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(RNS) — “Lord of the church, we are united in Thee, in Thy church, and now in The United Methodist Church.”
With those words, spoken April 23, 1968, at the constituting General Conference in Dallas, the Methodist Church and a smaller Wesleyan denomination called the Evangelical United Brethren merged to form what was then and still is today the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination, the United Methodist Church.
Weekend - St - Louis - General - Conference
This weekend in St. Louis, a specially called General Conference convenes to consider a way forward for a global denomination locked in an intractable conflict over faith and order, especially around issues of human sexuality.
Whether they recognize it in the next days or push on pretending otherwise, the United Methodist Church won’t find a way forward without schism. They may stagger along in even more profound disunity and dysfunction, but we’ll look back at the special session as the end.
Schism - History - Protestantism - Catholic - Church
Schism is coded into the history of Protestantism. The Catholic Church, which understands itself to have been founded by Christ himself on Peter, his first vicar, will stand until the end of time. Denominations are not like that. They come and go, as the past five centuries have shown.
The 1968 merger itself stood at the crossroads of two currents. One trend, a 20th century impulse toward unity, had already peaked. Just before World War II, the Methodists united the northern and southern branches that had split over slavery nearly a century before. After the war, an ecumenical spirit based on a new confidence in Christian activism and dialog led to a number of church mergers.
UMC - Inception - Divide - Liberals - Denomination
But baked into the UMC from its inception was a theological divide between liberals who controlled the denomination’s institutions and conservatives who filled most pews and many pulpits. This mismatch showed up in disagreements over the UMC’s social witness on issues including...
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