United Methodist News Service

Question as reporters look ahead: How many United Methodists are there? Are all created equal?

Question as reporters look ahead: How many United Methodists are there? Are all created equal?

Anyone who has worked on the religion beat a year or two knows that it is wise for journalists to read church membership totals with one eyebrow raised high. The professionals who work in religious institutions certainly know that membership statistics are estimates, at best.

As we always used to say when I was growing up Southern Baptist; There are towns in Texas where there are more Baptists than there are people.

But there’s no way around it — estimated membership and attendance figures really do matter. This is especially true when they directly affect the polity and governance of a specific religious body.

This brings us — #DUH — to that dramatic United Methodist battle that took place the other day in St. Louis. This was the topic of this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in).

The follow-up coverage, with few exceptions, has focused on the rainbow-draped reactions of United Methodist leaders on the losing side of this special conference — which was charged with finding a way forward after four decades of doctrinal disagreements about marriage, sexuality (LGBTQ grab headlines) and the Bible. Could the UMC as a whole require that its clergy keep the vows they took, in ordination rites, to follow the denomination’s Book of Discipline?

But let’s look at an even more basic and crucial question, one linked to membership statistics. Ready? How many United Methodists are there in the United Methodist Church?

One would think that the official United Methodist News Service would be a solid place to look for that information. A year ago, it published a report online that stated:

The United Methodist Church’s global membership now exceeds 12.5 million.

These membership figures come from the most recent annual conference journals sent to the General Council on Finance and Administration. The vast majority of the journals are from 2016 with some from 2017 or earlier years including one from 2013.

The Rev. Gary Graves, secretary of the General Conference, used these totals in calculating how many delegates each conference sends to the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly in 2020. 

Yes, the word “global” is crucial. The United Methodist Church is a global institution and that reality shapes the structures that govern it.

That brings us to a post-war story in the Washington Post that contains some very interesting — I would say strange — language about church statistics.

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Yes, the United Methodist Church's big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it's something else, too

Yes, the United Methodist Church's big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it's something else, too

Some familiar Godbeat reporters with national audiences are in St. Louis covering the United Methodist Church’s high-stakes meeting on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

Both Emily McFarlan Miller of Religion News Service and Holly Meyer of The Tennessean (which is part of the USA Today’s national network) are on the scene reporting on the crucial developments.

Speaking of which, this is the latest — as I type this post — from the United Methodist News Service:

The Traditional Plan — with some amendments — won approval in the General Conference legislative committee, clearing a major hurdle in The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking body.

The delegates also approved two plans that allow churches, with certain limitations, to leave the denomination with their property.

All the forwarded legislation still faces a vote in the General Conference plenary session on Feb. 26. 

The legislative committee voted for the Traditional Plan, which seeks to strengthen enforcement of the denomination’s homosexuality prohibitions, as amended by 461 to 359.

But while the meeting in the Gateway City is obviously national news, it’s something else, too: It’s a big local story in places such as Atlanta, Cleveland and, of course, St. Louis itself.

Those of us who follow religion news are accustomed to those few regional papers that still have Godbeat pros — such as The Oklahoman, the Oklahoma City paper where Carla Hinton is the longtime religion editor — jumping on stories such as this. Indeed, Hinton had a big Page 1 preview on the Methodist meeting in Sunday’s edition.

However, this story also has generated some attention from metro dailies that don’t follow religion as closely. We mentioned a big story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier this month. And this weekend brought some newsy, informative coverage from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others.

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Hillary's devotionals get into print, but The Daily Mail bails on offering insightful coverage

Hillary's devotionals get into print, but The Daily Mail bails on offering insightful coverage

Some people, after they leave public office, inspire the building of a library. Others go on speaking tours or found charities or serve as statesmen in solving the world’s great problems. And some write devotionals.

We first heard of the latest round of presidential devotional materials when Joshua DuBois penned samples of the morning mix of Scripture, prayers and reflective thoughts he offered President Barack Obama over the years. Jimmy Carter likewise produced one.

So in the spirit of Democrats doing collections of devotionals, we have word of yet another from someone who was almost president: Hillary Clinton, courtesy of a report in The Daily Mail

The article’s lead-in paragraph is particularly clever. Modeled after a popular Judy Blume book it begins:

Are you there God? It's me, Hillary. Clinton is praying EVERY DAY after her defeat by Trump reveals pastor who sends her special prayers about 'being strong' 

We've written before about this pastor here. We then learn:

Hillary Clinton has been reading daily devotionals since losing the election which teach her about 'being strong in the midst of unpredictability', her pastor has revealed.
The Rev Bill Shillady said that the former Democratic Presidential candidate's prayers have been about 'encouragement' as she grapples with her shock defeat to Donald Trump.

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Dallas Morning News advocacy journalism, the prequel

Pardon me, Dallas Morning News. We underestimated you. I’ll explain what I mean in a moment. But first, a little background — OK, it may turn out to be a big chunk of background:

Twice in the last week — here and here — we at GetReligion posted on the Texas newspaper’s advocacy journalism on a retired Methodist pastor conducting a wedding ceremony for two elderly gay men. In each case, we lamented the Morning News’ inability to find anyone to quote supporting the United Methodists’ stance on homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Instead, a newspaper that likes to tout its nine Pulitzer Prizes since 1986 settled each time for a “no comment” from the region’s presiding Methodist bishop.

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