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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?

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