Mainstreaming the Mainline
The United Methodist Church (UMC) is not just another main line denomination but the largest by far, numbering 8.5 million members in North America. And at least 2.5 million Methodists are evangelicals. If evangelicals within the UMC were a separate denomination, it would be larger than the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ combined, greater than the membership of the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., and about as large as the United Presbyterian Church and the Episcopal Church.Yet Methodist evangelicals have had minimal voice in denominational decision-making regarding boards, seminaries, and the episcopacy—until recently. Growing evidence suggests that evangelicals are exercising increasing influence within denominations previously written off as incurably liberal, and the latest evidence comes from the recent United Methodist Church General Conference in Cleveland.
Anyone familiar with the UMC knows that this is a remarkable turn of events. During the last half-century, evangelical Methodists (those who view Scripture as the written Word of God and stress the believer's experience of a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior, the only Son of God, and the Holy Spirit as enabler of mission) have been cast in a pariah position within one of the great movements of world evangelicalism. Evangelicals have been unable for the most part to gain positions on seminary faculties, influence church spending, or elect bishops.By the late '60s, these institutions had become almost uniformly and dogmatically liberal. In the '70s and '80s, they were increasingly influenced by feminist, liberation, and process theologies. By the '90s, evangelicals had only a token presence among UMC ...