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Methodism is a name for several Protestant denominations and independent churches that emerged in England in the 18th century. The first Methodists, of whom John Wesley is the best known, split from the Church of England in protest against what they saw as apathy on the Anglicans' part.
There are two main Methodist movements: the Wesleyan Methodists, who follow the Arminian view of free will, and the Calvinist Methodists, who, as the name implies, follow Calvinist traditions. Hugh Bourne, in the early 19th century, split from the Wesleyan Methodists to form the Primitive Methodism movement. In a trend that would later influence mainstream Methodism, Primitives encouraged both women and the uneducated to play a larger role as evangelists, seeing value in their views and opinions.
Methodism has a strong sense of charity and helping the less fortunate. Traditionally, Methodists have been involved in emancipating and educating poor people. Many of their missionaries in the developing world combine proselytization with humanitarian and development work, such as famine relief, clean water, agricultural improvement, and better education. From the very early days, the Methodists focused on the under-served sections of society, specifically those working hard manual labor, those serving time in prisons, and those unable to fit within mainstream society. Methodists were also instrumental in Abolitionist movements, both in the United Kingdom and United States. In the United States, the early Methodist movements spent a great deal of time trying to convert people, both freemen and slaves. Historically, the Methodist church was linked strongly with Christian socialism in Britain (whereas the Church of England was sometimes called "the Tory party at prayer"); like many related things, this perception was altered somewhat by public awareness of Margaret Thatcher's Methodist background.
Like many Protestant denominations in the US, the United Methodist Church (the largest Methodist denomination and third largest Christian denomination in the United States) is struggling with a potential schism, as a battle brews between more liberal Methodists and more conservative Methodists. Gay rights has been perhaps the single biggest issue at the General Conference each year for the last 10 years. In 2009, UMC affiliated ex-gay group Transforming Congregations and OneByOne of the Presbyterian Church merged with Exodus International. Established in 1976, the same year that homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness by the American Psychological Association, Exodus endorsed conversion therapy with an estimated 0.01% success rate, until finally admitting defeat in 2013.
The United Methodist Church has taken a stand on several central arguments that come up in US political discourse:
- Teaching of Evolution — The UMC has formally stated that Evolution is a sound scientific doctrine and should be taught in schools. They go on to state that "Creationism" i.e. Young Earth Creationism does not in any form belong in science classrooms.
- Abortion — The UMC favors keeping abortion legal, and accepts that each individual woman must be allowed to make her own choice, though they go out of their way to clarify that they do not "condone" abortion. They also support the use of birth control. Ministers are asked to respect her choice, and support her in her time of need. The Church as a whole hopes to offer enough resources to help a woman make the choice to have her child, especially if the main reason for the abortion is economics. The UMC formally "strongly condemns late-term and partial birth abortion".
- Gay members — The UMC takes the stance that homosexual relations are a sin, and that a "practicing homosexual" may not formally serve the church, but should be welcomed as a member of the church. The point, however, is currently being hotly contested within the denomination, with groups such as Reconciling Ministries advocating for full inclusion of LGBTQ persons.
- Gay marriage — The UMC is against homosexual marriages, though there are various smaller Methodist groups arguing that civil unions as a secular state institution should be allowed as a way to promote social equality. It has been, of course, a highly contentious topic..
- Women in the clergy — The Methodists were one of the first Protestant denominations to ordain women, beginning in 1956.
- Polygamy — The UMC is against it.
- Elective wars — The UMC is against them.
- Gun control — The UMC is for it.
- Unions — The UMC is for them.
- Animal abuse — The UMC is against it.
- Vegetarianism — The UMC is understanding of it.
In summary, they walk the walk of their religion but are hampered by institutional inertia when it comes to LGBT rights.
- Clergy Letter Project (the non-conservative United Methodist Church signed this to show acceptance of evolution)
- Francis Collins, a former atheist.
- Articles of Religion
- Wesleyan Methodists
- The Methodist Church
- Dubya often talks the talk, but seldom walks the walk of his "faith" This page by a believing Methodist shows how Bush contrasts with more typical Methodists.
- The Methodist Church
- The Methodist Church
- UMCOR World Hunger/Poverty
- Exodus Merges With Two Denominations’ Antigay Groups
- Exodus International Shuts Down: Christian Ministry Apologizes To LGBT Community And Halts Operations