- Second-largest Protestant denomination in America
- Seeks to promote “the transformation of the world” in the quest for “justice and liberty”
- Views United States as an inherently racist society where “white privilege” is rampant
- Affirms the right of all immigrants—regardless of their legal status—to enjoy “equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, health care, education, and freedom from social discrimination”
The history of the United Methodist Church can be traced back to 1729, when the Anglican theologian John Wesley (1703–1791) and his brother Charles (1707–1788) founded the evangelical movement known as Methodism. In 1784, one branch of this movement became organized as the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. By the early 20th century, U.S. Methodism had developed several factions which eventually united in 1939 to become the Methodist Church. In turn, the Methodist Church in 1968 merged with the Church of the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Association to form the United Methodist Church (UMC). For an in-depth account of UMC’s history, click here.
At its inception, UMC had approximately 11 million members. Since then, its constituency in Europe and the U.S. has declined significantly, while rising markedly in Africa and Asia. Now the second-largest Protestant denomination in America, the Church’s worldwide membership today stands at about 12.5 million people.
Encouraging believers to do everything in their power to promote “the transformation of the world,” UMC exhorts Christians to “tak[e] an active stance in society” rather than “just be observers” of mankind’s quest for “justice and liberty.” High on its list of priorities is a devotion to radical environmentalism. On the premise that “God has granted us stewardship of creation,” the Church implores mankind to address the damage that “economic, political, social, and technological developments” in “industrialized societies” have done to the earth—in the form of “regional defoliation,” “dramatic extinction of species,” “massive human suffering,” “overpopulation,” “misuse and overconsumption of natural and nonrenewable resources,” and “corporate exploitation” of wildlife and their ecosystems. “Rampant industrialization” and overreliance on fossil fuels, adds UMC, have caused a dangerous buildup of “greenhouse-gas” emissions that “threaten to alter dramatically the earth’s climate for generations to come”—with adverse impacts that “disproportionately affect individuals and nations least responsible for the emissions.”
To address this injustice, UMC supports not only government measures mandating reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States, but also compensatory transfers of wealth by which prosperous nations “maximize the political, social, and economic self-determination of other nations rather than to further their own special interests.” Such “efforts to develop a more just international economic order,” says UMC, would ensure that “the limited resources of the earth will be used to the maximum benefit of all nations and peoples.”
Viewing America as an inherently racist society, UMC laments that “historical and institutional racism provide support for white privilege, and white people, as a result of the color of their skin, are granted privileges and benefits that are unfairly denied persons of color.” Thus the Church heartily endorses “compensatory programs” like affirmative action to “redress long-standing, systemic social deprivation of certain racial and ethnic groups.”
On the premise that “as Christians and United Methodists we are called to love the stranger in our midst and to treat that stranger as we would our own family,” UMC affirms the right of all immigrants—regardless of their legal status—to enjoy “equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, health care, education, and freedom from social discrimination.” By UMC’s telling, America “benefits and prospers” as a result of the labor of immigrants who “enter the United States without permission,” yet “denies many of them basic rights like fair wages, health benefits, the opportunity to be with their families, and social services.”
“Undocumented” immigrants, says UMC, face epidemic levels of “racial profiling and intolerance toward Latino/Hispanic Cultures”—and thus are constantly plagued by “fear and anguish” at the prospect of “federal raids, indefinite detention, and deportations which tear apart families and create an atmosphere of panic.” Their illegal entry to the U.S., the Church elaborates, can actually be blamed on American economic policies that have had ill effects on the migrants’ homelands, consequently forcing millions of them to seek relief elsewhere—only to be “denied legal entry to the U.S. due to quotas and race and class barriers.” To address the problem, UMC advocates the passage of a “comprehensive immigration reform bill” providing “a reasonable path towards citizenship.”
By UMC’s calculus, “poverty most often has systemic causes” that are rooted in societal inequities, thus the poor are not “morally responsible for their economic state.” To alleviate poverty, the Methodist Church advocates policies whereby government provides the needy with “adequate income maintenance, quality education, decent housing, job training, meaningful employment opportunities, [and] adequate medical and hospital care.” (Calling it “a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care”—including abortion services—UMC was a strong backer of the Obamacare legislation in 2009-10. “Like police and fire protection,” says the Church, “health care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and [to] directly fund the provider entities.”)
According to UMC, poverty could also be reduced substantially if more workers were unionized. Under the auspices of Labor in the Pulpits, Methodist clerics have composed guidelines for sermons and church-bulletin inserts with pro-union messages.
Deploring “the selfish spirit that often pervades our economic life” under capitalism, UMC maintains that “every person has the right to a job at a living wage,” and that “where the private sector cannot or does not provide jobs for all who seek and need them, it is the responsibility of government to provide for the creation of such jobs.”
UMC also favors measures that would “reduce the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few” while revising tax laws that currently “benefit the wealthy at the expense of other persons.” Private ownership of property, it says, should be “limited by the overriding needs of society.”
UMC believes that violent crime is generally a result of unjust “social conditions” rather than the characterological defects of offenders. Thus the Church aims to replace retributive justice systems (e.g., incarceration) with “restorative justice” that “seeks to hold the offender accountable to the victimized person … to repair the damage, right the wrong, and bring healing to all involved.”
Reasoning that “all human life is sacred and created by God,” UMC rejects the death penalty outright because “the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person’s life ends”—thereby “den[ying] the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings.”
With regard to international conflicts, UMC unwaveringly “reject[s]” war “as an instrument of national foreign policy” because it is “incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ.” The Church contends that in order to fulfill Christ’s call to “love our enemies” and “serve as reconcilers of conflict,” “the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped.” Toward that end, UMC advocates “general and complete disarmament.”
- In 1986, UMC’s Council of Bishops endorsed the Soviet-sponsored nuclear freeze movement, renouncing nuclear deterrence, opposing missile defense, and espousing Carl Sagan’s spurious “nuclear winter” theory. In so doing, the Council derided Christians who believed in resisting Soviet nuclear superiority for their “idolatrous loyalties to special interests and ideologies.”
- In the wake of 9/11, the UMC bishops declined to condemn al Qaeda or the Taliban, preferring only to seek “solidarity with victimized peoples throughout the world” and to intone that “violence in all of its forms and expressions is contrary to God’s purpose for the world.”
- On four occasions during 2003-09, UMC’s bishops denounced American military actions in Iraq—without ever expressing any special concern about Saddam Hussein’s mass murders or epic torture prisons. In November 2009, with Iraq relatively subdued, 79 United Methodist Bishops declared that “there is no path to military victory in Afghanistan” and urged President Obama “to set a timetable for the withdrawal of all coalition forces by the end of 2010.” Moreover, the bishops called for American military expenditures to be rerouted to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals in health care.
UMC has long been quite hostile toward Israel. Early in the summer of 2006, for instance, the New York Annual Conference of the UMC commended divestment and boycotts against firms doing business with the Jewish state, so as to prevent them from profiting from Israel’s “illegal and violent activities.” Moreover, a resolution from New York United Methodist stated that the “new” Palestinian leadership—i.e., Hamas, which had recently taken control of the government in Gaza—had brought “some renewal of hope” to the prospect for peace in the region, only to have that hope crushed by Israel’s alleged intransigence.
More than once, UMC has lauded the anti-Israel, Hamas-linked Council on American-Islmic Relations (CAIR). In 2006, UMC’s Rev. John C. Wagner praised CAIR-Ohio “for their credible, gracious and courageous witness to the Muslim experience” in that state. And in 2011, the Central United Methodist Church’s 7th Annual Peace and Justice Banquet presented its “Pastor’s Award” to CAIR-Michigan executive director Dawud Walid, who once accused the FBI of “manufacturing their own terrorism suspects to give the appearance that they’re actually doing something tangible in the so-called ‘War on Terrorism.’”
In January 2013, UMC’s Holy Land Task Force endorsed a “No Blank Check for Israel” march in Washington, DC, where the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace urged the American government to thenceforth make its aid to the Jewish state conditional on the latter’s “compliance with U.S. and international law”—particularly as regards Israel’s “Occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.”
In January 2016, UMC’s investment agency announced that it would no longer invest in Israel’s five leading banks, on grounds that they allegedly failed to meet acceptable standards for sustainable investment.
While critical of Republican presidents in the United States, UMC has warmly embraced more than one authoritarian socialist. Consider the following:
- In 2006 the Church called for the impeachment of President George W. Bush on grounds that he had: “misled this country with manipulated intelligence into a precedent-breaking preemptory war against Iraq”; authorized “illegal secret wiretapping”; “lied about his knowledge of Hurricane Katrina’s threat to the levees of New Orleans”; and “promoted the disappearance of thousands of people into Guantanamo and Abu Gharib prison.” Meanwhile, UMC lauded “several countries in Latin America” for having elected “progressive governments”—like those of socialists Hugo Chavez (Venezuela) and Evo Morales (Bolivia)—“based on Christian values such as shared wealth and helping the poor.” At the same time, the Church condemned past American “subversion” in the region, citing “recent” U.S. actions in Chile, Cuba, Panama, Grenada, Haiti, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. These “subversions,” it should be noted, included American opposition to the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the removal from power of drug lord Manuel Noriega in Panama, and the liberation of Grenada from a hard-line Marxist putsch.
For additional information on UMC, click here.
 One such church-bulletin insert encouraged congregants to boycott Wal-Mart, whose workers are non-unionized, and to instead patronize Costco, a unionized competitor. Another insert urged them to lobby Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it much easier for union leaders to unionize additional workforces.
 There once was a time when some within the Methodist Church raised their voices in support of traditional Christian Just War teaching. A minority report among the Methodist delegates in 1944, for instance, just barely prevailed by asserting: “We are well within the Christian position when we assert the necessity of the use of military forces to resist an aggression which would overthrow every right which is held sacred by civilized men.” Eight years later, the Methodist bishops supported U.S. resistance to what one of them described as the “Russian-planned and dictated invasion of Korea.” But the 1960s erased most remnants of Christian Just War doctrine among the United Methodists.