How 192 Delegates Saved Methodists from Madness & Other Stories from the General Conference
One United Methodist observer described it as “The Empire Strikes Back.” Realizing that time is not their ally, liberals in the 11-million-member United Methodist Church maximized their campaign at the church’s 2008 General Conference, held from April 22 through May 2, 2008, in Fort Worth, Texas. They succeeded in ousting the conservative majority on the church’s top court, which often rules on crucial cases involving the church’s official disapproval of homosexual behavior.
But liberals fell short of pushing through “compromise” language that would have diluted the church’s stance on marriage. And the delegates finalized induction of the roughly 700,000-member Methodist Church of the Ivory Coast into the U.S.-based denomination, helping to ensure that theologically conservative Africans will comprise at least 30 percent of the delegates at the next General Conference in 2012.
Liberals’ Last Chance
This year, Africans comprised 20 percent of the nearly 1,000 delegates, with Filipinos and Europeans comprising another nearly 10 percent. Currently, 7.9 million United Methodists are in the United States, while 3.5 million are overseas, primarily in Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria. Possibly non-U.S. United Methodists will comprise a majority of the church in less than two decades. For this reason, church liberals knew that 2008 could very well have been their final opportunity to liberalize the church’s teachings on sex.
By a vote of 517 to 416, the delegates voted to retain the church’s official stance holding homosexual practice as “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The margins on the church’s prohibition against actively homosexual clergy and same-sex unions were larger, sometimes surpassing 70 percent. But a loss on the “incompatible” phrase, which dates to 1972, likely would have ignited a conservative exodus from the denomination.
Liberals proposed deleting the “incompatible” phrase with new language declaring: “Faithful, thoughtful people who have grappled with this issue deeply disagree with one another; yet all seek a faithful witness.” The next text would have asked the church “to refrain from judgment regarding homosexual persons and practices as the Spirit leads us to a new insight.” Evangelist Eddie Fox led the argument against the deletion, insisting that the church must be “clear, concise and faithful to biblical teaching.” Fox said: “I have seen and experienced the pain and the brokenness in parts of our global movement whenever our church has failed to hold fast to this essential teaching of the Holy Scripture.”
Read the entire article on the Touchstone Magazine website (new window will open).