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The Methodist surrender

The UMC lost sight of what it means to be human

Attendees of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church gather outside the Charlotte Convention Center, in Charlotte, N.C. on May 2. Associated Press/Photo by Peter Smith

The Methodist surrender
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Headlines surrounding the United Methodist Church over recent weeks have focused on the denomination’s dramatic changes with regard to homosexuality and gay clergy. For many evangelical Protestants, this is clear evidence of a basic failure to acknowledge the authority of scripture. The basic idea is that once God’s Word no longer holds final authority, traditional sexual codes become hard to justify in an area of rampant moral individualism and eventually fall victim to whatever contemporary social taste dictates.

That narrative contains a lot of truth. But it also fails to see that what happened at the UMC conference was not simply a collapse in sexual morality. That in itself would be bad enough, but it was really only symptomatic of a much deeper theological problem: The UMC has not merely lost sight of what sex is meant to be. It has lost sight of what it means to be human.

Nowhere was this more farcically demonstrated than in the liturgy of virtuous identitarian performances that characterized so many of the delegates as they introduced themselves. All the usual hackneyed suspects were there: gay, straight, cis, bi, queer, Latinx, specified pronouns (including the inevitable they/them applied to individuals) and even the rather honest “very confused” from one rainbow-haired delegate, a statement that might well have acted as the quintessence of the whole. The temptation to mock such nonsense is strong. In our secular age, witnessing a group of professing Christians trying to be on the cutting edge of cultural relevance is a little like watching paunchy middle-aged men trying to cut it on the dancefloor at a hip nightclub. Should one laugh at them or wince with embarrassment for them?

But the seriousness of the situation means that neither laughter nor embarrassment is really an appropriate response. Too much has been sacrificed. For what do all these people have in common? A basic failure to realize two things.

It is tragic that an organization that does not even understand the most basic aspects of biblical anthropology would call itself a church.

First, the gospel relativizes and ultimately demolishes all human categories of division in light of Christ. To quote Paul, in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free. Any attempt to interfere with these by building divisive categories, past or present, is a contradiction of the work of Christ.

Second, such categories are only plausible in a community that has already abandoned the idea that the most basic categories of our existence are our shared humanity and our shared need for redemption. Never mind the fact that some of these categories point in particular to why we need to be redeemed because of their connection to specific sexual rebellion, when any of them are deployed to obscure these basic elements of Christian anthropology, something has already gone horribly wrong: A basic understanding of what it means to be human and why that is significant has been abandoned. It should come as no surprise, then, that such a context can offer no resistance to the sexual revolutionaries who would remake everything, even the gospel, in their own image.

It is tragic that an organization that does not even understand the most basic aspects of biblical anthropology would call itself a church. If you don’t believe in human nature in any final, meaningful way that trumps all human distinctions, then you cannot really believe in the Incarnation. As to being “Methodist” one can only imagine what John Wesley might think of that. I am not a fan of Wesley’s theology, but I suspect I can guess what his pronouns would have been. And what of “united”? Only, it seems in their basic confusion over what it means to be human. Somebody should sue these people for false advertising.

Carl R. Trueman

Carl R. Trueman taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen before moving to the United States in 2001 to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18 he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.  Since 2018, he has served as a professor at Grove City College. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor at First Things. Trueman’s latest book is the bestselling The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He is married with two adult children and is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

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