What Is United Methodism?

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What is United Methodism?

I believe Brother Meunier hit the nail on the head with his list of descriptors of the UMC. I would have ordered the list differently, and topped it with "Middle to upper-middle class sensibilities and norms." We are an institution living within a nation of institutions, all of which operate within their own cultural milieu. We are a very middle-class institution, one which sees some religious practices (like conversions down the sawdust trail) as being declasse'.

We prefer to have Christians who have grown up in Christian homes, and for whom expressions of the Christian faith are not strewn with excessive exuberance or emotionalism. We would rather get new members who either long ago made their conversion (believing there is no one as offensive as the newly converted Christian) or who grew up in homes knowing no other Lord but Christ, and taking it for granted.

Even though we found our growth in the nineteenth century in going to where the people were and founding churches in every community we could, in truth, the home missionaries we sent out were not there to create new Christians by conversion, but by being a church to the settled folks. (Even John Wesley learned that when he came as a missionary to Georgia hoping to convert the Indians but finding that his church really only wanted him to be a chaplain to the Anglo immigrants.)

We are a church which likely is the last, relatively unadulterated remnant of an institution steeped in the political modality political scientists call "Jacksonian Democracy." This is a radical form of democracy where anyone who moves to a higher level, or represents a group, is elected by the group next lower in our polity. Every minister in the UMC was *elected* as a candidate by the Charge Conference of the Church in which his/her professing membership was held, and was affirmed by the District Conference in which his/her local church had its existence, before s/he could ever go for review by the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Annual Conference in which s/he sought membership. Our churches *elect* lay members to Annual Conferences, and *elect* lay and clergy delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences. This is our organizational and polity DNA. The only recent and amazing thing about this, to me, was the shock and surprise that the Judicial Council undid the action of the General Conference seeking to re-organize the denomination. This action was as predictable as the tides and the phases of the moon!

We've made it work for years. Now, we need to learn how to make our church work in an era where the growing social divide is between the upper classes and the working class--our "market," the middle class, is shrinking. It can be done, if we can accept this, our corporate culture, and learn to live within it.

Tom Griffith more than 3 years ago


Notable Quotes


“We must dig deep; we must remember that we are all in this together — gay and straight and lesbian and transgender and bisexual, Christian and Muslim, black and white. What we must tell our white brothers and sisters is, is that you have to learn from us as well. Don’t be hoodwinked and snookered by investing in white supremacy and the unconscious reflex of bigotry. You got to push beyond that to understand that we are all in this together.”

– The Rev. Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown University scholar and author on racial issues, speaking at a Jan. 14 march and rally in Washington, D.C., as reported by Religion News Service.


"I call original sin the red sock in our theological laundry, because it has the potential to discolor everything. ... If you want short-term obedience, scare or shame people. If you want transformation, anchor them to God’s unconditional love."

– Danielle Shroyer, author of a new book, “Original Blessing: Putting Sin in Its Rightful Place,” in an interview with Jonathan Merritt for Religion News Service.


Retired Bishop William Willimon

"Patience is a Christian virtue, to be sure. But in the present mean-spirited and divisive political climate, and given the coming disaster on Jan. 20 that we have brought on ourselves, I want to say a good word for impatience. ... There’s a time for reconciliation, for prayers for unity and healing. This is not such an hour."

– Retired United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon in "My Prayer for Martin Luther King Jr. Day" for Religion News Service, Jan. 13.

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