Staying in connection

I understand the challenges, but I still believe the United Methodist Church has a future.

John I. Carney
7 min readJun 6

The author, John Carney, posing with a bobblehead figurine of John Wesley, the father of Methodism.
Me and my good friend John Wesley.

Two weeks from today, I’ll be in Memphis, attending the first day of the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. I’ll be there in my role as lay leader of the Stones River District. I took that volunteer position two years ago. A lot has happened in the United Methodist Church in the past couple of years; I haven’t posted much about it here, in part because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was speaking officially. But lately, I’ve started feeling as if it’s time for me to say something. Any opinions I express here are purely my own, and you shouldn’t blame my home church, the district, the Annual Conference or the denomination for them. Any factual errors are my fault (and please let me know about them).

You’ve no doubt seen news stories lately about disaffiliations — churches deciding to leave the denomination. United Methodism has always been somewhat of a “big tent” denomination, not so much in its theology as in its culture. There are little, rural churches of the type I grew up in. There are urban churches. There are historically-white churches and historically-black churches. There are churches in other countries; the UMC has been growing in Africa even as membership numbers for mainline churches have been shrinking in the US.

Like several other mainline denominations, the UMC has been divided over issues of human sexuality. There are Bible verses that clearly seem to prohibit homosexual practice, but there are also respected Bible scholars who say those verses are being misread by modern audiences and refer to specific practices which would have been common in Bible times, such as temple prostitution.

One side of the debate believes that this is a line in the sand in terms of respect for Scripture. If we reject what the Scripture says just because it conflicts with modern culture, we are on a slippery slope. We are no longer following God, we are conforming to modern culture. Yes, we must treat every human being with love and respect, but sometimes love means communicating hard truths and setting standards.

The other side of the debate believes that the Bible, when read in context, has a…

John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at