UMC's great divide: Identity politics vs. salvation

Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Michael F. Haverluck (

UMC splitThe pending split in the United Methodist Church will pit a focus on social justice and "LGBTQ rights" against a concentration on saving the lost – so says a leading United Methodist theologian.

"[The UMC denomination will choose between] a version of Christianity where the primary focus of missions will be on so-called social justice and to identity politics – versus a church where the focus will be on the salvation of souls," declared Dr. William Abraham, who is retiring from United Methodist Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.

Abraham is preparing for his new position at Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Seminary, where he will be starting the Wesley House of Studies program.

So long, social gospel …

Juicy Ecumenism, the official blog site of The Institute on Religion & Democracy, cites Abraham's parting address from SMU, titled "In the Departure Lounge: Choose This Day Whom You Shall Serve." In his address, Abraham brought up his thesis that analyzed the major disagreements between the progressive side of the upcoming UMC split and the biblical traditionalist side – a division that will follow the implementation of the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation.

One of the major topics discussed in the Protocol, which outlines the reasoning behind the denominational split, is the participation of LGBTQ individuals in the church. In his address, Abraham took the time to outline the five major disconnects between the continuing side and the reformed side – defending the latter's argument.

As the left continues to label those not on board with its progressive agenda as bigots and haters, Abraham stressed how the UMC can no longer sweep the issues of pluralism and sexual morality under the rug. Those issues, he argued, undermine the values set out in the Wesleyan tradition, including (according to Juicy Ecumenism's Carolina Lumetta) "the use of rhetoric and persuasion, a unified structure of teachings and practices in the UMC, and the approach to missions and evangelism."

"I'm not convinced that the continuing UMC will be Christian in this sense because they have neither the will nor the underlying theological rationale to engage in effective forms of evangelism," Abraham contended.

Lumetta notes from Abraham's discourse how the UMC's split precludes the left from carrying out the Great Commission (found in Matthew 28:19–20) that Jesus Christ called His Church to carry out.

"Abraham sees the continuing UMC tradition veering too far from disciple-making by being controlled by identity politics, unreasonable persuasion methods, and an overemphasis on social justice," Lumetta explains.

"In contrast to this 'ill thought-out and suffocating' environment, he said that new Methodism will be in a better position to continue engaging in relief work, charitable efforts, racial issues and issues of injustice in a more strategically wise and doctrinally strong manner."

The choice: Shift toward or away from God

Abraham made his case that Methodism must unite under Wesley's standards – especially in regards to marriage and sexual morality.

"Abraham said that pluralism is a weak, 'stop-gap arrangement,' that would be unsustainable and lead to a faction overtaking the entire denomination [calling for] a decision from a denominational level, and then also from an individual level," Lumetta's blog reports. "Churches must choose for themselves whether to remain within the traditional UMC with evolving doctrines regarding sexuality or whether to separate into a new Methodist tradition which aligns more closely to Wesleyan doctrine."

Abraham insisted that Wesleyan principles grounded in critical thought and civil dialogue are no longer embraced by the continuing UMC contingent, which does not align itself with Scripture. The result, he stated, is a creation of divisions within the denomination and in society when it comes to the topics of sex, morality and marriage – core issues that could determine the survival of the Christian faith as we know it.

"Christianity is on the line in the West – I used to think that was just true of Europe, but I was naïve about the situation in the United States," Abraham warned. "The divisions taking place are over what we consider to be a robust version of Christianity versus an updated and revisionist account of Scripture."

He assured that even though separation pains are sure to come, the new Methodism will live on to carry out Wesley's tradition of adhering to the Scriptures once the Protocols are enforced.

"The choice is clear: will we remain in continuity with Wesley's Methodism?" Abraham posed. "Do we want to have crosses in our churches or rainbow crosses?"


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