06/03/2014 01:00 pm ET Updated Jul 28, 2014

The UMC Is Not Heading for a Split -- unless 0.00064 Percent Count as the Majority

I greatly appreciate Sarah Pulliam Bailey's recent article "United Methodist Church Faces Schism Over Same-Sex Marriage Doctrine." It is filled with great truth and insight into our current struggles -- but it lacks one thing, the voice of the vast middle. Between the two extremes of the United Methodist Church, there lies the third extreme, via media.

In fact, there is currently a blog providing United Methodists clergy and lay alike a voice in reaching the middle.

But, I want to address specifically the 0.00064 percent of still yet unnamed pastors and laity who have secretly declared that it is time to split. Yes, we know of four names, officially -- although some have stated publicly on this or that forum that they have signed the still yet unseen statement. If you think I mean to imply that this group has done something shady, you're right.

You can see my response here to the initial stories. After due consideration, I want to call attention to some issues as well as make a few predictions.

First, notice that Good News Magazine released the press release and did the story as if the group is separate from them.

Excursus: let me call your attention to what Kevin Carnahan noticed, that the language of the nearly-anonymous group is strangely un, if not anti-, Wesleyan when it comes to the role of Scripture.

Second, I will state that of the 80 pastors said to be a part of this group, we know only a few names. These are the same names -- Maxie Dunnam, Tom Harrison, Charles Savage, Larry Baird -- we have seen passed around before.

Let's break down just how insignificant these numbers really are. They say they have 80 pastors, "representing" five jurisdictions, and 30 annual conferences. There are 133 annual conferences in the United Methodist Church. There are also roughly 12,500,000 members worldwide. Surely these men consulted the worldwide body, even if LGBT inclusion is starting to take hold in Africa.

That means that a very small percentage of the UMC met and decided for the rest of us that schism was the best way forward.

How small?
  • If by total population: 0.00064 percent of the 12,500,000 United Methodists worldwide just called for schism.
  • If by annual conferences "represented:" 22.5 percent of the UMC's worldwide annual conferences were represented. That is roughly 2.5 pastors for each conference they claim to represent.
  • If by jurisdictional conference: 7.3 percent of the 68 jurisdictions were "represented."

Let's put that into numbers Americans can understand. We have a population of 300,000,000 people in our 50 states. For our purposes, the states will take the place of the annual conferences.

  • 1920 people just called for dissolution of the Union.
  • Only 11 states are represented (the connection to the Confederacy is purely a coincidence). That means only about 175 people in each of those 12 states (say one of them is Texas) wants to end the Union. Shoot, say you live Wyoming with its population of almost 600,000. Would you really want 175 unelected representatives deciding in a secret meeting to dissolve the union on your behalf? That also means 37 states weren't "represented."

You see why it is laughable. Further, given that as of now we only have 4 names presented the reality of the situation presents an even greater disparity. These numbers also completely debunk the hopeful few who suggest schism has already occurred. It's like picking the crusties out of your eye and suggesting the body has already died.

If these 80 really did call for the violence of schism, then produce those names. Let those pastors stand by their actions. Let them be counted and let's see who they are. I suspect that either the number is inflated via various creative ways. Further, this is not the first time someone has accused this group of number inflation.


  • Very shortly, we will see the merger of these caucus groups into one umbrella organization. Why? Because, behind whatever reason they are going to tell you, they need the resources... resources that are quickly becoming limited. Further, if one group has 10 members and other 3, then together they have 13...12...11. You get the picture. The reason they will merge is not because they want to, but because they'll have to.
  • The list of pastoral and theological supporters are shrinking, not because the positions are changing, but because the nature of the conversation is no longer about making disciples. Rather, the it is becoming apparent to many that some will stop at nothing short of a schism.
  • The 2016 General Conference will be the highwater mark of the schismatics. After that, there may be attempts, but will not reach the furor we see today.

Why? Because more and more moderates are becoming active and Via Media is once again achieving success. It is causing us to reconsider our Wesleyan variety of orthodoxy and as such, we cannot hold to the fundamentalism, nor to the pluralistic liberality, set before us. We hold to the extreme center. The middle, something Wesley was familiar with, is holding.

In looking at these numbers, I think we've been catfished.

If you want to follow more of my coverage from inside the United Methodist Church, see here.