What It’s Like to Be in a “Liberal” Denomination

Hi, friends. My posts are never controversial, so I wonder if this will be a popular one since the title promises drama. In this post, I’ll share some information about my denomination and feelings on being an object of scorn to some Christians.

How the UMC Is “Liberal”

Posing with two female UMC pastors

I am a member of the United Methodist Church, a global denomination inspired by the teachings/example of John Wesley. The name “Methodist” originates from others taunting Wesley’s discipline with study, confession, etc. Wesley believed in principles like “saved by grace” and “anyone can be saved.” He emphasized personal piety (spiritual growth) and social piety (good works). Read more about Methodist beliefs here.

The reason I call us a “liberal” denomination primarily has to do with who we ordain for ministry. [Sidenote: Plenty of Methodists identify as conservative.] Divorcees, women, and people of color are treated with the same ministerial potential as white men who are unmarried/only married once.

Recent Discord in the UMC

Supporters of full inclusion for LGBTQ persons in the life of The United Methodist Church hold hands in the observer’s area at the 2019 United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis while waiting for vote totals to be displayed. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Over the last few years, the question of whether homosexuals are qualified to serve as clergy members has rocked our denomination to the core. A recent vote in our General Conference determined the answer to that question as “no,” and it’s been a painful time for everyone–Christian homosexuals, their allies, even all those who believe homosexuality is sinful. Whether people agree or disagree with the verdict, we are all feeling damaged by how this issue is ripping our denomination apart.

We are grieving several things–our losing sight of “the main things” (follow Jesus, make disciples, transform the world), irreversibly hurtful words that have been exchanged, and the seemingly inevitable split of a global denomination that spent hundreds of years overcoming racism and other issues to come together under one title–UMC.

Delegates and attendees at the 2019 United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis cross the street to their meeting site in front of conservative activists behind barricades. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

As we seek God’s guidance to move forward despite the intense discord this vote has stirred up, I feel a little disdainful about fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who mock us and deem us all heretics.

My aim in this post is not to justify UMC policies (which would result in a very long article) as much as to discuss the way denominations like mine are scorned by other Christians who believe their theology superior.

Warnings About False Teachers

When Paul spoke of false teachers in his letters, he was mainly referencing people who would not accept the unfathomable concept that Jesus was fully divine and fully human. Said false teachers wanted to dispel that idea by claiming that He was just a human prophet OR He was never really human at all. These perversions of the gospel undercut the very crux of Christianity (God in human form being resurrected and defeating physical death)… hence why declarations of faith like the Apostle’s Creed exist.

I have to wonder if Paul could foresee how brothers and sisters would use these excerpts nowadays to hurl stones at each other over ideas that are far less crucial. Want to de-legitimize a minister, a church, even an entire denomination? Start throwing around verses implying (or explicitly saying) that people are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” because their interpretations vary from your own.

Is Righteous Indignation Christ-like?

I’ve grown wary of Christians who write off other Christians. Here’s a hard pill to swallow: righteous indignation usually stems from pride. Hence, defending the gospel can easily get muddled with gratifying our flesh. The Christ-like way is usually the most difficult, and I think considering, listening to, and even respecting someone we disagree with is tougher than condemning them automatically.

The Rev. Mike Smith (left) visits with Bill on the street near Nighbert United Methodist Church in Logan, W.Va. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

I’ve seen ideas mocked that don’t actually deserve to be mocked–ideas like reading commentaries, considering contexts, and being open-minded. Is it so unimaginable to think that humans, imperfect creatures that we are, could have gotten some things wrong in the past? Is it really so irrelevant that Paul often addressed specific questions and problems in the churches he wrote to?

I don’t always agree with others’ interpretations, but I check my heart to see if I’m allowing resentful feelings towards them to fester, attempting to steer clear of pride. I hope all Christians can learn to extend more grace, even on doctrinal disagreements. We don’t look so different from the rest of the world if we’re throwing stones at each other.

I was going to write about being a woman in ministry, also, but I will table that for another post.

Thanks for reading! Assuming you haven’t already unfollowed me, would you like to have a civil discussion in the comments? If so, drop a line below. πŸ™‚

Food for thought–do we resemble Jesus flipping over tables in the temple or Peter cutting off the soldier’s ear at Jesus’s arrest?

40 comments

  1. A great swathe of United Methodists are liberal, but not all of us. I am a United Methodist and my church is very conservative/evangelical. My pastors attended Asbury Theological Seminary, a conservative United Methodist seminary in Kentucky. We all believe the Bible is literally true and support such conservative causes as adoption and foster care. We even have a pro-life Sunday once a year. My church is part of a network of conservative, evangelical United Methodists under the banner of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. This organization is relatively new — it just started about two years ago.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. As a Methodist myself I am conservative and not liberal. I personally could never marry someone who is marry another of the same sex. I do know that God doesn’t make mistakes and if someone is born a woman or a man that is what they are until they leave this world. I don’t understand it all however I believe everything in the Bible. A man leave his parents and is join with his wife ( a woman). If our world keeps going the way it is with men with men and woman with woman eventually we will do away with mankind as we know it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sure. Say we deal with gender as opposed to sex…what if a person were to ‘fall in love’ or identify say with a tree? Some do with animals already….Does this ever end? I have even seen lawsuits now to declare a natural river as a human being. This is all so very nuts. Believe me though, say if the most horrible were to happen and if Isis or another crazy group as such had them…then the truth would surface for sure and they’d see themselves only as ‘people’ before a mighty God. All of that other nonsense would go by the roadside, and with it all doubt.

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  2. If it makes you feel any better, some of us locally have tried to come alongside Methodists in the midst of the struggles. We did a lovely outdoor worship together, complete with hula dancers and lunch. Another day we had a great time eating popcorn and learning about the Mule Men, Methodists back in the Old West who lived on mules full of pots and pans, and traveled about doing ministry. We’ve come together for communion a couple times. I guess the Methodists here are dippers! We are not dippers, so communion together amid total social awkwardness, all good for the soul.

    There really are some major differences related to doctrine, mostly the push for gay marriage in big parts of the church, so it is not all sunshine and good times in this neck of the woods, but I was really blessed and encouraged a few times last year by some people’s efforts to actually be Christians together in spite of these divisions.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It is great to hear about denominations “crossing lines” to participate in the body of Christ together. Thank you for sharing that, IB! I’ll have to look up those stories about Methodists back in the Old West. I’ve heard about the preachers travelling around on horseback but not about the ones living on mules!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We as Presbyterians have encountered the identical challenges within our church. Whereas I don’t judge those who have differing opinion other than my own: does this spill over to say: lesbians who ‘have’ children? How is this possible? Do those children have any natural rights? You see I find that many, many questions of ethics are opened for questions that are unsettling. It is one thing to oppose an activity, to get along with it and or to downright endorse it. Personally, I defy anyone who thinks they have all the answers on either side. In fact, I just read a piece where a popular theologian disowned a group and even though he was ‘straight’ said they cast him out when they voted against LG & and the rest of the entire alphabet. Sorry, but this is all bull for many people on all sides are indeed confused to include so-called, ‘Straight.’ Don’t believe me, then ask if they accept divorcees or let’s jump on another which is abortion. Heck let’s climb aboard for pediphiles as some now argue that is also genetic. You see, the argument never stops. One can even make a case for psychopaths by today’s approach as we have stripped man of any responsibility for one’s actions. You did a great job approaching a difficult subject(s). No, I don’t disown you. I’m still right there with you as ever. In fact, I wonder now if you are even with me. God Bless you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing your opinion, Tom. I think you are referring to the slippery slope argument–debating the rights of LGBT persons opens the door to many other questions. Interesting to know that Presbyterians have faced similar issues. I am glad you think I did a good job addressing this. I am still with you; I knew you had not posted for a while, but I will check your page for new posts. God bless you as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The only thing that determines if someone is my brother or sister in Christ is if they have come to faith in Jesus as their Savior and trust in him alone.

    I see a difference between women or divorced people being in ministry and someone in LGBT. God worked through women in the bible such as Debra the prophet. As for divorce, it would be about why they are divorced, was the divorce before or after they came to know Jesus. However, LGBT is an issue of how someone is living and the bible is clear about homosexuality. If someone is LGBT, they are most welcome in church, but not as a pastor or teacher.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Matt, I definitely agree with the first statement. I also agree that there is less scriptural backing against women and divorcees than homosexuals, though many would argue that the scriptural backing against women is solid. If God is unchanging, and a woman (Deborah) was given the highest authority to judge between men, why would He suddenly declare that women cannot have authority in the NT? There are other examples, like Esther, Phoebe, etc.

      Defending against the NT verses that say women can’t have authority opens the door to considering individual contexts of letters and the unfair translations of certain terms in certain instances, such as translating a word that refers to a woman as “servant” when that wasn’t the writer’s full implication. That same open door–questioning whether translators and interpreters have ever gotten things wrong–is what enables me to consider the arguments of homosexual Christians.

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      1. There is a difference. There is precedence for women being leaders in the bible. However, for LGBT there is no such precedence. Also sex is limited to between husband and wife in marriage which is clear in scripture. Any sexual behavior outside of marriage between one man and one woman in marriage is sin.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Truth trumps feelings and you (your church) would not “feel damaged” were they to obey the Truth of Gods word regarding Homosexuality as well as any sexual activity outside of marriage . It’s really that simple. Obedience to the truth equals clarity. Now there is nothing but confusion and “feeling damaged “. Well that’s what happens when sin gets a foothold . This pertains to society as a whole NOW , not just your church . And I like you very much and no will not unfollow you πŸ˜‡

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for sharing your opinion, Colleen. Had the question of homosexuals being clergy members not been asked in our denomination, we would not have experienced discord on a large scale, but there are many gay Methodists around the world who were already “feeling damaged” by the church’s attitude against them. I guess it’s up to the individual whether the feelings and stories of devout Christians who happen to be attracted to the same sex matter. They are still children of God, which is why many of us are trying to understand their pain. I appreciate that you like me anyways! πŸ™‚

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  6. These are uncomfortable conversations that lead to difficult decisions. I think it is brave of you to bring these issues up. As a member of a very conservative Christian tradition, I know about the pride that you speak of. It is as if you are an echo chamber and anyone who does not echo back exactly according to those traditions are treated skeptically. Those who are buckled into the echo chamber often have superiority and control issues and it becomes very pharisaical. On the other hand you have those that want to inject their own opinions into matters without subjecting themselves to what Christ has already said about the issues. It can get to the point that the church seeks to please people and not God. So both extremes are harmful to Christianity. These discrepancies are fracturing the Christian community into even more sub-sets and yet, there, is an energy in nondenominationalism that is encouraging.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I like how you explained the extremes, Pam, and I agree that either one can be toxic and, worst of all, lacking God/Jesus/The Holy Spirit. It is important to ask questions and devote ourselves to ministry rather than tradition, but at the same time, Christ still needs to be the head of the body of Christ. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Food for thought: If God created everything, then presumably we are all here for some reason. So what gives any human the right to deny another’s beliefs or existence? Do those people know more than God?

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    1. So what if that belief system were that of Nazism? Do they have that right? Even if we don’t like it, we must limit our ‘freedoms’ as most will infringe on someone else. There simply is no way around it.

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  8. I have always been on the side of what does God have to say about it? I don’t believe my option matters at all when it comes to His words and His laws that’s why I don’t associate with a denomination. There are Christians every where in so many churches and you will know then by what the Bible says is Christianity. I am irritated by the throwing around of words that have nothing to do with what they really mean. I have confronted processing Christians at times for doing suchvthings. The Bible tells us to confront people who claim to be Christians for the church’s sake and their own. It says that iron sharpens iron. We need to go back to what the Word of God says only and stop fighting each other with what WE think it says because it’s a waste of time.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your opinion, J.S. There are some things in the Bible that are straight-forward and many that are not. I’d say it’s straight-forward that we need to believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and was resurrected from the dead by God for us to inherit the kingdom of God. However, a lot of things are not so cut-and-dry because the Bible is a collection of books and letters written by different people at different times for different reasons. Therefore, it so easy to cherry pick, take things out of context, etc.

      For example, there is a verse in one of the Corinthian letters saying that believers might be the reason their non-believing partners get saved. In the other Corinthian letter, Paul writes that believers should not get into marriages where they are unequally yoked. So the question is, is it okay for believers to marry non-believers? How about a believer marrying someone who is Christian but more lukewarm and could maybe be influenced to pursue God more? That is just one of many examples of issues that could be interpreted differently. This is why skeptics say that the Bible contradicts itself. Since everything was written by different people at different times for different reasons, I don’t agree that the Bible contradicts itself; instead, I say that we have to take all the factors into consideration like the big picture, why people might have said certain things in certain situations, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Like I said in everything we must follow what God says and His word. How do we know what God says and what is God’s word? Through the Holy Spirit and seeking answers for our unique walk through prayer as well which we do through the Spirit. When you take out the Spiritual part of this truth this is where confusion comes in on who God is and who we are. The answers to your questions are 1. No it’s not okay to marry an unbeliever despite what those letters says that is actually clear in the old testament words from God Himself. We have to remember that those letters were written by people like us flawed still growing and new to the faith. God’s truths are in them but so are human opinions so we are still yet again to be led by the Spirit to find the real truth not throw out hands up and say well we don’t really know. Scripture always confirms God’s will in our lives and that is the truth. 2 There’s is no such thing as a lukewarm Christian you are either Christian or you are not. All of this is in fact not my opinion it’s in the scripture. God’s word is clearer than people think. But it’s easy to say well let’s see the big picture instead of finding the truth and then living that truth only despite how everyone else feels about it.

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      2. You say that we seek answers through the Holy Spirit. The issue is that three Christians could read a chapter in the Bible and have slightly different understandings, but all three could say, “I prayed about this and the Spirit directed me to this understanding.” I don’t feel confident saying that I’m definitely right and everyone else is definitely wrong because I would be saying that I’m the real Christian and everyone who disagrees with me isn’t. I don’t think we should throw our hands up in the air and give up on understanding; I just think we shouldn’t assume we are always right.

        On the marriage issue, you say that the Old Testament is more valid than Paul’s letters. So you see what I mean that not everything in the Bible perfectly agrees. That is why people can cherry pick.

        Looking at the bigger picture is just a way to consider all scripture together instead of taking things out of context. When I wrote a post about Christians needing to bear good fruit and be involved in the body of Christ, someone commented with the verse from 1 Thessalonians 4:11 about living a quiet life and minding your own business. The person asked why they need to be active in the body of Christ if that verse said that all you need to do is mind your own business. I explained to the person that Paul wrote that because the Thessalonians were new to the faith and being persecuted for it, so he was probably worried about their safety and that they might easily be scared away from Christianity. But if we look at the New Testament as a whole and think about everything Jesus said in the gospels, the Christian community in Acts, Paul’s writings about spiritual gifts meant to build up the body of Christ, etc, we see that we are called to bear good fruit and be involved in the body of Christ.

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      3. The Bible tells you how to discern what is truth and what is not concerning these things. It tells you how to know when the Spirit of God is speaking and when It’s man or another spirit involved. It’s not about one person believing they are always right but standing in God’s truth and not our own. Do you not see that when it comes to God’s word we have nothing to do with it. He is true. He is right not me because what is God’s does not belong to me. And I never said it was more valid but I will say what God Himself says will be what is true not what man says. This isn’t OT vs NT. If God Himself says something is wrong but man says it’s not then God’s word does not contradict itself rather man is wrong but God is right. That is in Romans by the way. Everything I’m saying is biblical and I leave it at that. Thanks for the respectful conversation!

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  9. I love posts like these–especially when approached in the wise manner in which you approached it. We need to have these kinds of discussions in the church at large, IMHO, as that is how we heal from what is now happening– we need to be talking it through!

    And you have given me much food for thought. As a clergy abuse survivor, I believe I have encountered a very real wolf in sheep’s clothing, and have some pretty clear ‘sign posts’ of what to look for in leaders who might not be what they appear. Yet, even in that, the pull toward ‘righteous indignation’ can be a slippery slope, and I do need to be careful not to call ‘wolf’ for behaviors which are not predatory. It is further complicated because human nature is quick to call someone a wolf for a lesser slight but very reluctant to bring suspected or known predatory/abusive actions to light. We really do need God’s help and grace in these matters.

    Thank you for your bravery in this post! I learn so much from your ministry ❀️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Salt. You have raised a point that I should have thought about–abusive clergy. They really are wolves in sheep’s clothing! You also raise a salient point that we are quick to deem the actions/beliefs of others as predatory but very resistant to having our own actions/beliefs questioned. Yes, we really do need God’s grace in these matters. I appreciate your support, dear! β™₯

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  10. Enjoyed reading your post. As always you give food foe thought. I don’t know any human that is perfect! I know of some who think they are but only Jesus Christ was perfect on this earth.

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  11. Great post, Lily. I had read it when you first published it, but wanted to wait to respond until I had more time to do so.

    I went from a very strict Protestant background to finding my home in the Episcopal church. Episcopalian doctrine centers around what is known as the “three legged stool” of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.

    I believe we are the “doubter’s denomination”. Someplace where our God-given ability to question and reason are allowed to co-exist alongside our faith.

    In the last week, I’m sure you’ve seen the news coverage regarding the ICE Raids in my state, ripping families apart, leaving children in the care of strangers. It’s been heartbreaking.

    I haven’t seen the Baptist denomination of my entire childhood, adolescence and early adulthood so much as express sympathy to these families, while the heads of the Methodist, Catholic and Episcopal faiths in Mississippi have joined together to condemn the hateful and inhumane way with which these situations were handled.

    It is in instances like these that I am so thankful to belong to a “liberal” denomination. If that’s what it means to imitate Jesus, paint me as a snowflake any day of the week.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Allison, I was hoping you would comment because I knew you would understand if no one else did. We have the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. It is good to know that Episcopalians consider things in such a similar way! I like this statement– “Someplace where our God-given ability to question and reason are allowed to co-exist alongside our faith.” Exactly.

      I agree with everything else you said. In this instance and others, it is clear to me who is following Jesus and who isn’t. His way wasn’t the most popular or the most economically-beneficial when He walked the Earth, and nothing has changed. Jesus *saw* people–loved them and helped them despite their sins or being outcasts or whatever else. We must try to do the same!

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      1. I’ll have to be honest on the LGBTQ issue, my circle has expanded to include many gay friends, and I recently became aware of the sexual orientation of someone that, if I hadn’t been before, would have absolutely convinced me that these things are not a choice.

        On that issue, there are some things that I can and cannot completely reconcile. But I will say this, I’ve spent more than an average amount of time reading, praying and researching the subject, and here is what I conclude.

        I do not know how to reconcile what the Bible says about homosexuality, but I’ve heard some people make very sound arguments about the contradictions of, and original meanings behind, those texts that would seem to condemn it.

        What I CAN reconcile, and what I believe, in the deepest part of my being, that God cares more about the condition of our hearts than anything else. It is that condition that determines how we treat our fellow man, our own selves, and our relationship with the Divine. I cannot reconcile a God of Love with a God who excludes human beings from his kingdom or his ministry because of how He created them.

        This is why I’m so thankful to be in a denomination that allows for REASON and not simply a literal interpretation of selective scriptures or your soul be damned.

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