Posted by: Mainstream UMC
United Methodist Communications recently commissioned a survey about the beliefs of United Methodists in the United States. This survey is already being misused by some to bolster their position at General Conference. This was not the point of the survey, which did not ask any questions about human sexuality or about any of the plans coming before delegates in St. Louis. Beware of this data being co-opted.
Instead, we can look at in-depth data gathered about General Conference delegates by several groups, including Mainstream UMC, that shows at least 67% of US delegates support the One Church Plan. Fewer than 26% of US delegates support the Traditional Plan, with the remaining 7% either undecided or undisclosed. What this means is that most United Methodists in the US are “compatiblists” meaning they are willing to live with people with whom they disagree. Many who call themselves “traditional” have cringed at the “Traditional plan” with its mean-spirited certifying, punishing, and expelling of those who do not share a particular world view.
We are only a week away from General Conference. It is important that we all keep our eye on the goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The best way to hold the unity of the church to fulfill our mission is by supporting the One Church Plan.
Rev. David Livingston, clergy delegate from Great Plains has written the following thoughtful post about the United Methodist Communications Survey.
What a New UM Survey Really Tells Us
You may want to look at
this survey (https://www.umnews.org/en/news/what-do-united-methodists-really-believe)
that UM Communications commissioned. Right off the bat two shortcomings should
be noted. First, with only a little more than 500 respondents it’s hard to know
how accurate it is. A statistician I am not, so maybe it is a large enough
sample. Second, it consistently uses the vague terms progressive, moderate, and
The second point is especially important now as next week we consider a “progressive’ Simple Plan (which some supporters argue is still not really progressive), a “centrist” One Church Plan (which some opponents call progressive), and a “conservative” Traditionalist Plan (which supporters call the status quo and some opponents call fundamentalist). But none of the three plans (and a fourth, the Connectional Conference Plan, which is a hybrid plan) focus on an overall theology. They focus instead of the question of how we include lesbian and gay people in the life of the church (note I only say the first two in the long string of letters LGBTQ+ because the plans only address those two initials – a significant shortcoming.)
This matters because between this survey and a separate Pew survey we have proof that our views on same-sex marriage specifically do not correspond precisely with our overall theology. The UMCOM study shows that 44% of U.S. United Methodists consider themselves traditional, a plurality but not a majority. 28% are moderate, 22% progressive, and the remainder unsure. For the record, I would put myself in the moderate camp. A 2014 Pew Study: (https://religionnews.com/2016/05/18/methodists-homosexuality-poll-lgbt-pew/) reported that 60% of U.S. United Methodists believed that same-sex marriage should be accepted. If every single progressive and moderate in 2018 believe in same-sex marriage AND if the UMC has defied all societal norms by not moving in a more pro-LGBT direction over the last five years then about 1 in 4 self-identified conservatives still believe that same-sex marriage is acceptable.
The 60% acceptance figure also corresponds pretty well to what several are now reporting – that 66% of U.S. delegates at General Conference will vote for the One Church Plan.
So, unintentionally, the UM survey tells us that what we are voting on at General Conference isn’t really the biggest issue we face.
The survey also shows just how much we need each other. In his 2008 book Staying at the Table, Bishop Scott Jones says, “Liberals need conservatives and conservatives need liberals. If one group leaves, we are all worse off.” One question in the survey stood out to me. The question was whether the primary purpose of the denomination is to save souls or transform the world. Our mission statement says both – Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our statement is consistent with John Wesley who both preached about salvation and also visited prisoners in jail. In the surveys conservative/progressive breakdown the difference is stark. 88% of conservatives said our primary purpose is to save souls as opposed to 32% of progressives. 62% of progressives chose transforming the world as opposed to 12% of conservatives. Moderates, predictably, fell in-between. But our mission statement and our history say that we need both. In other words, Bishop Jones is correct. In order for us to embrace the full call of our denomination, we need both. We need conservatives to hold us accountable for our lack of evangelism and we need progressives to hold us accountable to be the Body of Christ healing the world. The left wing and right wing keep the bird flying straight. Our left wing and right wing keep our denomination going in the right direction even with the tension that we live in. And that, in a nutshell, is why I support the One Church Plan.
Here are just a few other pieces of insight:
1) None of us really agree about the role of Scripture. We are often told that progressive don’t take scripture seriously – that the Bible is unequivocally our prime authority. The survey tells us that only 41% of conservatives view Scripture as our prime authority. Granted that is far more that progressives and moderates, but as someone in the moderate camp who does believe Scripture comes first I think this is a significant issue.
2) Progressives do take the Bible more seriously than they are accused of. When asked more specifically about how they understand the Bible, virtually nobody in any theological camp dismissed it as just an old book. 2/3 of progressives still call it inspired. I am equally disappointed in the 1/3 of progressives who don’t think it is inspired as I am by the 30% of traditionalists who call it the “actual word of God and should be taken literally.” That is a fundamentalist view. Broken down, then, roughly 15% of UMs take a fundamentalist view, roughly 15% take a view clearly outside of our doctrinal standards, and the remaining 70% have an understanding someplace in between.
3) There is remarkable agreement in many theological views. If you read the full report you’ll see a series of theological statements that, with the exception of a belief in a literal hell, show a strong level of consistency. And also show no unanimity even among the three theological groupings.
Here is the link to Rev. Livingston’s Blog: https://revliv1.blogspot.com/2019/02/what-new-um-survey-really-tells-us.html