I am about the same age as the United Methodist Church, but I am a 21st century convert to the faith. I did not grow up in United Methodism. I have had to learn it after joining the club.
When I wanted to understand what being a United Methodist was all about, I went back and started reading John Wesley.
More and more, I am coming to understand that was the wrong way to go if I wanted to get a good grip on United Methodism. The John Wesley of United Methodism has little in common with the John Wesley found in his own writings.
I’m also aware that our Book of Discipline is a bad place to find the meaning of United Methodism. It is a jumble of different materials and ideas, not all of which fit together and not all of which any United Methodist I know treats as authoritative.
So, I have been trying recently to distill from my experiences and reading the essence of United Methodism. Here are the core commitments of United Methodism as best I understand them:
- Trinitarian worship of God
- Social action and social concern
- Mutual emotional support for members
- Claiming to welcome everyone into our worship and fellowship
- Middle to upper-middle class sensibilities and norms
- Cultural accommodation
- Desire for success and relevance
- Obsession with polity coupled with active resistance to rules and leaders
My window on United Methodism is narrow. I admit this readily. But I have tried to get a wider view by reading and engaging with conversations across United Methodism for the last 5 years or so.
I’m open to modifying my list, but as it is actually practiced in the United States, these are the marks of United Methodism that I see.