The United Methodist Church Special Conference ended last week with a surprise victory for traditionalist Christians. You may have seen some celebrating in the conservative Christian blogosphere.
This is not a final victory; it represents one battle in the long war. Leftists marched through the institution of the United Methodist Church, and they still hold the high ground positions in UMC government. But they did not have the votes to push further Leftward at this Special Conference, and they are not likely to have the votes at the General Conference coming up in 2020. I am simply posting here for non-Methodist Christians who may be curious as to what is going on.
I am not a Methodist, but I married into a family of Methodists. When I married Snooks, everyone in her extended family was Methodist (with one Atheist exception who was mostly estranged from the rest). The bruising years of the 1980s and since have resulted in a situation in which there are no remaining Methodists in the family. The last relative who was still a member of a UMC congregation died at the age of 88 two years ago.
Where did they go? Mostly they are now “Non-Denominational” Evangelicals. Some are Baptists. One branch went Catholic. Another branch went Presbyterian. Several are now “nones,” as in “none of the above.”
The United Methodist Church was formed by a merger of major Methodist denominations in 1968. In 1970 they had 10.7 million members. The number of American Methodists then began to decline, so that there are now just under 7 million members of the United Methodist Church in America.
The Methodist Church had done good missionary work for two centuries, with particular success in the previous century. They did their church organizing differently than other denominations. Rather than organize new church bodies in the countries where they experienced missionary success, they sort of followed the example of the Anglicans. Each country that achieved substantial numbers became a District of the United Methodist Church, making for a truly global church denomination.
Although the number of American Methodists has been in decline for 45 years, Methodist churches internationally have grown. The number of members of the United Methodist Church is now about 12.6 million members. So, approximately 44 percent of the membership is overseas.
By far the greatest numbers of United Methodists outside America are in Africa. The trend is clear. The UMC in America is going to continue to decline, while the UMC in Africa is going to continue to grow.
Going forward, UMC politics clearly favor the Africans.
Now, I have not met the Methodist Africans, but I have met some Methodist Lutherans and some Methodist Anglicans. I can make a broad stereotypical characterization of African Christians:
They are traditionalists, and they are delightful people.
They are serious-minded Christians who know their Bibles and take the Bible very seriously. They come from a culture that is very different than America. They do not live in a secularist society, where spiritual matters do not make for polite conversation. They live in a world where spiritual warfare is not hidden behind a bloodless cloak of word salads.
Africans live in a world where spiritual warfare is ever-present and frequently violent. Real physical violence is an immediate threat over much of Africa. Spiritual violence including everything from murder and arson to human sacrifice has been experienced in recent months.
For example, in Nigeria last year, approximately 8,000 people were murdered in religious attacks. A couple of hundred were Muslims killed in reprisal attacks by Christian mobs. Several hundreds were Animists or Spiritists; adherents of tribal religions. Over 6,000 of the dead were Christians, murdered by Boko Haram and related Muslim militias.
In Kenya there were only a handful of incidents in 2018, leaving a few dozen murdered Christians, after a very violent 2017. Kenya is one of the few places where these incidents sometimes spill into the western press, on account of the cosmopolitan center in Nairobi.
In Tanzania, albino kids were kidnapped from their families and killed in Voodoo rites, with their hands, feet, ears and internal organs harvested to make magik amulets for use in cursing enemies or placating evil spirits. Other albino children were dumped at fortified orphanages by families too fearful of thugs in thrall to witchdoctors to keep their own kids. Just today, 65 witchdoctors were rounded up for trials involving over 10 murdered children.
Christians from Africa do not take to mincing words about sin and death and demons and angels and bloody spiritual warfare.
It was African votes that carried the day in the Methodist General Conference last week.
The Leftists marched through the institution of the United Methodist Church. Leftists are in control of most of the dozens of boards and commissions that make up UMC governance. Only five or six of 54 seminaries on the approved list of the UMC can be said to be conservative, producing traditionalist Christian pastors. The situation for traditionalist Christian Methodists is dire.
However, the demographic trend favors the traditionalists. As the UMC continues to dwindle in America while it grows in Africa, there may come a day when the traditionalists can do more than stop further Leftward advances, and take steps to recover the robust Christian faith of Snooks’s ancestors.