Gosh, did everybody see that wave of coverage of the United Methodist Church's recent General Conference, the one in which evangelicals won two very important victories -- moving in precisely the opposite direction as the course taken by the Episcopal Church? No, I didn't see that wave of coverage either, primarily since there wasn't one.
Which is strange, if you think about it.
After all, there are about 2 million Episcopalians, depending on who is doing the counting. The membership statistics for the United Methodist Church have been sliding, as well, but the denomination still has nearly 8 million members in the United States and another 3.5 million (and rising fast) in Africa.
Do the math. The 2 million Episcopalians received X million gallons of printer's ink worth of coverage recently as the denomination's liberal establishment won a series of strategic victories on several doctrinal fronts linked to sex and marriage. Meanwhile, the 8 million or so United Methodists received how much coverage as the conservatives won two big victories on similar issues? Click here and here for a quick comparison, at the time this post was written.
The contrast is rather striking, don't you think? By all means, call up the search engine of your choice and give it a shot.
However, news junkies can be thankful that the Religion News Service did cover the story and its report was used by USA Today. Thus, we can read:
United Methodists have defeated amendments that would have made church membership open to all Christians regardless of sexual orientation and furthered the creation of a new, U.S.-only governing body, according to the denomination's news service.
Delegates at the United Methodist Church's General Conference last year approved the sexual orientation amendment, as well as several others that would have changed how the international church is governed. But the amendments failed to gain support from two-thirds of the denomination's annual conferences, as required by church law. The conferences voted in May and June.
Twenty-seven of the 44 regional conferences that reported voting results rejected the amendment that would have made membership in local churches open to "all persons, upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, and relationship in Jesus Christ," according to United Methodist News Service.
Now, that lede is a bit confusing. In the long run, the most important action taken was the rejection of the restructuring plan.
What was that all about? RNS quotes a conservative leader on that front
The complicated amendments to church polity in the UMC, which counts 8 million members in the U.S. and about 3.5 million more in Asia, Africa and Europe, was seen by some as a way to make it easier for Americans to pass pro-gay resolutions.
"It is only thanks to the African and other international delegates that United Methodism has upheld biblical standards about homosexuality," Mark Tooley, a Methodist and president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, warned in April. "Liberals increasingly resent the growing African influence in our church and know they cannot win when the African churches are growing and the U.S. church declines, unless they can at least partially separate the U.S. church from the African churches," he wrote in lobbying against the amendments.
It would have helped to include a strong voice from the U.S. establishment at that point, representing the liberal side of the denomination. However, it's clear that the United Methodists are experiencing some of the same U.S. vs. Global South tensions that are affecting Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans and others. However, traditionalists have been hanging on in this particular denomination.
That's interesting. That's news. This is a big story at the local, regional, national and global levels. Because of the size of the United Methodist flock, it really deserved coverage in the mainstream press. So what happened?