Earlier this week, the United Methodists voted to accept the Traditional Plan, maintaining and strengthening their stance against the sexual revolution. This decision likely came as a surprise to many, considering that it goes against the direction America’s mainline Protestant denominations have been taking for some time now. There’s talk about a schism, some liberals fear an SBC-like conservative shift (“fundamentalist takeover” is their preferred terminology). Time will tell.
But, for the moment, it would seem that God has been gracious to the UMC. His instrument in turning them from the brink, or at least slowing their course, would appear to be the sizeable part of their denomination that resides outside the U.S., notably in Africa. I have seen no statistics on the breakdown in the vote itself, but commentators on both sides of the debate appear agreed that the African vote was decisive to the conservative victory.
But, of course, the difference between the conservatives and the liberals was not essentially ethnic, but ethical. The divide was theological, and this became evident in some of the arguments before and responses after the decision.
The conservative position is theocentric–centered on God. They are concerned with obedience to what God says in His Word, with holiness and truth. They care about people, but recognize that celebrating sin doesn’t actually help people, even if it’s what people want you to do. God must be honored and trusted, and the gospel must be proclaimed untarnished.
The liberal position is anthropocentric–centered on humanity. They were concerned about hurting people, which is good, but they let harm be defined by the pagan culture around them. They bought the world’s narrative about human flourishing, informed by the idea that aberrant sexual desires are identity categories analogous to race. They seek to remain relevant in a changing world, but they haven’t learned the lesson of the other mainline denominations: seeking relevance, they traded timeless truth for momentary error, and became almost immediately irrelevant.
The key is that a human-centered theology will not actually lead to human flourishing. Only a God-centered theology will do that. The Creator knows what is best for His creatures. We should trust Him. The African Methodists are helping the American Methodists remember that.