Changes in PC(USA) Bode Ill for Methodism

One of the proposals for preserving “unity” in The United Methodist Church in the midst of our controversies over same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals is the “Local Option” idea promoted by Adam Hamilton and others, with legislative support from the Connectional Table. This proposal would essentially legalize same-sex marriage within the UM Church while not requiring it. And it would allow those annual conferences who wish to ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals to do so without penalty.

Proponents claim that this approach would allow freedom of conscience within the church, while allowing all United Methodists to stay together and continue working together to make disciples for the transformation of the world. But would it?

Other denominations have taken this approach. One such is the Presbyterian Church (USA), one of the seven Mainline churches.

In 2006, some local presbyteries (the equivalent of our United Methodist annual conferences) began ordaining non-celibate homosexuals, contrary to the denomination’s stated standards. In 2010 the PC(USA) changed its ordination standards by removing the requirement for “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.” In 2011 this constitutional change was ratified by a vote of the various presbyteries. The door was opened and such ordinations began to take place in 2011.

pcusaWhat impact did this change have on the membership of the PC(USA)? When local presbyteries began defying the denominational standards, the membership loss jumped 50 percent, from 2 percent to 3 percent a year. When the denominational standards changed, the rate of 3 percent membership loss per year shifted to over 5 percent per year. In other words, the rate of membership loss shot up by 150 percent altogether.

In response to the change in ordination standards, a new Presbyterian denomination was formed: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). In the first two years of its existence, 185 congregations left the PC(USA) to join ECO. An equal number of congregations left the PC(USA) to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Additional congregations became independent or joined other Presbyterian bodies.

In 2014 the PC(USA) changed its definition of marriage, calling it “a unique relationship between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” (This wording approach bears resemblance to the proposal to say that The United Methodist Church historically considered “the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching.”) That constitutional change has been ratified by the presbyteries in 2015.

After the initial burst, has the pace of membership loss slowed down in the PC(USA)? No, the loss in 2014 was worse than the loss in 2013, and initial reports of membership loss in 2015 continue to maintain that devastating pace. Losing 5 percent of membership per year puts a denomination on track to extinction in 20 years!

How do these results translate to The United Methodist Church?

The Presbyterians took a two-step approach, legalizing ordination first and then marriage. My guess is that if United Methodists were to take a two-step approach, we would probably begin with marriage and then ordination. However, the proposal likely to come to General Conference would adopt both changes at the same time. And those changes would not be constitutional changes. They would only require a majority vote by the General Conference and no ratification by the annual conferences (different than the Presbyterian Church process). Thus, it would be much easier to accomplish in our setting. (The PC(USA) voted three times unsuccessfully to allow ordination, beginning in 1997, before finally achieving ratification on the fourth try.)

Just as a change in policy by the PC(USA) brought about a sharp jump in membership losses for them, it would also translate into increased membership losses for the UM Church. It is impossible to say for sure the magnitude of the impact. Whereas we now lose about 95,000 members per year, replicating the PC(USA) results would increase that to 238,000 members per year. I suspect the real number could be even higher, as surveys have shown that grass roots United Methodists more consistently identify themselves as theologically conservative than do Presbyterians.

Just as in the PC(USA), a change in policy by The United Methodist Church would undoubtedly spur the formation of a new Methodist denomination to which fleeing UM congregations could join. Over the last three years, the PC(USA) has lost about 2 percent of their congregations per year. That would translate to over 600 congregations a year leaving United Methodism. (The Presbyterians have the same type of trust clause that we do, but they do have a way for congregations to exit with property. However, that process is administered unevenly across the presbyteries, with some being much more hard-line than others in demanding high payments for leaving.)

The bottom line is that adopting the “local option” would bring about a jump in membership losses for The United Methodist Church. There would be a segment of the church that would be unable to continue in a denomination that allows same-sex marriage and the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals. Whether that segment is closer to 5 percent or 35 percent is unknown. Not only would we lose hundreds of congregations who would attempt to withdraw and join another Methodist entity, but even churches that remain would suddenly lose a portion of their members, some of whom will undoubtedly be those who are most active in leadership and financial support of the congregation.

Those proposing the “local option” should also propose a plan to make this transition as painless as possible and to minimize the impact on thousands of local congregations across the country. Otherwise, we will follow our Presbyterian brothers and sisters into a quagmire of confusion, conflict, and court battles.

Comments

  1. The “local option” is the worst possible proposal. It is the equilevant of advocating open civil war across the church. It would be ugly, something that many progressives seem to welcome, because they want to hurt the UMC as it is presently structured. Plus, it would give them the big advantage of bringing in their secular progressive supporters to assist/fund a public relations blitzkrieg against the orthodox Methodists in a church-by-church and/or conference-by-conference campaign to win as much as possible in this first step of ultimately changing the entire church, or what remained of it. Anyone who believes that this would solve the problem and maintain unity is dillusional.

  2. Note: delusional

  3. The “local option” plan would be more accurately designated the “Whatever…” scheme. It pretends to be a dispassionate compromise, while forcing five million people (okay, maybe only four million, or four-and-a-quarter ~) to accept–

    1. a new “definition” of marriage
    2. to be in league with people who deny that the Scriptures faithfully reveal the mind and will of God.

    It seems clear that these two things are not important to the “whatever…” folks. But they are to me.

  4. carole hulslander says:

    The local church is always at the mercy of the annual conference authorities. Many local churches don’t know enough about the BoD to help themselves and many conference authorities don’t adhere to the BoD anyway. Recently I was speaking to a D.S. who told me they can fired a local pastor without a reason and this has been done many times in this conference. When I suggested that the BoD stated that local pastors had a right to due process, he disagreed. I asked him to read paragraph 363 in the BoD and he said he wasn’t familiar with that paragraph and then he added that removing local pastors without reason was a conference approved action among D.S. I haven’t heard from him since. If we move towards a “local option,” it will be open season on small churches that are trying to hold fast to the traditional order of the Church. We have witnessed that the progressive don’t required adherences to BoD or Scripture to act therefore their attacks are brutal and without conscience. Please consider taking a stand against the agenda of the progressives for Christ sake and for His Church sake.

  5. Ronnie Boyd says:

    Bye bye UMC. HORRIBLE COMPROMISE.I and many others will leave. If this passes in Seattle there should be an immediate walkout by those who disagree.

    • Ronnie,
      I pray that Good News, et al have a contingency plan if this horrible thing should happen. A break away convention must be called ASAP to move all orthodox congregations,as well as any others, to either a new denomination are to, say, a merger with the Wesleyan Church. On the other hand, if this fails (and it likely will), orthodox delegates need to seize the hour and pass follow-up legislation strengthening the BOD on the matter, of which there are a number of resolutions already in the works to do just that.

  6. Rev Peter Murray speaks clearly and unequivocally about marriage and the Method Church in Ireland pastoral authority in performing marriages. He is most legitimately concerned about how the state will treat churches that refuse to change traditional Christian marriage following this vote. With the exception of an Oklahoma or Missouri UMC Bishop of recent times (could have this wrong), I can find no evidence of a USA UMC Bishop anywhere making such strong statements about marriage and the authority of UMC clergy with relation to performing marriage ceremonies. And, General Conference 2016 could learn a crucial lesson from our cousin church here and seize the opportunity of defending traditional CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE. If the UMC fails in this hour of need to step up to the plate and protect traditional Christian Marriage in America and elsewhere by at least keeping the BOD intact on the subject, then it will have abdicated its duty and responsibility as defender of the Word of God and will have ceased being a legitimate church of Jesus Christ.

    http://www.irishmethodist.org/news/25-may-2015/methodist-presidents-response-equal-marriage-referendum

  7. Karen Richards says:

    Simply put… “why do we NOT want to adhere to the Word of God?”

    • Catherine Sufrich says:

      I don’t know why either. It is so obvious a step of defiance and sin.
      So I have already begun visiting a nearby Free Methodist church, just in case.

  8. Local option … If we accept the “whatever” feels right to each person/each congregation, then we stand for nothing as a church! Unfortunately, we are in a season “when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Paul’s words to Timothy are so relevant for us today. If we go with the local option, then we will be distracted with constant conversations about why one UMC believes and practices one way and another UMC down the street believes and practices another way. “United” will have NO meaning, unless we are going to change the dictionary, too. Geez!

  9. Deut. 12:8 ¶ “You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes—

  10. bobby hsiao says:

    I joined UMC because of the sound doctrinal teaching and in candidacy to be an elder. However this is very disturbing and goes against any biblical stance. The progressive agenda does not care for anything except for their own beliefs Eben if it goes against biblical stance. God has always used indivuals to bring about reform and God is asking people to stand firm and remain sola scripture. He is not after the masses but those that are truly disciples.

    I cannot continue down this path of candidacy and will not compromise His Word.

  11. LARRY LINK says:

    If we believe the Bible, and I do, than the ordination of gay/lesbians and the marriage of same sex couples will drive me away from the United Methodist Church. Any Methodist Church that remains a part of the United Methodist Family will not get my attendance, whether Free Methoidist or any other so called Methodist. I am starting to look at other denominations already because it seems that the silent majority (the conservative wing) will not win out against these liberal phobias. Sorry, folks, but I can see the door, and as I see it, it only swings OUT for me. First, I will begin withholding my monthly giving and not make any more pledges to this church. The only thing that seems to get the DS and Bishops attention is a lack of money!!!

  12. ready to leave says:

    The Upper NY Conference just voted to send a resolution to the Global Conf next year approving the removal of the phrase “incompatible with Christian teaching” concerning the act of homosexuality. I read in Genesis that God calls such acts “abominable” and “unnatural”. His opinion counts far more to me than any other, and Paul was right in saying that everyone did what he thought right in his own eyes. I guess the LGBT group think they are smarter than God. I’m disgusted with my Conference, and will withdraw from the UMC if the Global Board passes this resolution and changes the BoD next year. My continued membership would mean that I tacitly approve, which I most assuredly do not.

  13. David Samuelson says:

    It feels like a split is inevitable in the “United” Methodist Church over the issue of homosexuality. The only fair and equitable way to do it while retaining the maximum number of members is to let the decision rest with each individual member not with the denomination or conference or even the local church. A new separate Methodist denomination should be established/incorporated with the same structure as the UMC but with different Articles and Rules relating to this one issue only. (Other issues can be debated and changed later in the then two separate denominations.) The decision then should rest with each individual member as to which of the two denominations to join. The ratio of these two choices could then be calculated for each local church, conference and denomination to determine the division of assets and liabilities. This would take some time to be done properly and completely but would be the most fair system allowing this critical choice to be made by each member as a personal decision. It is possible to do this in a spirit of mutual Christian love and concern for one another. Let’s get started. We will all be more comfortable when it is finished.

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