clergy and members have left the UM Church in those conferences down through the years prior to 2019, so there were not as many traditionalists left to disaffiliate.

Conferences in the South have had a more traditionalist theological milieu and retained many more of their traditionalist clergy and members prior to disaffiliation. There were thus more traditionalists to disaffiliate. The same was true in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, which were the heart of the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Those areas also retained a more traditionalist theological milieu and thus experienced a higher level of disaffiliations.

Weems wonders whether congregations in the South and Midwest did not fully embrace the unifications that took place in 1939 and 1968. While that may be a factor, it seems like the passage of time would mitigate that effect. It appears just as likely that the theological climate of the prior denominations carried over into the United Methodist denomination following merger, which then influenced the different directions these churches took.

Why more ethnic congregations did not disaffiliate

According to Weems’ research, ten percent of all UM congregations were majority people of color prior to disaffiliation, yet only three percent of disaffiliating churches were majority people of color.

The issue of race within United Methodism has always been a complex and sensitive issue to calculate, since the denomination is overwhelmingly populated by white congregations. In addition to United Methodism, our sister denominations – African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal, and African Methodist Episcopal – have primarily African American membership.

Speaking in generalities, African American churches (70 percent of all ethnic UM churches) tend to be more conservative theologically, but more liberal politically. They face the dilemma of being a unique element in either a denomination that may be perceived to be more liberal both politically and theologically or a denomination that may be perceived to be more conservative both politically and theologically.

There is an understandable history of mistrust of white churches in the South – and perhaps other parts of the country – that participated in racial segregation in the past. There is also a well-established and laudable support system in the UM Church for black clergy, which would have to be built from scratch in a new denomination. These are only some of the unique factors that would accompany a discussion of disaffiliation.

In addition to cultural factors (and perhaps language considerations), there are some Hispanic congregations that are dependent upon support from the annual conference and/or meet in other UM congregations’ facilities. That makes disaffiliation more challenging. Furthermore, many Hispanic pastors are licensed local pastors and thus more vulnerable to being let go from their positions by bishops and committees on ordained ministry that are hostile to disaffiliation. Once again, their process of disaffiliation could face unique challenges.

Similarities in size

When disaffiliations were first ramping up in 2022, the word from some institutionalists was that most of the disaffiliating churches were small churches, and that the large churches were not disaffiliating. Weems’ research shows that not to be true.

According to Weems, similar proportions of churches disaffiliated at all size levels of worship attendance. In the UM Church, six percent of all churches averaged over 250 in worship attendance. Five percent of disaffiliating churches averaged over 250. In the UM Church, 13 percent averaged between 100 and 250 in worship attendance, while 12 percent of disaffiliating churches did so. In the UM Church, 82 percent of all churches averaged less than 100 in worship, while 83 percent of disaffiliating churches did.

Disaffiliating churches almost perfectly matched the size profile of the denomination as a whole.

As Weems writes, “Researchers have much with which to work in answering the many questions raised by the experience of the United Methodist Church from 2019 through 2023. If past divisions are predictive, there will be a host of partisan narratives. What will be most needed are objective scholars who can go beyond statistical data to representative surveys and qualitative research to answer some [additional] questions.”

While the ideas and explanations proposed above may seem partisan to some, they resonate with the statistics and with personal experience. Further research may bear them out or find different answers.

There is no question that a cataclysmic change has affected American Methodism and may yet heavily impact Methodism in other parts of the world. Aside from the statistical and sociological explanations for what has taken place, it would be wise not to ignore the spiritual aspects, as well. In many disaffiliating congregations, there was a clear sense of God’s leading and a desire to be faithful to non-negotiable theological perspectives. Many church members would have prioritized the spiritual factors leading to separation over the more pragmatic ones, and the spiritual factors will not necessarily show up in a statistical analysis. It is these spiritual aspects that will give unity and purpose to the Global Methodist Church, the UM Church, and to other entities arising out of this traumatic separation event.

 Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News. Photo: Shutterstock.