Vital Signs

Methodists and Sex

The United Methodist Church, having declined from 11 to 8 million members in the United States, spent millions on a television and newspaper ad campaign called “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” Those millions were probably wasted, however. The ad campaign has been overshadowed by unwanted publicity over increasingly routine battles about homosexuality. Last fall, a lesbian Methodist minister from Philadelphia was defrocked after a year of appeals. And a Virginia pastor who was ousted by his bishop for declining to accept an active homosexual into church membership was reinstated by a church court.

These rulings by the denomination’s top court gained attention in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and numerous other media outlets, which portrayed them as signals of ascendant conservatism in the traditionally liberal denomination.

Conservative Methodists are hardly poised for a Southern Baptist-style coup d’etat. Working in a more directly democratic church polity, conservative Southern Baptists took power by winning the presidency of their convention back in the early 1980’s, after a few years of intense preparation.

United Methodist evangelicals, who, for years, were just striving for survival within the denomination, have been organizing for over 35 years. Their labors started to bear political fruit in the 1990’s. Even more importantly,...

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