Ray McDonald's Blog

Thoughts and Reflections

The Survival of the United Methodist Church

Colossians 2:8

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Recently at our Annual Conference a suggestion was made concerning our church’s stance on issues like homosexuality.  The suggestion was that our denomination’s stance – which in part is as follows from the Book of Discipline – is hindering the church’s ability to reach young people.

¶ 304.3 – While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals1 are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.2
1. “Self-avowed practicing homosexual” is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, board of ordained ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual. See Judicial Council Decisions 702, 708, 722, 725, 764, 844, 984. 2. See Judicial Council Decisions 984, 985.

¶ 341.6 – Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.

I’m not sure I agree with the assumption that was made at Annual Conference.  I know many young people in the church today that want the church to be real and authentic and truthful to the Word of God.  Because the society we live in is starting to believe what their itching ears want to hear is not a reason to abandon sound theology.  We are warned about this in Scripture as Paul was writing to a young adult pastor.

2 Timothy 4:2-4 – 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Our theology should not be determined by social norms.  It does not need to fall in line with the latest belief or craze.  If the survival of the denomination is more important than Biblical truth – maybe the denomination should die.  I don’t want it to die – I love the United Methodist Church – being a third generation Methodist pastor – with a fourth generation behind me.  I might make the opposite assumption from the one made at Annual Conference this year.  I believe that the United Methodist’s divergence from Biblical truth has been the reason we have lost so many members over the last few decades.  I believe that if we return to sound doctrine and theology – like I see happening at General Conference these days – we will draw people – not because of some social issue but because of the truth of God’s Word.

Just something to think about today as you go on your way.

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July 9, 2012 - Posted by | Daily Devotion, Denomination, Discipleship, Encouragement, Evangelism, Faith Journey, From the Pastor | , , , ,


  1. Great post Ray!

    Since you covered the theological perspective well, I will take another approach. Show me the numbers. The United Methodist Church has liberal open and affirming congregations already. Are those congregations bursting at the seams with young people? Are those congregations forming those illusive young adult congregations that every conference dreams about? Are we lifting those congregations up as models of how to attract and disciple young adults? The answer is no. Reality just does not support the notion that changing our position on homosexuality will suddenly create a large influx of young adults who want to be Methodist but won’t because of our doctrinal stance, that by the way is in line with the Bible, on homosexuality. Other mainline denominations have changed their stance on homosexuality and it has not swelled their numbers at all. They remain in decline. By contrats churches like Elevation in Charlotte, Life Church in Oklahoma, Mars Hill in Seattle (a very liberal town with a significant homosexual population) have stood with the Bible on this issue and attract young adults in droves.

    The survival of the United Methodist Church will not be saved by a silver bullet. It will not be saved by the turn of one doctrinal issue. The survival of the United Methodist Church will be based on congregations making the effort to reach, teach, disciple and serve people not politics. John Wesley spent his life preaching and teaching personal holiness. He firmly believed that Hebrews 12:14 that without holiness no man will see the Lord. He would be spinning in his grave if the church that calls him founder suddenly decided holiness for some was good enough. We can’t walk away from our heritage to reach people we must make our case to the masses, as Wesley did, and then let the Holy Spirit do the work.

    Keep the Faith


    Comment by K.I.R. | July 9, 2012 | Reply

    • K.I.R. – thanks for your words and encouragement. The UMC needs to stand for Jesus and nothing else!


      Comment by raymcdonald | July 9, 2012 | Reply

  2. Spot on Pastor Ray.


    Comment by Mary | July 9, 2012 | Reply

  3. I agree with you wholeheartedly Pastor Ray.


    Comment by JR | July 9, 2012 | Reply

  4. The United Methodist Church has many gifted LGBT members who serve God in all kinds of ministerial and laity roles. Words in the Book of Discipline cannot change that fact. We have always been members of the church and we are no more or less worthy than anyone else.We cross all economic, educational, political, etc. boundaries. The fact that the UMC as a whole deems us less worthy or our gifts unimportant is a hurtful practice and is wrong. In spite of that wrong we have not left the UMC because we too love it. Many of us have found UMCs who do welcome us and our families and who recognize that we are striving just as other Christians to live authentic Christian lives. Others serve in churches who do not recognize their families. But serve there because that is where God has led them. We use our gifts in Christ’s service and we respond to God’s call in spite of a prohibitive discipline. We do that because God calls us and not the UMC.

    I refuse to be reduced to an issue. I am tired of being told by the church that unless I become someone other than who God made me to be then I am less worthy and unwelcome. So, I am choosing not to listen. But, I am no less Christian, and no less Methodist than those of you who believe that I am less worthy because I am a lesbian.

    I was at General Conference and can tell you that the UMC has many larger problems to deal with than our differences over inclusiveness. We are an denomination that is struggling to be a global church. Our governance structure and processes are choking us. I wish we could focus on how that structure and those processes need to be and not on whether or not anyone of us is welcome in the church. The future of our denomination does not rest on any one issue. It rests in following Christ

    My prayers are for the UMC that we all love. My prayers are for all of our sisters and brothers who have turned away from the UMC because we are not welcoming of all people. My prayers are for the Bishops who lead us in our global church challenges.


    Comment by Jan | July 10, 2012 | Reply

    • Jan – I agree and of course disagree with you. I agree that the church has many more problems than our position on one issue. Having said that – I disagree with you – and that is the crux of the issue – about homosexuality being a gift from or given by God. That is where the issue lies – calling sin (IMHO) acceptable or God given. I know you – love you and think highly of you – and appreciate that you attended Mt. Oak for a season of time – even knowing our difference on this one significant issue – and for your continued friendship. It is not about calling one sin greater than another as someone else mentioned – I am WAY overweight and know it – and know that it is sin in my life. I acknowledge that it is sin – not a gift from God because I am tall or big boned or have an awesome hunger for food that I have known since I was a child.

      I cannot agree that God created or designed men to be with men or women to be with women – it is not (IMHO) the design of creation. I can agree that all sinners can still be used by God – and that many sinners are gifted and God can work in us – through us – and in spite of us. But we must confess our sin and strive to move away from it (thus diet after diet – life change after life change – I struggle to lose weight).

      I know on this we will not agree. It isn’t even a question of whether it is genetic or not. Many things have messed with the perfect genetics that God created to bring about many issues that are not from God’s design (my weight while a friend of mine eats twice as much as I do and is skinny as a rail).

      The real question of this article was a statement made at Annual Conference that our stance on Homosexuality was hurting our outreach to young adults and the reason the church was failing. It is with this statement that I disagree and why I wrote this article. The church has been in decline (IMHO) because we have – in the past – moved away from Biblical authority and holiness in our lives. I believe – if the church becomes more closely bound by Scriptural truth – the church will flourish again (and I don’t think I stand alone on this belief).

      Thank you for entering the dialogue. I agree with you that we all have something to add to the Kingdom’s work and should strive to deal with the other issues that face the church as well. I just returned from a trip to Haiti and my eyes were once again opened to the economics of a third-world country – and I know I don’t need to go to Haiti to find poverty.

      Thank you for your friendship – it means a lot.


      Comment by raymcdonald | July 10, 2012 | Reply

  5. You’re right. I took the conversation away from your original point. My apologies. Let me address the topic of young people in the church and also the decline in membership in mainline denominations.

    Attempts to tie the overall decline in mambership or the aging of the church membership to any one issue or question do not stand up to study. I am not an expert but can speak as a seminary student, as someone who has done a lot of reading, and as someone who has had a lot of life experiences:

    1) are young people leaving the church because of its stance on homosexuality. Absolutely. Just ask in any gathering of young people outside the church.
    2) is there a decline in young people in the church because their parents did not take them as children and they don’t see a reason to go. Absolutely. Just look around at the people found in any number of public places instead of in church on Sunday morning.
    3) Are mainline denominations in decline because of the life of some of the non-denominational mega-churches? Absolutely,

    There are some disturbing trends in all of these from my experience.

    1) people are leaving the church because they are not welcomed by or are otherwise hurt by the church
    2) people are leaving the church because the church or individuals in it do not embody Their perception of Christ
    3) people are leaving the church because the church does not appear relevant in today’s world. Ministers who attempt to relate the Bible in terms do today’s world to show that relevance come under severe criticism
    4) people are leaving the church because it harms those they love.
    5) mega churches make people feel good. Ministers are charismatic. It remains to be seen what those churches who don’t have governance structures or polity will do or how they will survive after those who build them retire.

    Excuse the generalizations in this response. Generalizations never fit anyone 100 percent. I left the church 30 years ago because 1) I was 25 years younger than the other people in the pew on Sunday morning 2) the church seemed judgmental and hypocritical 3) I believed the church hated me It is sad that 30 years later we can point to the same things corporately

    I am back in the church today and there is still truth for me personally in all three statements.

    God is not finished with any of us yet.


    Comment by Jan | July 10, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks again for sharing Jan! I would add some other reasons IMHO that people are leaving the church:
      6) a lack of holiness and authenticity in some churches
      7) a loss of Biblical authority
      8) a hypocritical spirit

      Maybe these match some of yours – not sure. Thanks again for adding to the discussion.

      I didn’t mean to suggest that the church was in decline because of one issue – just rebuking the notion that we couldn’t reach the younger generation with the stance the church has taken on one issue.


      Comment by raymcdonald | July 10, 2012 | Reply

      • I would agree, actually. My reasons for saying so are likely different from yours. I would probably reword number 7) to be misuse of scripture in the life of the church.

        Thanks for allowing my dissenting opinion in some of these discussions. We would make huge steps if people on both sides of the touchy subjects we address as a denomination would remember that there are real people involved who were also created in God’s image. We were commanded to love those people even when they are standing in the protest line with Fred Phelps at GC.


        Comment by Jan | July 10, 2012 | Reply

        • Not we’re back to debate or discussion – about what is misuse of the Scriptures… I said “a loss of Biblical authority” because if the Bible is primary – it trumps reason, tradition and experience – even when the others gang up together – yet some believe because they know someone or have felt a certain way throughout their life or cannot grasp an idea that this supersedes what the Bible says. One can debate interpretations of the Bible – but NO WHERE have I heard anyone suggest that the Bible is in favor of same sex relationships. It is always trying to counter the passages that speak about it as sin. We cannot make the Bible say what we want it to say – I mean we can – but that isn’t right.


          Comment by raymcdonald | July 11, 2012 | Reply

          • No debate. I agree that we can’t make the Bible say what we want it to say.


            Comment by Jan | July 11, 2012

          • And so we differ on our interpretation of the Bible I guess…


            Comment by raymcdonald | July 12, 2012

  6. Pastor, I believe you have phrased this well. The question is how people interpret the Bible and the authority they give the Bible. Calling sin acceptable is not acceptable to those of us who see the Bible as authoritative in our lives.


    Comment by Mary | July 13, 2012 | Reply

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