Conservatives in the 9.9-million-member United Methodist Church are still pinching themselves to make sure that the UMC’s sudden shift to the right is not just a dream.

For years the church had been drifting leftward and downward, suffering a loss of one million members over the past decade. Delegates to the denomination’s quadrennial conferences seemed to plow eagerly into controversial issues, adopt unpopular—and often unrepresentative-positions with a let-the-chips-fall attitude, then return home and try to sell their fellow church members on what had transpired.

Last month, when the 1976 General Conference concluded, it was as if the fed-up folks back home at last had had their say—and way.

“This conference has been the ear of the church, not its voice,” commented an obviously pleased delegate at the conclusion of the eleven-day meeting in Portland, Oregon. Dudley Ward, retiring head of the UMC’s social-action unit, said it was “good for us to be challenged by the grass roots to re-look at some of our positions.”

Probably no one was happier than the members of the UMC evangelical caucus known as the Good News movement, headquartered in Wilmore, Kentucky. Led by executive secretary Charles Keysor, the group kept information circulating among the churches prior to the conference, then dispatched a number of members to Portland to monitor legislative hearings, to approach key delegates discreetly with input on issues, and to devise other strategy aimed at winning important floor battles. Clergyman Robert Sprinkle of St. Petersburg, Florida, coordinated the effort. Friend and foe alike attributed much of the conference’s outcome to the well-oiled work of Good News.

The big media issue of the conference concerned the place of ...

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