Liberal views on sexuality that have influenced the United Methodist Church for decades are being challenged from a growing influence outside the United States.
The rapid growth of the UMC in Africa has increased the world numbers of a denomination that is otherwise dwindling, says Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion & Democracy.
And that growing influence has also challenged the liberal denomination's evolving views on sexuality, preventing the UMC from changing its official stance that biblical marriage is one man and one woman.
"Even many sexual liberals in the church," says Tooley, "have acknowledged they do not in the future ever expect to have the numbers legislatively to change church law, which is currently biblical in its understanding of marriage and sexuality."
Those same "sexual liberals," he says, also know that the denomination is growing in Africa and will continue to grow, leaving the liberals unsure about the future of the denomination.
A special-called general conference is set for 2019 and the regular general conference is set for 2020.
UMC membership is currently approximately 12.5 million, which reflects decline in the U.S. while it's growing globally, a Christian Post story, citing 2016 UMC data, reported in a Feb. 1 story.
The story said delegates to the 2020 General Conference will include 32 percent from Africa, the second-highest number after 55.9 percent from the U.S.
Those same African leaders released a statement in 2015 condemning the UMC for "grossly ignoring" the Bible and the Book of Discipline "in favor of social and cultural practices."
Meanwhile, says Tooley, some UMC liberals are practicing disobedience of church law while others are acknowledging for the first time the deep division within the UMC.
There is also an ongoing conversation about a "facilitated departure" for UMC members who won't abide by the church's laws, an action that Tooley supports and wants to see at a future conference.