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The exodus of the faithful

The United Methodist Church loses more than a million members—in a single day


United Methodist Church of Ivory Coast. Jubilee Temple of Cocody in Abidjan. Wikimedia Commons/Zenman

The exodus of the faithful

How do you lose a million members—in one single day? Last week, in just one vote, the United Methodist Church experienced a massive exodus as a group of African Methodists declared they could abide the UMC’s theological liberalism and moral revolt no longer. Maybe you need to let that sink in for a moment. With that single vote, the Ivory Coast Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church just left the church, taking 1.2 million members and declaring that “the new United Methodist Church which distances itself from the Holy Scriptures is no longer suitable.”

The unprecedented exodus of the faithful from the United Methodist Church is one of the biggest developments in recent church history. In the span of just two years, ending in December 2023, more than 7,000 American congregations left the church. Those congregations included some of the denomination’s largest churches. In just one very important annual conference, nearly 80 percent of the congregations departed, shaking the dust off their feet as they left.

Those churches were finally fed up with the mainline denomination’s refusal to stand by its clear doctrine and discipline on the issue of homosexuality. By the time the schism came, the issues covered the entire LGBTQ waterfront, including same-sex marriage, openly LGBTQ clergy, and a range of related issues. Just last month, what’s left of the UMC met in North Carolina and surrendered to the theological revolutionaries. With the conservative congregations gone, the liberals were entirely in the driver’s seat. Predictably, they drove the denomination off a cliff.

Of course, the theological disaster did not start with homosexuality. It began with theological liberalism and surrender to the spirit of the age. By the time the UMC met last month, speakers lined up to voice their “preferred personal pronouns” and assorted sexual and gender identities. It was like a drama based on Romans chapter 1. They just capitulated to the LBGTQ revolution and cloaked it all as a giant Pride event.

The UMC leadership had to know this was not going to go over well in Africa. At the meeting in May the assembly voted to allow some kind of autonomy on the part of annual conferences (districts of the church), outside the United States. Setting the stage for others to follow, the Methodists in the Ivory Coast decided to exercise the kind of autonomy that told the United Methodist Church to take a hike.

God bless them, they didn’t mince words. The Ivory Coast Annual Conference declared that the United Methodist Church “is not based in any biblical and disciplinary values” and that it “is now based on socio-cultural and contextual values which have consumed its doctrinal and disciplinary integrity.”

The Methodists in the Ivory Coast serve as an example of what biblical faithfulness and gospel witness will require of us.

The new UMC “has preferred to sacrifice its honorability and integrity to honor the LGBT.” And, since it “distances itself from the Holy Scriptures” it is to be repudiated and abandoned.

That is a courageous statement of theological outrage and an accurate depiction of what the United Methodist Church has become. The action was predictable and necessary and the African church stood up for the biblical truths the American church had abandoned. It has happened before.

A generation ago, the same pattern played out in the Anglican Communion. When the Episcopal Church in the United States elected an openly gay bishop and then went on to embrace the entire LGBTQ agenda, conservative national churches in Africa and the larger Global South responded with repudiation. During the most intense period of controversy, after the election of the gay bishop by the Episcopalians, I was seated at a dinner in New York City next to one of the Anglican Communion’s famous African archbishops. We talked about the recent developments and the archbishop said to me, “We have our own temptations, but confusing marriage and endorsing homosexuality is not one of them.”

In a jarring irony, one liberal UMC minister, Rev. Dorothy S. Boulware, celebrated the tidal wave of LGBTQ affirmation by writing a report with the headline: “United Methodists Embrace a Big Tent After Historic LGBTQ Inclusion Vote.” Well, Reverend Dorothy, you are not going to need a big tent after all. For the sake of your “inclusive” theology you now include a few million fewer members. You just lost over a million in a single day.

The Methodists in the Ivory Coast serve as an example of what biblical faithfulness and gospel witness will require of us. To stay in a church that abandons Holy Scripture and surrenders to the spirit of the age is unfaithfulness. To stand for truth is often costly. Thank God, there are still Christians of courage and conviction in this world. May we all learn from them and, in our own churches, emulate their courage.


R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Albert Mohler is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College and editor of WORLD Opinions. He is also the host of The Briefing and Thinking in Public. He is the author of several books, including The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church. He is the seminary’s Centennial Professor of Christian Thought and a minister, having served as pastor and staff minister of several Southern Baptist churches.


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