Disunited Methodists

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The wonderful Katherine Kersten of the Star—Tribune in Minnesota covers the decline of the United Methodist Church in Minnesota, as it increasingly devotes itself to left wing activism. This is territory covered for us by Matt May, with reference to another Upper Midwest state beginning with M: Michigan. Ms Kersten writes:

Clearly, Methodist Church leaders are an energetic lot. Why, then, is United Methodist membership heading south? Here in Minnesota, church membership fell from 121,000 in 1980 to 95,000 in 2000, according to the Atlanta—based Glenmary Research Center. Minnesota Methodists reported 86,000 members in 2004. [....]

Why the sagging Methodist numbers? Perhaps many folks in the pews don't share their leadership's left—wing political agenda. Today, the average United Methodist would probably be uneasy about gutting America's defense budget when Iran is on the fast track to building nuclear weapons.

But there may be a deeper answer. Most people —— whatever their politics —— don't flock to churches, synagogues and mosques to find outlets for political and social activism. Instead, they seek answers to life's most profound questions: What is the purpose of my life? What is the meaning of my suffering? What is my connection to the transcendent, to God?

If rank—and—file church members believe their leaders attend too little to these eternal questions, and focus too much on political advocacy, they may look elsewhere for spiritual nourishment.

I think she is almost unquestionably correct. She also mentions in passing, the Presbyterian Church USA, whose descent into alliance with anti—Semitic terror groups was ably covered this past weekend by Diana Appelbaum here.

As the so—called mainline denominations become lobbying groups for social activists, congregations of many faiths spring up and thrive based on their spiritual energy. The transition is well—along, and the religious map of the United States will be permanently different as the years go by. I feel bad for all the people who grew up in these faiths and now find them perverted into political groups.

Hat tip: Matt May

Thomas Lifson   6 05 06

Update: A reader writes:

The last time I drove across the small towns of  Northern Minnesota, which was about eight years ago,  I noticed what seemed to me to be a major social change.  My family had always vacationed in the North woods and because of our mixed religious heritage,  we noted with keen interest the churches in the nearby small towns as we computed how much time to allow for the drive from whatever resort we were at to the various Sunday services. ( My mom and I attended Catholic mass, my father, half brother and paternal grandparents were old fashioned Presbyterians, while my mother's father's side of the family were devoutly Lutheran.)   After a 20 year absence from places like Royalton, Little Falls, Brainerd, Nisswa etc. it seemed to me many of the Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal and United Church of Christ congregations were gone.  In their place I saw signs for the likes of the Church of the Nazarene, Pentecostals and unaffiliated evangelicals.   I hadn't recalled those denominations being around in my youth. 
 
Since the population of those towns certainly hadn't shifted all that much, I figured the residents had simply gotten fed up with the available supply of newly minted liberal activist ministers provided by the seminaries of the so—called mainline denominations and had started looking elsewhere for their spiritual advisors.
 
The article didn't talk about the distribution of that steep membership decline, but my observation makes me suspect there has been a disproportionate loss of entire congregations in the smaller cities and towns. 

The wonderful Katherine Kersten of the Star—Tribune in Minnesota covers the decline of the United Methodist Church in Minnesota, as it increasingly devotes itself to left wing activism. This is territory covered for us by Matt May, with reference to another Upper Midwest state beginning with M: Michigan. Ms Kersten writes:

Clearly, Methodist Church leaders are an energetic lot. Why, then, is United Methodist membership heading south? Here in Minnesota, church membership fell from 121,000 in 1980 to 95,000 in 2000, according to the Atlanta—based Glenmary Research Center. Minnesota Methodists reported 86,000 members in 2004. [....]

Why the sagging Methodist numbers? Perhaps many folks in the pews don't share their leadership's left—wing political agenda. Today, the average United Methodist would probably be uneasy about gutting America's defense budget when Iran is on the fast track to building nuclear weapons.

But there may be a deeper answer. Most people —— whatever their politics —— don't flock to churches, synagogues and mosques to find outlets for political and social activism. Instead, they seek answers to life's most profound questions: What is the purpose of my life? What is the meaning of my suffering? What is my connection to the transcendent, to God?

If rank—and—file church members believe their leaders attend too little to these eternal questions, and focus too much on political advocacy, they may look elsewhere for spiritual nourishment.

I think she is almost unquestionably correct. She also mentions in passing, the Presbyterian Church USA, whose descent into alliance with anti—Semitic terror groups was ably covered this past weekend by Diana Appelbaum here.

As the so—called mainline denominations become lobbying groups for social activists, congregations of many faiths spring up and thrive based on their spiritual energy. The transition is well—along, and the religious map of the United States will be permanently different as the years go by. I feel bad for all the people who grew up in these faiths and now find them perverted into political groups.

Hat tip: Matt May

Thomas Lifson   6 05 06

Update: A reader writes:

The last time I drove across the small towns of  Northern Minnesota, which was about eight years ago,  I noticed what seemed to me to be a major social change.  My family had always vacationed in the North woods and because of our mixed religious heritage,  we noted with keen interest the churches in the nearby small towns as we computed how much time to allow for the drive from whatever resort we were at to the various Sunday services. ( My mom and I attended Catholic mass, my father, half brother and paternal grandparents were old fashioned Presbyterians, while my mother's father's side of the family were devoutly Lutheran.)   After a 20 year absence from places like Royalton, Little Falls, Brainerd, Nisswa etc. it seemed to me many of the Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal and United Church of Christ congregations were gone.  In their place I saw signs for the likes of the Church of the Nazarene, Pentecostals and unaffiliated evangelicals.   I hadn't recalled those denominations being around in my youth. 
 
Since the population of those towns certainly hadn't shifted all that much, I figured the residents had simply gotten fed up with the available supply of newly minted liberal activist ministers provided by the seminaries of the so—called mainline denominations and had started looking elsewhere for their spiritual advisors.
 
The article didn't talk about the distribution of that steep membership decline, but my observation makes me suspect there has been a disproportionate loss of entire congregations in the smaller cities and towns.