Thursday, May 2, 2024

It’s Thursday, May 2nd, 2024. 

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A Denominational Surrender: United Methodist Church Reverses LGBTQ Doctrine and Policy

No doubt, the big story on America’s mind right now is the unrest on America’s college campuses, and that really is a big story. It deserves our attention, but it’s going to have to take backseat today to another story that in the great understanding of the Christian faith and our engagement with these issues is actually a bigger issue. And that is the fact that just over the course of the last several days, the United Methodist Church has basically reversed its position on homosexuality, extending to same-sex marriage, extending to openly homosexual clergy. We are talking about a massive, massive news story. And of course it doesn’t just come out of the blue.

The United Methodist Church, which is the second-largest non-Catholic denomination in the United States, has been tearing itself apart. The “United” has become much less united in recent months. Over the course of the time, from 2022 to the end of 2023, about a quarter of the churches in the denomination left, and they left over the building liberal pressure for accommodating modern views on human sexuality and gender and changing the doctrine and policy and discipline of the United Methodist Church. Now, what has really changed in terms of the way this is played out on the ground is that a matter of say three or four years ago, it appeared that the conservatives were going to be the ones who remained in the church and would have control over the church, and it would be the liberals pushing for the normalization of homosexuality, the celebration and consecration of same-sex unions and even same-sex marriages, the ordination of openly homosexual or LGBTQ clergy.

The thought was that there were enough conservative votes, not only from conservative Methodists in the United States, but also from very conservative Methodists from elsewhere in the world, particularly from Africa. The thought was that if the meeting had been held, as was scheduled in 2020, that the conservatives would’ve basically won, the liberals would have left, and there would’ve been two Methodist churches on the other side. One openly pro-LGBTQ, one standing on that issue in the tradition of Christian biblical orthodoxy. But that’s not the way it happened, and it didn’t happen that way for two reasons.

Theologically, it didn’t happen because as it turns out, the mushy middle in United Methodism was actually, probably and predictably, further left than had been counted on. But the other big issue was COVID-19. With the advent of the pandemic and the shutdown of so many sectors of society, social distancing, you’ll remember and all the rest, it was impossible for the United Methodist Church to hold its 2020 General Conference in the year 2020, or at least they judged it so. But even as that was true, by the time you got to the 2020 General Conference, now finally being held in 2024, and yes, that’s what they’re calling it, they’re calling the meeting that has taken place over the course of the last week and a half taking place right now in Charlotte, North Carolina, they’re calling it the “2020 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.”

But by the time it was held, there was no doubt that it was the liberals who would control the denomination, the conservatives left. In some jurisdictions of the church, including the so-called “Annual Conference,” that is to say the regional grouping. In Dallas and in North Texas about 70% of the denominations churches left the denomination. But nonetheless, this just tells you how mainline Protestantism goes liberal. Most of those denominations went liberal a very long time ago. It is because the vast majority of the congregations are just going to go with what they perceive to be the status quo. And so, you have about 75% of those churches remaining in the United Methodist Church.

And here’s where the big story that took place just in the last several days plays out and is important to all of us because over the course of the General Conference that comes to a conclusion at the end of this week, a two-week meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, the United Methodist Church has basically not only changed, not just revised, but reversed its doctrinal position and its discipline when it comes to homosexuality, the entire LGBTQ array. We’re talking about a revolution.

Now, that revolution has taken place in the other liberal mainline Protestant denominations a long time ago, and it came slower in the United Methodist Church for a couple of reasons. Number one, you had a lot of influential, more conservative United Methodists, and you had a lot of these conservative United Methodist churches, some of them very powerful and wealthy across the South and the Sun Belt, that was a restraining force. But you also had the fact that in the global context, the United Methodist Church included conferences and congregations from other places in the world, including most importantly from Africa, and the Africans generally were, along with say the South and Sun Belt United Methodists more likely to be quite conservative on these issues. But then, everything did change. The tension point was reached.

By the time the church was approaching the 2020 General Conference, it was clear that the two wings of the church, the liberals and the conservatives could not remain together. As I say, the only big surprise going back to 2000 say ’19 and fast forwarding to 2024 is that it turned out not to be the liberals who had to leave, but the conservatives.

So, we’re going to turn to this particular revolution in just a moment, but let’s remind ourselves of the importance of Methodism as you look at the denominational landscape in the United States. Methodism, of course goes back to John Wesley born 1703, died 1791. He didn’t intend to start a church. He intended to start a holiness movement within the Church of England. Now, they were called, derisively, Methodists, because the holy society that he sought to form, along with his brother, Charles Wesley, famous hymn writer, and also George Whitefield, famed evangelist, by the time you had the holy society’s meeting, they followed a certain method in their meeting, thus derisively, they were identified as Methodists.

Now, why did Methodists become a church, so to speak? Why did they become a denomination rather than a reform and revival movement within the Church of England? Well, for one thing, it’s because the Methodist movement had come to the New World. Now, it wasn’t yet the United States of America, but the very fact that the New World, the 13 colonies, became the United States of America, has a lot to do with why the Methodist Church became a church. And that’s because the Church of England was associated with England. And in the American Revolution, there was a break, of course, between the structure of the Church of England and the congregations left in the United States. Now, most of those congregations became Episcopal congregations, but there was also a very substantial Methodist movement. It had already developed into societies and also into congregations. And so, all of this came together with the establishment of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784.

And at that point, even though John Wesley was clearly the founder of the movement, it was Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke who became the major leaders of Methodism, most famously Francis Asbury, when that church was established in the United States in 1784. By the time you get to a similar period in Britain, the same thing is taking place. Methodism is separating from the Church of England as a revival or holiness movement, and is becoming a denomination on its own. Along with other major denominations, during the period of the Civil War, there was a split in the denomination. But in 1939, the northern and southern branches of the church came together once again into a national Methodist church, known again as the Methodist Episcopal Church. It is known today as the United Methodist Church because another denomination, the Evangelical United Brethren, joined with the Methodists in 1968 and they formed the United Methodist Church.

Now, what’s really important for us to understand is that Methodism had a vast influence, along with the Baptists by the way, in the formation of American society, shaping American history, especially on the frontier. And the frontier is where the energy shifted in the United States. As you look across so much of the American landscape, one of the first things you would see in a town, say the capital city of a state or a territory, one of the first things you would see is the establishment of Methodists as well as Baptist churches. But in many ways, the Methodists were even more numerous. By the time you get to 1844, the Methodists are now the largest Protestant or non-Catholic denomination in the United States of America.

But even as the Southern Baptists remained a very different denomination than the more liberal Baptists in the north, the Methodists had joined together, and that meant that the denomination was very much a part of what became known as liberal Protestantism. And what we see taking place right now is the result of that theological and Biblical moral liberalism. What you see right now is the United Methodist Church changing its position on the issue of homosexual clergy and homosexual unions and homosexual behavior, doing so as if turning on a dime, 180 degrees.

Now, as you listen to The Briefing, you know I’ve made reference several times to the year 1973 because it was then that the American Psychiatric Association changed its position, its psychiatric understanding of homosexuality in one meeting. It was considered a psychiatric disease one day, the next day, no. But as you’re looking at the major denominations, many of them had similar moments. But this is an even more cataclysmic moment for the United Methodist Church because it is taking place on a later timetable than had happened in the other more liberal denominations, which means at this point, it’s pretty much go for broke.

And the math just tells the story. On the most important of the issues, the vote was 692 to 51, so we’re not talking about a close vote, 692 to 51. Why weren’t there more conservative votes? Well, it’s because so many of the conservatives just left. They’re now in other Methodist bodies, but in any sense, are independent of the United Methodist Church. The conservatives left, so the liberals remain, and this is what happens when the liberals meet just after the conservatives exited the door.

Okay, so let’s talk about language for a moment. What was the official position in the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church say Monday of this week? It was this, and I quote, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed, practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.”

Now, similar to that, were bans on clergy officiating at same-sex marriages, you could go down the list. Now, what’s taken place in United Methodism is that you have a left that was far left even, well, certainly by the 1940s or ’50s, certainly in some of the northern jurisdictions of the church. And by the time you get to the ’70s and the ’80s, it’s really getting liberal in many sectors of the church and they weren’t going to wait. So, you’ve had liberals pressing the envelope, defying the official discipline and doctrine of the United Methodist Church for a matter of decades now, doing so more and more openly. Openly homosexual persons serving as bishops of the church. And you had candidates for ministry that are performing of same-sex marriages. All of this was taking place. It was clear that there was going to have to be a separation in the church because the issue had now come down to people who said, “We demand the full inclusion of homosexuals and the full normalization of LGBTQ in the church.” And those who were saying, “That’s incompatible with Scripture.”

Again, remember what the Book of Discipline said at the beginning of this week, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” That’s one of the clearest statements, I think, found in any denominational declaration about homosexuality as sin. That’s just very clear. And so long as that’s in the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, you can’t have the LGBTQ+ victory. And so, it’s out. It’s out right now, out entirely. Out by a vote of 692 to 51, that’s out.

Part II

‘The Practice of Homosexuality is Incompatible with Christian Teaching’: The UMC Just Abandoned This Truth … Without Debate

This has caught the attention of course of the national media. Ruth Graham of the New York Times reports the story this way. “The overturning of the 40-year ban on self-avowed practicing homosexuals passed overwhelmingly and without debate in a package of measures that had already received strong support at the committee level. Delegates meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina also voted to bar local leaders from penalizing clergy or churches for holding or declining to hold same-sex weddings. Further votes affirming LGBTQ inclusion in the church are expected before the meeting adjourns on Friday.”

So, yes, the transformation is not yet over, even this week. But there’s more to the story of what is taking place and has already taken place at this General Conference of the church in Charlotte. There was earlier proposal to approve the regionalization of the church, and this is a bigger issue than you might at first think. The regionalization of the church will mean that if adopted, and it takes more than one conference to pass this measure, if it is adopted, the United Methodist Church will declare different regions that could have different policies, different discipline, and even different doctrine on these issues. Why would that be important? Well, it is because you take the African churches, many of them are very conservative on the LGBTQ issues, and you see this in other denominations as well, the Anglican Communion famously ripped apart on this basis, you can see the scenario in which if the church adopts these regions, the African United Methodists will be free to follow a more conservative understanding of marriage, sexuality, family, gender, et cetera.

Whereas in the United States, it could be just basically as liberal as you might imagine, and I predict it will be very quickly. But the problem is, and I want to be real clear about this, the problem theologically is that those African congregations are still going to be part of what they declare to be a church, that even if not in their jurisdiction is avowedly disobedient to Scripture on the issue of human sexuality, marriage, you just go down the list. I find that incomprehensible. And there are probably a lot of reasons having to do with politics, economics behind at least some of the calculation, but it does serve as a warning that if you are a part of a church that allows this, and I mean by that a denomination, the United Methodist Church defines itself comprehensively as a connectional church, if you are a part of such a church, then even if your local congregation doesn’t follow this practice, you’re a part of a church that, at the very least, allows it.

So, that also means that in this sense, the conservatives who may remain in the United Methodist Church are only, well, so conservative. They’re not so conservative that they will not be a part of a church that allows this in any form, in any place. And when it comes to North America, it’s going to be pretty much a rainbow flag church almost instantaneously. In effect, it became so yesterday.

Part III

The Slippery Slope of Women Pastors: The Hermeneutic That Leads to Women Pastors is the Same Hermeneutic That Leads to LGBTQ Inclusion

But as a theologian, I have to make one further comment here about one additional issue. The United Methodist Church years ago decided that it would ordain women as pastors and later as bishops. Now, I believe that’s contrary to Scripture. And yet, you had conservative United Methodists who’d basically been at peace with the interpretation of scripture that allows them to look at certain passages that make very clear that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by scripture, and they found a way to get around those passages.

I’m just going to suggest that what the liberals have done in the current United Methodist Church at its General Convention is apply pretty much the same kind of rule to the issue of gender, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, you name it. If you adopt a system that allows you to get around the plain teachings of scripture in one area, you are going to have a very hard time closing the door on someone else using your same argument on a different issue. I am glad to say that there are many conservative Methodists who love the gospel and preach the word and who are now in the main outside the United Methodist Church. As for the United Methodist Church, it has made its point emphatically clear. And as should also serve as a parabolic warning to all of us, the change in that church came very slowly right up until it came very fast.

So, the bottom line again is that I think this is going to be long remembered as a key moment in modern church history, and it is over an issue that is definitive of Christianity. No apologies there. At least on this issue, at this point both sides recognize that we’re talking about two absolutely contradictory and incompatible arguments, two incompatible readings of Scripture and the authority of Scripture.

Part IV

Why Were the Police Not Called In Sooner? Campuses (Finally) Crackdown as Protests Continue to Escalate and Get More Destructive

But we do have to come back to the pressing headline news of today, and that is the fact that overnight last night, New York City Police dispersed the tent encampment there at Columbia University, and by the way, they did so only after the protesters had taken over a building. So, this has moved into a different category altogether. They broke glass, broke into a building, and they took over the building, not just any building, but Hamilton Hall, as in Alexander Hamilton, as in the most famous of the early graduates of Columbia University. That was one of the buildings that was taken over by the student protesters in the violence of 1968.

But in 1968, they not only broke into the building and took possession of the building, they also took a dean hostage. Well, at least in 2024, the students didn’t go that far, but they broke the law, and they presented a clear and present danger to the safety of the campus. They broke glass, they occupied buildings. At that point, the leadership of Columbia University, liberal as it is, had no choice but to move to call in the New York City Police. And so, it was the kind of video that media agencies just love. Live video, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, you go down the list, the British Broadcasting Corporation, everybody wanted a camera on the scene. It was like the ’60s are back. You had the students being led out, arrested, being put into buses.

And then, immediately you had the two sides making very clear, some saw these students as martyrs to the cause, and others saw them as threats to social order. The students clearly were in the wrong here, but the media were also torn, that was very clear. And one of the things we saw in media coverage overnight last night into today, and continuing even now, is that you have a two sides-ism to this as if you have two equal sides and both deserve to make their case. Let’s just say someone breaks into your house, you’re not going to look at the story that way.

But yesterday on The Briefing, I went into a pretty detailed analysis of what’s going on. I just want to update that this far. These protests are not nearly the equivalent of 1968. The media class, the cultural class wants a story as if these are developments that are tantamount to what shook American culture back in the 1960s. Well, at least not yet. We are looking at the fact that the vast majority of students on these campuses are evidently far more concerned about other things, but the story is really important. That’s why I gave it so much attention and analysis yesterday.

We are looking at the cultural left very much trying to exploit this situation to the max. And we’re also understanding the fact that many of these students have simply decided that their latest leftist cause is the cause of the Palestinians one way or the other. Now, again, as Christians, we’re very concerned with any human suffering and that means with the unquestioned suffering of the Palestinian people. But the political answer to that is by no means compatible with the demands being made by these students. And furthermore, there’s a basic dishonesty about the dynamic that is at work here. In some cases, it has gone so far as to make abundantly clear that this is not just concern for the Palestinian people who are suffering in the war of Israel against Hamas. It is indeed a siding with the Palestinian cause, and it is in some cases, an open celebration of the Islamic terrorist group, Hamas, and its actions. We do have to be honest about what we’re dealing with here.

Alright, but I want to give us an insight into how the cultural left deals with this and maximizes this kind of situation for its own argument. The best example of that is a half-page opinion piece that ran in yesterday’s edition of USA Today. It’s by Sara Pequeño and the title of the article is, “Militarizing Campuses Won’t Stop Protest.” Now, you’ll notice the claim here, militarizing campuses. What does that mean? It means calling in the police after people are breaking glass, breaking into buildings and endangering public safety. That’s now described as militarizing. It’s being held up as if that’s the equivalent of calling in the National Guard in 1968. That is manifest moral nonsense. But you just need to note those who are pushing their own cultural agenda in the midst of this are going to use this to the max. These students are going to be presented as martyrs to American militarization.

Columbia’s administration did call in the New York City police, and clearly the police had been preparing for this, but Pequeño’s article makes a crucial turn with these words, “Nothing will escalate a situation more than introducing police in riot gear with zip ties at the ready. Nonviolent protest does not need to be met with weaponry.” She continued, “I don’t know why university administrations continue to act as if this will accomplish something, considering that there have been so many times before this where it hasn’t.” Well, let’s just say number one, not recently. And number two, let’s look again at how this columnist is framing the story. Listen to this, “The Columbia administration’s response harks back to its actions in 1968 during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, when the New York City Police Department, NYPD, arrested and violently removed more than 700 protesters who had seized university buildings and temporarily took a dean hostage.”

Yeah, she admits all that. Then this, “The university eventually ceded to the demands and severed ties with the Pentagon Institute, but it did not change what these students endured to get their message across.” What these students endured? They were arrested for patently illegal activity, including stealing a building that was not their own in the name of this protest and doing damage in the process. We are just looking here at how the cultural left is going to try to present this entire situation, noble students fighting for a noble cause and again, no one’s talking about how this happened. This is not an organic protest. It didn’t all of a sudden just erupt on Columbia’s lawn. It goes back to arguments, including pro-Hamas arguments that were made as early as the 8th and 9th of October, right after the October 7th attack, and it comes from arguments that are animated by, energized by, the academic left right on that campus.

Sara Pequeño also makes this point, and this is intended to be the deliverance of a very strong verdict, “What university administrators across the country need to realize is that time isn’t on their side. History will remember the way school officials called the police on their students.” I think she’s absolutely right. The history will record that people will remember that university authorities called the police, but my guess is the only question of future generations is likely to be, why didn’t you call the police sooner?

Finally, as we must end today’s program, I just want to say you need to watch the fact that these developments are taking place on both coasts, not an accident. That’s the way it was in 1968. Media events become a catalyst for other student organizations, again, driven by some of the very same cultural forces taking some of the same actions. You have imitations of Columbia on the West Coast. You have imitations of University of Southern California taking place in some states in between. But you just need to note that even though the media attention is given to where the noise is, there are deeper issues at stake here, and we need to be constantly looking at those deeper issues because even as the protests will one day go away, the sad thing is those issues and ideologies will not.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at 

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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