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(RNS) — Though I am a lifelong Southern Baptist, I followed last weekend’s United Methodist Special General Conference very closely. Over the course of three days, church delegates from all over the world joined together to talk about a way forward for their denomination amid their divisions over sexuality and inclusion — the same debates that have rocked almost all major denominations in the last few years.
I watched impassioned speakers from the more conservative wing call for fidelity to the word of God and those from the more progressive wing call for unity and a faithfulness to the love of God to all peoples, including members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Doubt - Americans - Methodists - School - Side
I have watched closely because, no doubt like many Americans, I am personally connected to the Methodists. I attended graduate school side by side with those pursuing ordination in the UMC, and some of my family members are UMC clergy. It was a small Methodist church that first taught me of the Wesley brothers and their love for the world’s poor. That same church is where I began to hear the term “human dignity” applied to issues besides abortion. Here was a community characterized, historically, by its heart for people.
Their powerful evangelistic spirit is complemented by the strength of their compassion and service to the world. If my Baptist forebears were known for sending missionaries, the early Methodists were known for their work with the poor and hungry.
Methodists - Size - Witness - Beginning - First
But I have watched, too, because the Methodists’ size and witness have made them tremendously influential from their beginning. During the First and Second Great Awakenings, Methodism exploded in growth under the preaching of evangelists such as John Wesley in Great Britain and George Whitefield in the United States. By 1968, the year of the founding of the United Methodist Church from the merger...
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