The Global Methodist Church is the latest in a long line of disgruntled Methodists who have removed people, property, and finances from The United Methodist Church in order to create their own perspective free of accountability and oversight.
The Trial Run
In the 1930s, a movement was underway to reunite the branches of Methodism that were torn asunder by the Civil War: the Methodist Episcopal Church (basically the North USA), the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church. While creating a Plan of Union, some in the South balked at unifying with the North because they didn’t want to have the black churches and pastors gain equality with the white churches of the South.
While most eventually went along with it, during the unification efforts, there were folks who clung so tightly to their segregationalist beliefs that they could not stomach being in a denomination that included black preachers and churches. So a contingent created a new denomination. Jane Ellen Nickell in We Shall Not Be Moved: Methodists debate race, gender, and homosexuality (2014):
“A few disgruntled holdouts formed the Southern Methodist Church, which grew out of the remnants of the Laymen’s Organization for the Preservation of the Southern Methodist Church…The Laymen’s Organization was founded in 1937 as a last-ditch effort to stave off union. This denomination lost legal battles that prevented them from using the MECS name or retaining any property, but it continues today with 5,000 members in over 100 congregations throughout the southeast.” (Nickell, 45)
The Southern Methodist Church was founded in 1940, a year after the 1939 Uniting Conference. There are many parallels between this process and the creation of the Global Methodist Church…you can read them here.
This trial run was not as successful as they hoped. The Southern Methodist Church didn’t reach the size of other branches of Methodism and didn’t begin with an infusion of property or finances. Any future effort to siphon off resources or mobilize within The UMC would need to make smarter choices.
The Inside Man
Disgruntled anti-minority Methodists eventually found their voice thanks to Rev. Charles Keysor, who was the originator of the Good News Magazine and eventual caucus group for conservative advocacy in The United Methodist Church. His first article (calling for the creation of Good News) was a 1966 article entitled “Methodism’s Silent Minority: A Voice For Orthodoxy”
Orthodoxy seems destined to remain as Methodism’s silent minority. Here lies the challenge: We who are orthodox must become the un-silent minority! Orthodoxy must shed its “poor cousin” inferiority complex and enter forthrightly into the current theological debate. We who are orthodox must boldly declare our understanding of Christian truth, as God has given these convictions to us. We must speak in love and with prophetic fearlessness, and must be prepared to suffer.
Keysor’s article was a rallying cry for who he perceived to be an ideological group that could claim minority status. For straight white men, ideological minorities are the only form of a minority that they can often claim. Before the Internet made such connections easily, Keysor’s mailing list made it possible for folks of a particular ideology to gather arguments and become convicted by shared value literature. Keysor found that rather than separate like the Southern Methodist Church, claiming “minority status” and staying inside the larger organization was a much stronger organizing principle for white people feeling vulnerable after the racial justice efforts of the 1960s.
This call for minority empowerment of white men, however, required constant criticism of actual minorities: those of other races and genders. In Keysor’s response to the 1972 General Conference, he deplored the theologies made by other minority groups–with a common theme:
“women’s theology, liberation theology, black theology, Third World theology, theologies of human rights…the primary accent is upon man’s ideas and problems instead of God’s truth.”
These other ways of doing theology also spoke out of convictions that God had given to them, but molded them through their ethnic identity or social situation, which Keysor did not share.
Keysor’s opposition to such contextual theology developed into his key phrase: minority mania. In 1974, in an editorial in Good News Magazine titled “Confronting the Cults,” Keysor lays out his opposition to minority groups doing theology informed by their identity:
“One of the most common forms of humanism is minority mania–the preoccupation by the church with minorities which represent only a small fraction of the whole membership…this variety of humanism replaces God as the primary object of love and concern with “sexist” obsession and “racist” obsession over being white, black, yellow, red, or brown-skinned.
The opposition to “minority mania” continues from 1974 to today as the coalition of groups that are part of the Global Methodist Church’s constellation of supporting organizations regularly criticize feminist, Latino and black liberation, queer, and other theologies that speak about their experience of God out of their ethnicity, gender, and identity rather than in spite of them. While there are some ethnic minorities and women who are part of the coalition, that doesn’t negate the suspicion of those who do theology primarily from those identities.
The Shadow Denomination
Since the 1970s, by claiming to be ideological minorities but continuing to persecute ethnic and gender minorities, the Traditionalists began to operate parallel denominational resources without oversight or accountability.
Through the Mission Society (1984 parallel to the General Board of Global Missions), Bristol House Books (1987 parallel to Abingdon, now part of Seedbed), and the RENEW network (1989 tiny parallel to UM Women…incidentally, UMW has now rebranded as United Women in Faith), traditionalists created their parallel structure that provides books, women’s fellowship, and missionaries for congregations to support outside of United Methodist oversight, accountability, or connectional leadership. And like-minded congregations and pastors reallocated their church tithes and budgets to these entities.
These structures and others like them have been siphoning off money and people and even the evangelical spirit from the UMC since they began, and these efforts (or threats of them) have been turning UMC more conservative. Since the 1980s, The UMC has consistently become more conservative in polity and practice and has numerous caucus groups promoting that perspective:
In 1988, the General Conference successfully removed pluralism as an official tenant of our faith, declared scripture to be primary, and re-wrote the theological task section of the BoD (which made it more in line with evangelical thought)…In the past 40 years, we have seen the emergence of Good News, the Confessing Movement, the Mission Society, Bristol House Books, Renew, the IRD and UMAction, Transforming congregations AND Lifewatch.
Simply put, counter to Keysor’s narrative of Traditionalist oppression in the UMC over the last 40 years, what we actually see is continual ownership. But these parallel organizations also allowed them to have unfettered and unaccountable outlets that continually pulled The UMC further and further to the right. It’s only been in recent years that it has become evident that it’s gone about as far as it can go.
Traditionalists have both dominated the United Methodist Church and, at the same time, siphoned off money and people to a shadow denomination with free reign over curriculum, missions, and advocacy. All they needed now was a new container, a new denomination, and in the darkness to bind them.
Three Rings to Rule Them All
Beginning in 2016, the Wesleyan Covenant Association emerged as a new effort to organize Traditionalists inside and outside The United Methodist Church. As I write this, we are one week away from the official launch of the Global Methodist Church as an actual denomination, which is owned by that same Wesleyan Covenant Association. Whereas the Southern Methodist Church began out of opposition to African-Americans, the Global Methodist Church began out of opposition to LGBTQ+ inclusion, though both denominations fall over themselves trying to say otherwise.
When we look at our history, we’ve seen these efforts before. We’ve seen the same claims of persecution as the basis for separation. We’ve seen the same denigrating of minorities. We’ve even seen the same regions of the South in leadership then as now.
The Global Methodist Church has worked hard to avoid past mistakes. The Protocol would have allowed them to leave with money and property that the Southern Methodist Church lacked–but there are other efforts underway to achieve the same goal. The already-established social media channels and publishing arm of Seedbed (Asbury Theological Seminary’s book publisher) reach further than even Charles Keysor’s Good News email list. And it is only a matter of time before the Global Methodist Church incorporates that shadow denominational structure into its own structure.
And yet, the basis, the organizing principle, is the same in every decade: by claiming minority status, white people will commit people, property, and finances to any organization that allows them to scapegoat other minorities. The harm won’t stop in the UMC when the GMC leaves, and it won’t stop in the new GMC either. Listen to the rhetoric this week, and over and over, you’ll hear echoes of this persecution mindset, I predict.
As a pastor, I grieve that we could have done so much more together, reached new heights with an inclusive Wesleyan church with a fierce evangelical zeal. But along the way, those obsessed with minority groups–so much so that they would even claim for themselves a persecuted minority status, which is seductive fruit to evangelicals–have kept us from the dream. It’s a time for mourning and shaking our heads, not celebration.
Where we go from here is up to you, dear reader, as we navigate the new terrain ahead.
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