New Liberationist Denomination?
A group called the Liberation Methodist Connexion has announced their formation as a “grassroots denomination, the first Methodist denomination committed to being intentionally LGBTQIA2S+ affirming and centered in liberating intersectional justice ministries.” Some 45 clergy and lay leaders, mostly from The United Methodist Church, made the announcement, including some well-known pro-gay activists and at least three General Conference delegates or reserves.
According to their website [thelmx.org], this new denomination has been formed “of former, current, and non-Methodist faith leaders working on the unfolding of the kin-dom of God. We intentionally invite the full participation of all who are living out their God-given identities and expressions.” They list 14 specific identities and expressions, including “gender expressions and sexual identity, religious or non-religious backgrounds, heritage/nationality/ citizenship/immigration status, socio-economic/housing status, monogamous and non-monogamous, hair color or styles, tattoos/piercings/body art, and use of drugs.”
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” the Apostle Paul instructed. “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). In relationship to Christ, all our lives are transformed. Rather than transformation, the Liberation Methodist Connexion (LMX) focuses instead on affirmation – affirming people in their self-chosen identities and lifestyles. The LMX refers to all these identities and expressions as “God-given.”
The new Connexion has been formed out of the work of UM Forward, a progressive caucus group that lobbied the 2019 special General Conference to remove all language from our Book of Discipline denoting marriage as between one man and one woman and requiring that self-avowed practicing homosexuals not be ordained as clergy. Not all of the leaders of UM Forward have signed on to the new group.
One of the first things a person might ask of a potential church home is, “What do you believe?” Aside from one casual reference to being “followers of Christ,” there is no mention of Jesus as the Son of God, Savior of the world, or Lord of all. There is no mention of the need for personal repentance or turning to God for meaning and purpose.
Instead, according to an article by United Methodist News Service, “the new Connexion has no doctrinal litmus tests,” and “focuses more on actions than beliefs.”
According to its website, the Liberation Methodist “theology is not written in stone because our human understanding continues to evolve as we deepen our personal and collective understandings of God. We have been expanding our methodist [sic] theological heritage with various expressions of Liberation theologies, theories, and praxis. God remains infinitely gracious, creative, merciful, and engaged with creation, healing and redeeming the world.”
“There are no doctrinal litmus tests in the movement. We are moving beyond the supremacy of a single belief system,” the Rev. Janet G. McKeithen, a member of the Connexion working group, told Religion News Service.
There is no mention of Scripture or the source of its doctrine, apart from human theories and ideas. In some ways, it appears to be a self-made religion with little overt connection to our United Methodist heritage.
“We seek not answers that lead us to correct doctrines as to why we suffer. We seek correct actions, correct praxis where God sustains us during the unanswerable questions,” stated the Rev. Althea Spencer-Miller, a New Testament professor at United Methodist Drew Theological School and one of the organizers. The focus of “correct actions” is working for social justice.
Once again, according to its website: “We are journeying toward a new way of being followers of Christ that refute the imbalance of powers, principalities, and privileges that has plagued Methodism: colonialism, white supremacy, economic injustices, patriarchy, sexism, clericalism, ableism, ageism, transphobia, and heteronormativity. … [T]he work of liberating holy resources includes a commitment to reparations and the healing of the earth. … We dream of a new community, freed from hereditary limitations and historical precedent, where we hold all material things in common and embrace new ways to value the gifts of everyone.”
One must ask the question, “Without a doctrinal foundation, how is one to determine what ‘correct actions’ are?” The LMX appears to substitute radical progressive social ideology for theology. One can apparently believe any number of things about God, salvation, and our eternal destiny, but there is a fairly rigid understanding of what “right” causes and actions are expected of LMX members.
The timing of this announcement is interesting. The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation allows for the creation of any number of new Methodist denominations. It even sets aside $2 million to help support any non-traditionalist denominations that may emerge. However, the Wesleyan Covenant Association has delayed forming a new traditionalist Methodist denomination until after the Protocol is passed at the upcoming General Conference, although it is doing plenty of groundwork to prepare the way for that new denomination.
“The timeline of the Holy Spirit is driving our decision to launch the LMX at this moment, and we are following her call,” the Rev. Althea Spencer-Miller told UM News by email, explaining the decision to move ahead prior to the Protocol’s enactment.
This decision may also be a reflection of the impatience we all feel at the postponement of the 2020 General Conference, which was scheduled to deal with the Protocol and open the door to separation. Many United Methodists are ready to move into the next Methodism, whatever form it takes, and to leave behind the debilitating doctrinal conflicts that have damaged the church.
The move may also be an attempt to create a public counterpoint to the work of traditionalists in preparing for the next Methodism. Creating a safe space for the full affirmation of “LGBTQIA2S+” persons has long been an urgent goal for progressives. Creating the LMX now gives hope and direction to those who long for such a new course. It may stem the tide of churches and individuals on the progressive side who are leaving the UM Church to become independent. As many as a dozen progressive congregations have left or are in the process of leaving. The LMX gives them the possibility of a new home.
The creators of the LMX have done the church a service in spelling out their vision for a new progressive denomination. (I hesitate to call it “Methodist,” as I see little connection to historic Methodism in their vision.) There could not be a starker contrast between the vision painted by the LMX and that described by the Wesleyan Covenant Association. The two visions are near-polar opposites.
This new denomination sharpens the choices available to annual conferences and local churches, as they determine their path into the future.
The new progressive denomination also introduces ambiguity into the current church situation. While calling itself a denomination, the LMX “is not asking people to choose between the LMX and their affiliations with other faith communities,” according to UM News Service.
The United Methodist Church does not allow people to be members of more than one denomination at the same time. Membership in another denomination, especially for clergy, automatically removes one from membership in the UM Church. This could affect several of the organizers, who are either active clergy or delegates to General Conference. Their participation in the LMX could disqualify them from serving in the UM Church.
It is expected that this new denomination will appeal to a relatively small number of individuals and congregations. Leaving behind the trappings of traditional Methodism, abandoning Methodist doctrinal standards, and centering on a radical social agenda will probably not attract a wide following.
The formation of the Liberation Methodist Connexion does, however, put pressure on the General Conference to resolve our denominational impasse by providing a clear and affordable process for congregations and conferences to separate from the church. By this action, progressives have indicated they do not have the patience to wait indefinitely for a resolution to our conflict. Traditionalists likewise have a definite end to our patience. It is time to move forward in new directions. The LMX will be that new direction for some.
2 thoughts on “New Liberationist Denomination?”
Dogma is the set of principles that we accept as incontrovertibly true. Those principles inform us as to what is good and what is evil. Dogma is wellspring of our doctrine. Doctrine is the wellspring of our actions. To say that one is less concerned about correct doctrine, as this liberation denomination states, than about correct action, gets everything in the wrong order. It’s akin to saying the ends justify the means – if you have the right result, who cares how you got there? The Apostle Paul addressed this in talking about being justified by faith or by action. Are we saved by our works/action, or by faith? Paul said he would show us his faith *by* his actions, but if we are saved by our works then Christ died for nothing because we had the power to save ourselves. Having correct actions is important, but they are simply the external expression of our inner doctrine/faith.
The new denomination does not seem to bear any connection to Methodism – so why have they ever been part of it? Why do they tell those who join them to remain in the UMC? Why do they remain as clergy and delegates within the UMC if the Holy Spirit is telling them that the time is now to create a new denomination? Wouldn’t the correct action be to throw yourself whole-hearted into the new endeavor?
Instead of trying to understand their actions by way of understanding their doctrine, which is the typical mode for understanding an organization, we can look at their actions and infer their doctrine.
The fact that they don’t want to focus on doctrines means that we can infer that their doctrine will be too malleable and if you formalize it you’ll need to formalize a process to change it, and you might have disagreements about it. Organizations that have cohesion require a vision statement, if you don’t have some set of principles, or a doctrine, around which you base your organization, you don’t have an organization. At the first real disagreement within this group, it will split into many factions.
Their encouragement of members remaining in the UMC (despite the Holy Spirit telling them to start the new denomination *now*) means we can infer that the Holy Spirit will tell them whatever they find agreeable. It is politically to their advantage to remain in the UMC so they can help shape the path forward. If they have found the UMC so disagreeable – why have they stayed in it? The only advantage they have in remaining in the UMC is political clout. Once they do officially start a new denomination, they will be so small as to be very unimportant. I also wonder if some of them have a financial interest in remaining in the UMC until it amicably splits. Does the Holy Spirit tell them to do things that are politically and financially expedient?
“That action includes reparations, caring for the earth, and finding new ways to live together outside of systems like colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, clericalism and heteronormativity, they said.”
So these actions do not concern any kind of spiritual need – just earthly needs. They want to find ways to live together, but not if you are heteronormative. How can you claim to be tolerant when you declare the vast majority that you won’t tolerate?
Paul did not dismiss works and we should not dismiss a concern for correct actions. However, Paul said that the focus should be on faith. Faith is expressed in doctrinal statements and is based on our dogma. Our doctrine, faith and dogma are how we articulate our understanding of God. If you do not concern yourself with an accurate doctrine then you do not concern yourself with an accurate understanding of God. At that point, you don’t have a religious organization – you are simply a secular social movement with some theistic trappings.
Excellent rejoinder, Bryan! Thank you for your tenchant thoughts.