Trite efforts at humor aside, The United Methodist Church took steps in 2019 to become an “untied” church after little more than fifty years of existence. Different sorts of explanations have been offered for a possible disintegration. This is an essay about an overlooked element in the story—the deterioration and the neglect of theology. In blending thematic and chronological elements, this essay seeks to identify and repair that deficiency within a revised narrative that examines a long, tragic process toward a break.
Any attempt to discuss a twenty-first century schism in The United Methodist Church has to give serious attention to the ways the church has separated itself from the theological basis on which the denomination is built. Factions of the divided church have advocated their own theological perspectives. But this essay explores how The United Methodist Church has suffered from an absence of serious attention to its own Doctrinal Standards, doctrinal definitions, and theological methods. The issues are not about points of view represented by conservative or progressive brands of theology but about official doctrine.
A schism in the organizational unity of the denomination will cause damage of many kinds to missional, institutional, and personal relationships. But a separation from its identity as a church founded upon Wesleyan theological standards and doctrines has already damaged—and will further damage—the soul of Methodism.
Parts of ecclesial bodies get untied from one another periodically, as Christian history shows. But this denomination has untied itself from its own theological basis. That is the story this essay strives to tell.