Gospel & Culture blog
How pastors from Africa, Asia and the Pacific influenced the United Methodist decision to support a scriptural stance on homosexuality
evangelicals will sense a need to split from the denomination in order to preserve their ecclesial stance on scriptural authority."
In this video, I interviewed UMC pastor Rev. Glen Haworth to understand more about the ways this historic vote indicates changes in mainline denominations.
The real story isn't that the UMC is mirroring broader western cultural trends. Mainline churches began to drift away from scriptural authority during the fundamentalist-modernist schism in the 1920's, and rode the wave of postmodernism beginning in the 1960s. What is interesting is how, as Christianity grows in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, mainline pastors from these majority world nations are issuing prophetic calls to stick with scripture. And now these leaders are wielding enough influence to sway votes at mainline assemblies in favor of a conservative hermeneutic.
According to the Washington Post, the UMC retains its position as the third largest faith community in the USA; yet its influence is waning. The number of US members has steadily declined from 10.6 million to 7.6 million since 1970. Meanwhile pastors from these denominations in the majority world hold to the faith as it was received. As Philip Jenkins told the story,
On one occasion, two bishops were participating in a Bible study, one from Africa, the other from the U.S. As the hours went by, tempers frayed as the African expressed his confidence in the clear words of scripture, while the American stressed the need to interpret the Bible in the light of modern scholarship and contemporary mores. Eventually, the African bishop asked in exasperation, "If you don't believe the scripture, why did you bring it to us in the first place?"
As Pastor Haworth and I discuss in the video, the controversy over homosexuality is not really the underlying issue; and even if this issue were actually settled by the denomination, the deeper divide over biblical hermeneutics remains. The fundamental disagreement is whether God speaks, and whether scripture accurately and uniquely transmits God's message.
Another surprising development of this special conference's vote was the provision to allow dissenting churches to leave the denomination and retain their property. Evangelicals have assumed they would find themselves in the minority in the denomination, and have sought ways to retain their church property if they leave the denomination. Yet, as Haworth explains in the video, it is highly uncommon for connectional denominations to allow local churches to keep their assets if they leave the denomination. The affirmation at the special conference was a double win for evangelicals: Their denomination affirmed a stance on scripture, and allowed them a way to keep their property if they are unwelcome in the denomination down the road. However, this portion of the proposal did not hold up upon further review.
© 2015 Kenneth Nehrbass. All Rights Reserved.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Associate Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor