United Methodism @ Risk: A Wake-Up Call

Review & Commentary

One thought on “United Methodism @ Risk: A Wake-Up Call

  1. Review

    Not only does this book examine the specific groups in the United Methodist Church that attack progressive ideas in the denomination, but it carries implications for other denominations faced with conservative opposition. Howell discusses the groups who spread misleading and inflammatory charges about groups and individuals to United Methodists across the country (p. 4). These groups, according to Howell, seek to herd everyone in the church into its orthodox image.

    Methodism, Howell correctly points out, “has historically been more concerned about living out the Gospel in encounters with the world than in developing and enforcing theological conformity” (p. 7). He is not critical of conservative or evangelical thought in the denomination, but its organized efforts to enforce views on the whole church.

    Much attention is given to the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), created by right-wing secular foundations, first got attention by blasting the National Council of Churches. It opposes environmental initiatives, hate-crimes legislation, government responsibility for the poor, and anti-war activists. In addition to the Methodists, it is also critical of Presbyterian (USA) and Episcopal bodies.

    An unofficial group in Methodism, Good News, attacks the Women’s Division of the church, especially their social justice ministries. Women have led the church in such areas as racial justice, human rights, gender justice, and peacemaking. Good News falsely claims that the women’s group is not fully accountable to the larger church. Good News is pushing for pastors to take reordination vows that meet their doctrinal standard. They demand that all United Methodist seminary, university faculty, and agency personnel be required to “affirm classical theology” (p. 111). Expulsion from the church is possible for those who fail to comply. Another group, the Confessing Churches, deal with controversy not only by smearing faithful United Methodists but by proposing a loyalty oath with a rigid interpretation of Scripture

    The center of Methodism has never been primarily doctrinal. Its tradition is one of openness, flexibility, and breadth of spirit. Doctrine is not a club to coerce compliance, but an indispensable aid in deepening our discipleship (p. 122). Howell adds some suggestions for people who support progressive Christianity. This is a book that should be read not only by Methodists but by anyone concerned with the attempt to keep our churches free and relevant.

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