The United Methodist Church is facing a crisis with hundreds of member churches opting to leave the denomination. Joshua Zeitz of Politico recalled a similar situation that the denomination faced with the split that was caused by the issue of slavery.
This time around the concerns are caused by the church's apparently liberal stance when it comes to cultural issues such as LGBTQ right. He said that this includes questions about same-sex marriage and the ordination of the members of the LGBTQ+ community to the clergy.
What United Methodist Church Should Remember From History
The article said that back in the 1840s, the church tackled an issue with slavery with debates over the propriety of the practice. Zeitz mentioned that this is a parallel as the issue is about political beliefs and that it could be a sign of another split of the church in the years to come.
Back in the 19th century, the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians declared their unequivocal stance against slavery. The author said that when it comes to the Presbyterian General Assembly, there were some talks of censuring slaveowner members of the denomination. However, this was rejected by the assembly through a resolution as it was in the opinion that such action would just 'distract and divide' what it calls as 'Christians of good faith.'
The Methodist General Conference also denied the sanctions for slaveholders and even denounced abolitionist ministers of the church. During this time, the religious abolitionists were a small minority in the church which would eventually establish their own churches.
It also talked about the actions of abolitionists James Birney, William Lloyd Garrison, and William Goodell.
By 1844, the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church resulted to the creation of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, a church made up of Northern congregations that left their churches for their tolerance of slavery.
Parallels Between the Cases
Zeitz said that not just the UMC, but other mainline protestant churches are already facing a decline in the country. He added that back then, it was the church's inability when it comes to maintaining the peace over the issue showed the divide.
He said that with the debates over sex, gender, and culture, what is prevalent is the partisan and ideological divide. He added that it could show that religious fellowships are brittle and that there is sharper polarization to come for the UMC and other churches tackling the issue.
United Methodist Church
According to the HRC Foundation, the current United Methodist Church started in 1968 through the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. It has over 12.5 million members worldwide with seven million of them in the United States.
The church's government is said to resemble the US government, with its own judicial, executive, and legislative branches. For the denomination, it has the General Conference as its legislative branch. The 1,000 delegates of the conference meets every four years to consider revisions to the Book of Resolutions and the Book of Discipline, the church's rules when it comes to social issues and church law, respectively.