Methodists and Evolution

I reported some time ago that the United Methodist General Conference had passed some resolutions in support of evolution and opposing teaching faith based ideas in the public school science classroom. There’s a story in the Fort Wayne, Indiana Journal-Gazette about how this happened and the role of a local church member.

I have observed some people trying to get resolutions passed at annual conferences or occasionally at General Conference and the process is somewhat difficult and I know that the individuals involved put a lot of work into the process. It’s nice to see people willing to be that involved. I do note that it seems that resolutions from general conference have little weight in practice.

I would say that in the four congregations of which I have been a member, for example, the social principles only played a noticeable role in the most recent, and even there many members would probably be surprised to learn that there are social principles. (For non-UM folks, let me note that the social principles are only one area in the Methodist discipline which I’m using as an example, not the full statement of our doctrine and polity.)

Perhaps it would be a good idea for Methodist pastors, teachers, and church leaders to refer to the social principles and other portions of the Discipline and Resolutions even when we don’t particularly like what they say, as will inevitably happen.

Two early experiences of mine in the United Methodist Church come to mind. First, after I had read the relevant portions of the United Methodist Discipline prior to joining my first Methodist congregation, I asked the pastor about the social principles. I pointed out certain ones with which I could not agree. “Oh, the social principles,” he said, “we don’t really pay that much attention to those here.”

The second was teaching in the same church, when I was asked to teach about the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian Perfection. I was raised Seventh-day Adventist, and SDAs have a substantial bit of Wesleyan in background and doctrine, so I was acquainted with Wesleyan theology. I looked up what we had in the Discipline, and included it on slides for the class. I found that of those attending (perhaps 40 or so), only the pastor and I were aware that there was such a thing as the doctrine of Christian perfection.

It’s the Methodist doctrinal position with which I am probably least comfortable, but I would have thought more people would be aware of it. My guess is that pastors know their members are not comfortable with “perfection” in just about any form and just prefer to let that one slide.

And just to get back to the topic in the title, I suspect evolution comes under the same heading. Why get into the debate if you don’t have to?

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