February 21, 2011

Losing Our Connection: Is the United Methodist Hierarchy Out of Touch with the People in the Pew?

United Methodists are marked by our connection. Our people are part of churches that are part of Annual Conferences that make up our denomination. This connectionalism provides opportunity for exciting ministry opportunities. Together we are able to do much that we could never do alone. We are all a part of something much bigger than ourselves.

But I'm wondering if United Methodists are now a connection in crisis. Are we losing our connection? At least three issues suggest to me that this may very well be the case.

1. The overwhelming defeat of numerous constitutional amendments.
The 2008 General Conference passed 32 amendments to the UMC constitution which were supported by the bishops and then passed on to the Annual Conferences for ratification, which would require a 2/3 majority vote of Annual Conference members. When the Annual Conferences voted, 23 of those amendments, which would have restructured the whole denomination, only gathered about 39.5% of the vote, not even a simple majority and far short of the 2/3 needed to pass. The amendment intended to open membership to any who desired to join a local church was soundly defeated as well. In the end, only five amendments got the votes to pass. This evidence suggests that those who prepared and supported the amendments at the General Church level are not on the same page as the United Methodists all over the world who are represented in the Annual Conferences.

2. The University Senate's continued approval of Claremont's University Project.
Another recent issue that suggests disconnect between the denominational hierarchy and the majority of United Methodists is the continued approval by the University Senate of Claremont as an official United Methodist School of Theology. Claremont's University Project seeks to train and credential the leaders and clergy of non-Christian religions including Islam and Judaism. It's hard to imagine the average United Methodist wanting to support the training of the leaders of other religions. The mission of our denomination is to "make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." Training those who reject Jesus as Christ seems counter intuitive to this mission for the average United Methodist.

3. The call by 36 retired bishops to change the denominational stance on homosexuality.
I've already written on the recent call by 33 bishops (now 36) to remove the paragraph in Book of Discipline that states the incompatibility between Christianity and a homosexual lifestyle. Let me just say here that our denomination has spoken on this in over 30 years worth of votes. For these bishops to continue to continue to pour gas on this fire clearly demonstrates just how out of touch they are with the majority of the worldwide denomination.

These are just three issues that point to a major disconnect between the hierarchy of our denomination and the people who sit in the pews week in and week out. Other issues could be raised to make an even stronger case. My prayer is that we will soon be able to make some progress and strengthen our connection. This will only come, though, when those who work at the denominational level put their own agendas aside and listen to the United Methodists who faithfully serve in local churches all over the world.

What do you think about the state of our connection? Are we becoming more or less connected? How can we work towards a healthier connection?

5 comments:

Randy Clark said...

In terms of the traditional connection, the answer is less connected. But I am finding that the local connection / regional connection is growing and strengthening where I serve. We are creating a new connection that is missional, organic and focused. The larger connection has less and less bearing on what I do and preach and how I lead. Sadly.

Daddy said...

It sounds a lot like the shenanigans that theological liberals tried to pull on Southern Baptists when I was too young to remember it. I've read some good books on the subject, though. A Hill on Which to Die and Uneasy in Babylon tell both sides of the story of how Baptists who took seriously the idea that the Bible really is the Word of God were able to oust the entrenched liberal leadership. It began at the local church level with pastors who were upset with the path the denomination was on and were willing to work through the existing denominational structure to change it. Who will, by God's grace, stand in this gap for the United Methodist Church?

Matt O'Reilly said...

Thanks for the comments. I've noted some parallels with the last generation of Southern Baptist history as well, though you know it better than I. That's one reason I used the specific language of "battle for the Bible" in a previous post.

preacherdb said...

Dan B.

The problem is not only that the leadership is disconnected, as was made clear by the two surveys that were just completed by the UMC, but that neither the leadership nor the institutional mechanism has the ability for the most part to change that. We are being poisoned by a self perpetuating model. The leadership that is in place is precisely in place to function within and preserve that model. It is all they have ever known. We so often hear that God is doing a "new thing" ... yet we so rarely see evidence of it, nor an embracing of the necessary surrender that must take place if that "God
Thing" is to be truly welcomed and embraced. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and to expect different results.

John Dallas said...

Our church has always been a grassroots led church. John Wesley was a grassroots leader. The individual churches discovered new ways to evangelize and those ideas were shared at early conferences.
I don't know where we got the idea that the top hierarchy was supposed to have the answers.
If the saving of souls is our purpose then those actually doing it are the ones with insights. Let us look to the grassroots - the local churches - those who are saving souls - for the way forward.
JohnD