The global 12 million member United Methodist Church, now likely the world’s 9th largest communion, is no longer a predominantly liberal U.S. denomination. Its quadrennial governing General Conference, which met for 10 days in Tampa ending May 4, refused to alter the church’s official disapproval of homosexual practice.
Some news stories huffed disapproval and surprise. After all, the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), and United Church of Christ have all surrendered to American culture on sexual ethics. Their membership spirals subsequently accelerated into formal schisms. But United Methodism, unlike these other historic denominations that once dominated American religion and liberalized in the early 20th century, is now a growing church and has a record number of members.
Unlike the other traditionally liberal-led Mainline denominations, United Methodism is fully global in membership. (The 2 million member Episcopal Church of the U.S. does include the small churches of Latin America, Europe and Taiwan but is still 90 percent U.S. persons.) There are 7.5 million United Methodists in the U.S. and 4.5 million overseas, almost all in Africa, mostly in the Congo. With the U.S. church losing about 100,000 members a year (down from 11 million 44 years ago) and the African church gaining over 200,000 a year, the denomination likely will become a majority non-U.S. church in about 10 years or less.