It turns out, The United Methodist Church is basically Traditionalist/Evangelical

The United Methodist Church, though often described as progressive, or Mainline Protestant, is actually an evangelical and traditionalist denomination on the whole.*
That is the inescapable conclusion that we can now draw, not only from the recent General Conference's decision to endorse the "Traditional Plan" as the way forward through disagreements on sexuality, but also from a Nationwide survey conducted earlier this year by United Methodist Communications.

This survey is quite significant, and you can read the entire article that I'll be referring to on the UMC's official website HERE.

First we must note that The United Methodist Church is a world-wide denomination and this survey was a survey only of American Methodists.
Any attentive observer of trends in the UMC is aware that overseas Conferences are overwhelmingly conservative, traditionalist, and orthodox (and, in some cases, charismatic as well).
Furthermore the Church is now almost evenly divided between American Methodists and International Methodists.  This would mean that if even a small minority of American Methodists were traditionalists or conservatives, that would still mean that the world-wide church was mostly traditionalist.

But, as it turns out, however, the new study of American Methodists reveals that there are far more self-identified Traditionalists/Conservatives than there are Progressives/Liberals in the American Church.

Here is how it breaks down according to the article linked above:
Of those contacted, 
44 percent identified themselves as conservative/traditionalist in religious beliefs
28 percent as moderate/centrist
20 percent as progressive/liberal

Many will immediately be wondering what are the "political" ramifications (which is itself a sad commentary on how much fighting we've been doing).

Conservatives and Traditionalists are, far and away, the largest group.  This runs counter to the common narrative (often repeated in the run-up to the recent General Conference) that Centrists form the large majority of the UMC in America.  Rather it is likely that, when it comes to any particular moral or theological question or dispute, a majority of United Methodists in America would tend to line up behind the more traditional understanding.
Even supposing that you took the 28 percent that self-identify as Moderate and split them 50/50 between aligning with Traditionalists and aligning with Liberals on any particular issue, a significant majority of the American church (to say nothing of the Central Conferences overseas) would lean conservative/traditionalist.

Now, you might say, "Well, we should add all the Moderates together with all the Liberals, to see where the majority of the American church really is."  However, what the study actually found is that those who self-identified as Moderates tended to be closer to Traditionalists than they were to Progressives:
"The self-identified moderates generally ended between conservatives and liberals in the results for specific questions.  But often they were closer to the conservative position." 

This also raises the question about representation at General Conference.  I saw many progressives on social media saying that upwards 60% of American delegates to the recent General Conference voted for the One Church Plan, rather than the Traditional plan.  I think it is very possible that a few Conservatives actually did so as well, choosing institutional unity over their preferred theological understanding.
Nevertheless, if it is really the case that almost 2/3 of American GC delegates were Liberals/Progressives, then this would suggest that American Traditionalists are greatly under-represented at the General Conference level.

What about are the ramifications for the theological character of the Church?  On the whole, for those of us who are concerned with upholding and proclaiming the classic Biblical faith - the faith of the 'one holy catholic and apostolic church' - in United Methodism, the survey findings are very encouraging.

"The survey dug into United Methodists' views on various theology-related subjects, including the Bible, Jesus, salvation, the Resurrection, and the afterlife...
On some matters there was broad agreement.  For example, large majorities of all three self-identifying groups believe in Jesus' birth from a virgin,  his crucifixion in order to reconcile humans to God, and his resurrection in bodily form.  By big margins, conservatives, moderates, and liberals understand God as creator of heaven and earth and believe God's grace is available to all..."

So on the matters of basic theological orthodoxy, as articulated in the Apostles' Creed (for example), the vast majority of American Methodists are basically orthodox.  This is great news for the future health of the Church!

On the other hand, there was significant disagreement over the doctrine of Hell:
"But only 50 percent of liberals believe in a literal Hell, compared to 82 percent of conservatives and 70 percent of moderates..."

I do wonder if the phrase 'literal Hell' might have been a hindrance to some, and if a different phrase (like "an actual hell" or "eternal separation from God") would have yielded slightly higher numbers.
Nevertheless, we are pretty firm on our belief that Jesus really is the only Savior, and the only way to the Father:
"An overwhelming majority of conservatives, 86 percent, said a relationship with Jesus is the only way to salvation.  64 percent of moderates agreed with that and 54 percent of liberals did."

Again I'm pleasantly surprised to find that the numbers are this high (even among liberals) for this decisive orthodox and evangelical doctrine.

Finally, "The survey showed that women are more likely than men to hold liberal/progressive views and that church attendance is strongest by conservatives." 

Many have bemoaned the lack of involvement in the church by men, which has been a long-standing problem (even Karl Marx noted this almost 200 years ago).  But this survey would suggest that moving the church further in a liberal direction, if it did anything, would actually exacerbate the problem.

Because of the way Traditionalists interpret the Bible and understand its authority (including the 10 Commandments), I'm not surprised to find that conservatives are strongest in church attendance; I would also not be surprised to find that (because of their more traditional interpretations of the Bible) they are also more likely to give 10% of their income to the church, but apparently that question was not included.
It would indeed be interesting to see another survey that follows up by asking about the spiritual disciplines and practices of all these people, and seeing how that may (or may not) correspond to their self-described religious beliefs.

United Methodism is a big and diverse denomination, and I think (and hope) it always will be a place where everyone is welcomed and embraced (as is certainly appropriate for a world-wide Church); but we clearly do have a theological identity and the evidence shows that, on the whole, the UMC is a theologically traditional and orthodox denomination as well being diverse - both in the USA and, even more so, across the world.


*I always feel the need to note that by Traditionalist and Evangelical, we do not mean Fundamentalist in the usual sense that word is now used.  The average Evangelical United Methodist will be open to things like Ecumenism or the Ordination of Women etc. things which are generally rejected out of hand by Fundamentalists.

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