Institute on Religion and Democracy
May 17, 2000
The recently concluded General Conference of the United Methodist Church was notable not just for its reaffirmation of traditional sexual morality, noted Mark Tooley, who directs the IRD's United Methodist (UMAction) committee. He observed that the governing body of America's third largest religious body also adopted more conservative positions on some social, political and theological issues.
Especially significant was the General Conference's decisive opposition to partial-birth abortion. Almost 70 percent of the voting delegates stated their disapproval of the late-term abortion procedure. Until now, United Methodist agencies have without exception opposed any and all legal restrictions on abortion, including any restriction on partial-birth abortions.
Also passed easily was an addition to the church's Social Principles insisting that the "state should not prohibit the free exercise of voluntary prayer in public schools or at other public occasions." United Methodist agencies have traditionally aligned themselves with political coalitions opposing school prayer initiatives.
Likewise, the General Conference made a significant change to the church's position on war. Previously, the church's Social Principles flatly condemned war as incompatible with Christianity. The new statement acknowledges that "most Christians" believe war is justified in some circumstances, including cases of "unchecked aggression, tyranny and genocide." United Methodist agencies have in the past routinely opposed almost all U.S. military actions.
Significantly, over 30 percent of the voting delegates voted to eliminate altogether the Board of Church and Society, which is the denomination's very controversial and very liberal political lobby office.
Theologically, the General Conference was also more conservative. It approved an addition to the church's Discipline declaring that Jesus Christ is the "Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of all."
"This General Conference marked a potentially major shift in the direction of the United Methodist Church," Tooley observed. "The silent majority of the church, which is moderate to conservative, is beginning to be heard. We expect this trend to continue. And we will be watching to see whether denominational agencies follow the new directions set by the General Conference."
The successful proposals regarding school prayer and Christ's role as Savior were submitted by leaders of UMAction. The final statement on war was based jointly (and perhaps ironically) on petitions from UMAction executive director Mark Tooley and from the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, the pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, DC.