The United Methodist Church cannot seem to stay out of the news these days — and, given the nature of the news it’s not staying out of, that is not a good thing.
It is facing a dramatic internal split, likely to peak early this summer, as U.S. congregations by the hundreds vote to exit the second-largest Protestant church body in the country for a new, more conservative denomination, the Global Methodist Church. More on that soon.
Twerking for Jesus
But first, the news out of First United Methodist Church of Sherman, Texas, seems emblematic of the denomination’s troubles. The church, located in the Dallas area, hosted a “family-friendly drag show” earlier this month. Pride Prom — a flyer promoting the event read “Pride Prom. Be True to You. Saturday, May 13th, 8–11 PM” — drew kids, drag queens, supporters (a gay Spiderman waving a rainbow flag was one such), “furries,” protesters, and off-duty cops to keep everybody in line.
But, no reason for alarm: this drag show was family-friendly. A California mom, concerned about a “family-friendly” Halloween drag show at a school in Encinitas, California, last October, had a question about that:
What is it about a grown man costumed in a sparkly bra with augmented boobs busting out and wearing a miniskirt barely covering his twerking a** with duct tape on his front while spreading his fish-netted legs as he writhes on the ground, grinding his groin next to a minor, [that is] family-friendly?
Seems like a rhetorical question, but salient nonetheless.
Churches lately have gone all in on these drag shows. A Methodist church in Lincoln, Nebraska, hosted one in April, a “fun and inclusive event that the whole family can enjoy,” according to an advertising post. Earlier this month, a United Church of Christ congregation in New Braunfels, Texas, hosted an “age-appropriate art performance,” as supporters styled it, where three drag queens helped raise funds for at-risk youth in Comal County. A “drag bingo” night last September at a Katy, Texas, church raised money for the church’s Transparency Closet, which, the church’s pastor said, “is for all people, teens, and adults exploring and transitioning.”
Even pastors are donning the metaphorical feathered boa and six-inch heels for the cause. One UMC pastor got himself up in drag for an HBO drag reality show called We’re Here. An associate UMC pastor in Illinois preaches in drag as Miss Penny Cost — à la Pentecost — because, he says, “like in the biblical story, the Holy Spirit is moving in new ways today.” (READ MORE: Methodist Church’s First Drag Queen Pastor: ‘God Is Nothing’)
It’s gotten prevalent enough that the website Juicy Ecumenism posted an advice column: “How to Respond to United Methodist Drag Queens.”
What is going on? Aldo Buttazzoni, of PragerU, explained last week on Fox News:
Every kid has a normal childhood. They have no frame of reference. They have nothing to compare [the drag show] to. So what this really is — the drag shows or the queer literature at public schools — is part of a bigger push to normalize this LGBTQ agenda that is being injected into our kids that is ultimately conditioning them to the left-wing gender ideology that tells kids, “You can switch genders if you go through these gender-altering, life-altering surgeries where you chemically castrate yourself.”
So, normalization. Recruitment. Getting them familiar with the trans life when they’re young. It’s creepy and sick, and coming to a church near you.
Same-sex marriage and gay clergy, and now drag queens in church, get most of the headlines when United Methodist troubles are discussed. And with good reason. Sexuality issues have become the flashpoint in the impending split in the denomination.
When the church body, at a special session of its General Conference in 2019, voted 438–384 to uphold the church’s ban on same-sex marriage and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy, instituted initially in 1972, it set off a resistance movement among liberal Methodists to ignore the church rule and to commission gay clergy and officiate at same-sex weddings anyway. After decades of squabbling, a denominational split looked inevitable. That 2019 conference also instituted a “separation” agreement that allows churches to depart the denomination if they meet certain conditions.
But the internal differences plumb beneath sexual matters to the depths of theological belief. While the correspondence is not infallible, those endorsing the “new sexuality” generally harbor liberal theological beliefs while those maintaining traditional sexual tenets are more conservative.
And among American Methodists, theological divisions are deep, with a large group downgrading the reliability of Scripture and denying the historicity of biblical miracles, including the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
A survey of UMC people found that only 29 percent said Scripture was “the most authoritative source of their personal theology,” as opposed to tradition, personal experience, or reason, while 38 percent believed Jesus “committed sins like other people.” While 70 percent said the primary focus of the church is “saving souls for Jesus Christ,” 30 percent said it should be social justice.
Although it is the liberal group that defies church law and should rightfully come under church discipline, given the dynamics of the church at large, including the present church hierarchy, that is an unlikely outcome. And given the deep theological divisions in the denomination, that temporary church law, passed in 2019, has proved serendipitous to conservative churches, as it permits them to protect their theology while also keeping their property, which the denomination owns, if they approve of their exit by a two-thirds vote and pay a onetime exit fee to the denomination.
With less than a month before that departure window closes, the Methodist church exodus is in full swing.
Methodist insider Mark Tooley reports that, as of “May 18, no less than 3,356 United Methodist congregations were approved for exit. Likely another 1,000 or more are in the queue for exit ratification later this spring.” He breaks down the rush for the denomination doors by region: 52 percent of the UMC congregations in the Houston-area Texas Conference are leaving; the number from the North Alabama Conference also exceeds 50 percent; the Alabama-West Florida Conference is at 36 percent; conferences in North Carolina and eastern Tennessee–western Virginia chime in at 23 and 31 percent, respectively.
And yet, the response from the progressive side, Tooley reports, is denial. “The United Methodist future is grim,” he writes. “But the prelates show no awareness that their own revisionist theology is at fault.”
One bishop called the ongoing schism demonic, with the departing churches bearing the horns and tails. “I’d like to use Scripture to tell you to behave and become better Christians and love each other more,” the bishop said. “For division is of the devil.”
But he is not alone. Tooley said UMC officials lamenting the conservative churches’ departure “blame exiting orthodox Methodists for the rift. Let’s pray their eyes might someday be opened.”
The already-open-eyed orthodox Methodists are charging forward into a new denomination, and seem happy to be doing it.
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