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April 29, 2008

Methodist Spring: Will Wonders Never Cease?

John_wesley Hold the presses! Is this some sort of joke? No, it looks like a real bit of news from Methodism's in-house watcher on the wall, Mark Tooley. In this article from Friday's roundup, "Will Methodism Tilt Right?",  Tooley gives perhaps the first real bit of cool comfort the conservative-dominant Methodist laity in America has had in years.

Like other mainstream congregations, the United Methodists have had too many liberal seminarians, professors, and church leaders filling key positions. Thus, even though a decided majority of Methodists in the pews have been orthodox in their approach to Christian teaching and practice, they have had to stew and do their best at the quadrennial conference of the church to fight tenaciously for traditional positions on sexuality, pro-life issues, and even basic church doctrine.

It seemed like a lost battle, quite frankly, as so many of us never knew anything different from our largely moderate-to-conservative local parishes on one hand and then our condescending liberal leaders on the other.   

But this quadrennial meeting may start to change all that. The conservatives' numbers are on the rise, as young seminarians who are becoming the next wave of ministers are much more conservative than the fading cast of 1960s ministers who can't get enough of their "peace and justice" causes while their congregants starve spiritually. All Methodists want peace and justice; the majority of us would just like those initiatives to be informed by the Holy Spirit, not the spirit of 1960s decadence.

And whom do we Methodists have to thank for riding in to save the day? The African Methodist contingent from Congo and the Ivory Coast, who are evangelical in their outlook. They will bolster their American evangelical United Methodist brothers and sisters in vote after vote at this year's conference.

Tooley notes that liberals still have the upper hand in the American Methodist bureaucracy. However, their power has peaked and is gradually fading.

Somewhere John and Charles Wesley are singing a sprightly tune. 

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There's something uniquely Biblical about the high and mighty (smug US Methodist bishops) being humbled by the weak and lowly (faithful African parishioners). I grew up in the UMC but left long ago. This story has been unfolding for several years and is truly a bright spot in the otherwise tragic demise of mainline/oldline/flatline US denominations.

It seems to me, though, the real battleground ultimately will have to be the seminaries or these victories could prove fleeting, particularly in a denomination where pastors are imposed from above, not selected by the congregation.


And a loud cheer is heard from the laity........:oD


I grew up in the Methodist (later United Methodist) Church in the city where the Wesleys landed in America (Savannah, GA). I once remarked to a Methodist preacher who also grew up in the same church and attended Candler Seminary (Emory Univ)that I didn't recall ever hearing the gospel presented (admitting that I might not have been paying attention), to which he replied, "What about Mrs. Name-omitted?" Of course he reinforcce my point, as the teacher was a lay person teaching the high school age Sunday School, not a preacher. I also attened the Wesley Foundation at Georgia Tech during the mid-70's, where I never heard a prayer but did hear all about Barth, Bultmann, Cox and was regaled one Sunday by Barbara Marx Hubbard as she presented the cutting edge of what became known as the New Age. The story above is good news indeed!

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