Historically speaking, the Methodist tradition has been plagued by trying to contain the theological problem of how to hold Calvinists (followers of John Calvin) like George Whitefield and Arminians (followers of Jacob Arminius) like John Wesley. Charles Wesley tried to gloss over the differences by using language and frames of reference from both in his hymns. But it did not resolve John’s and George’s disagreements over theology. So Whitefield began his exile (my term) of preaching in America and occasionally in the British Isles. Though George died in the colonies, he arranged for John to preach his funeral sermon in England.
The same differences in theology plague us today. I have put together a more expansive statement on this in my personal blog at http://jerryeckert.blogspot.com.
The evangelical fervor which led to the missionary movements in the 18th and 19th centuries and disrupted the settled denominations in Europe and North America (the main complaint was that the religious life and practice of the settled churches was not really Christian as far as the Calvinists were concerned). The Calvinists focused on conversion (being saved from sin) while most other churches emphasized sanctification (becoming more and more like Christ). The Calvinists tend toward believing in inerrancy of the Bible and the rest include other sources of revelation such as reason, experience, and tradition.
In America, United Methodism has tried to hold Arminianism and Calvinism together. There are deep pockets of both, hence there are large swaths of Arminian-type United Methodists, largely in the north and west and Calvinist-type United Methodists largely in the south. In world wide United Methodism, Arminianism prevails in Western Europe and Calvinism tends to influence the mission areas (former colonial areas to Europe) in most of Africa and Asia.
Since 1972, the Calvinists in America serving as United Methodists have taken as their flag the fight against homosexuality. Why that instead of abortion (which was carefully resolved in the 1960s in our Social Principals) or divorce (also resolved back then) or racism (on paper we’re good), is because it was controversial for the first time in the 1960s when a popular Baltimore pastor came out of the closet, throwing the denomination as a whole into an uproar, and then having a civil court stop the denomination from kicking him out.
Homosexuality was a non-issue up to that point. There was little real data, experience, or tradition in the church at the time so the Calvinists took the new use of the term “homosexual” as the Revised Standard Version translation of the words in their original language used instead of the term “pedophile” and raised that flag to assert their response to the controversy.
While every nation, every culture, has among its people those who are homosexual, not all societies have had a niche for them. The Calvinists were thrilled when an African bishop addressed General Conference in the 1990s saying the Church must deal with the problem of homosexuality.
I take this much space to remind you, dear reader, that the Arminians among us feel their tradition has been violated by the Calvinists and the Calvinists think they are the bearers of traditional Christianity and each side has lots of support and a long history in the church as it stands today, though neither’s true history extends back before 1500 A. D. In fact, in our denominational history, until 60 years ago, neither tradition really bothered with concerns about homosexuality. It is a mostly modern issue in the lifetime of around half of UMC members worldwide.
But it is our problem and this commentary needs to address the current manifestation of this wedge issue in the remaining decisions of the Council from February and April of 2019.
And global warming is dangerously upon us while we squabble . . . .