by Peter Grady —
The head of an “ecumenical alliance of Christians” says moving leftward politically is likely a key reason membership in the United Methodist Church, which was once the largest Protestant denomination in the US, and other mainline denominations continue to decline.
In 2010, membership in the United Methodist Church was a little over 7.5 million, which represents a drop of nearly 109,000 members from the previous year. The drop is reportedly the largest dip since the 1970s. Mark Tooley, president of The Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD) and author of Methodism in the 20th Century, attributes the decay to the church’s position on political issues.
He says as the church began moving left theologically beginning in the early 20th century, particularly in the 1920’s, it also moved left politically. This caused the church to forget the original recipe of success in early America which focused on the proclamation of the gospel, the preaching of salvation and transformation of individual lives.
The Methodist Church was founded by John Wesley, a contemporary and friend of George Whitfield who led over a million souls to Christ in England and America in the 18th Century. At one outdoor meeting, Whitfield preached to over 100,000 people in Cambuslang, Scotland. The term Methodist came because Wesley and his followers formed the “Holy Club” at Oxford and were known to have a methodical strictness in all religious duties.
Methodist preachers went all over England and America, bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the common people. In the early days of America, the Methodist and Baptist circuit-riding preachers went into the frontier to proclaim the gospel while often facing incredible hardships.
One of the most well-known Methodist circuit-riding preachers was Peter Cartwright, who was known for being fearless in his defense of the gospel. One time Cartwright went into a town and was told a local bartender liked beating up Methodist preachers. He felt led to make his first visit in town to the bartender.
No one knows who threw the first punch; all that is known is that the fight stopped when the bartender promised to stop beating up on Methodist preachers.
Tooley points out that contrary to its American counterpart, the Methodist Church in Africa, which still clings to the Bible has grown considerably.
Similar issues are facing other denominations, notably the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches which have had churches leave the denominations over political and social issues such as same-sex marriage and the ordination of “gay” and lesbians.