Study shows strong support from Blacks to remain United MethodistsInclusivity Social Justice
Since the 2020 postponement of the General Conference to 2024, the United Methodist Church has navigated through storm-tossed waters. There were conversations, called meetings, church and Annual Conferences. There were lawsuits related to the desire of some churches and pastors wanting to disaffiliate from the denomination over issues of human sexuality and full inclusion of LBGTQIA + clergy.
But a study about the Black United Methodists' Perspectives on the Future of the UMC Research Project shows that 69.9% of respondents want to remain affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Only 6% said they want to disaffiliate and join the Global Methodist Church (3%) or another denomination (3%).
|Rev. Dr. Candace Lewi|
However, most respondents also mentioned discrimination and racism, inequities in appointments and salaries, and the lack of young adults in church leadership as their top concerns about the United Methodist Church going forward.
The President and Dean of Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Rev. Dr. Candace Lewis, said she found the survey results "very informative."
"I did not know that 70% of Blacks want to remain to remain UMC, so I'm very hopeful about that," she said. "But we must also understand that many Black leaders have reference points for how Blacks historically faced schisms.
"Before, it was segregation versus integration. Before, it was slavery versus non-slavery, and now we see the current issue of LBGTQ+ inclusion. I was curious about how the historical conversation affected the study results."
The online survey, conducted by the Gammon Research Institute in conjunction with Gammon Theological Seminary, recorded 668 responses to the 29-question survey in May 2022.
Respondents included clergy, lay people, plus multiple age groups and economic backgrounds. The responses were then analyzed, with the findings set for a wide release through a webinar in April on a date to be determined.
The survey also will be available online.
It showed that while Blacks generally are well-informed about the reasons and ramifications of disaffiliation, a large age gap still needs to be addressed. Generally, the responses came from older individuals who had been members of the United Methodist Church for 11 years or longer.
Only about 3% of respondents were 30 years old or younger. That group was also the least likely to be aware of the implications of the ongoing disaffiliation discussions in individual churches.
That prompted Rev. Dr. Lewis to say that reaching that age group where they live through social media and other strategies is a priority.
"We must realize that what we're doing is not necessarily reaching young adult, national networks. We have to connect," she said.
"I think they're very open and interested in sharing their perspective with us. We just have to make the extra effort to reach them."
Other priorities include ensuring opportunities for leadership and salary compensation. Statistics have long shown that Blacks have a tougher time advancing in conference and denomination roles than their White counterparts.
The survey listed three top concerns for Black clergy and laity as they consider the future of the United Methodist Church:
• Ending racism and discrimination against Black people and people of color
• Dismantling racism, white supremacy, and privilege;
• Equity in clergy appointments and salaries.
Rev. Dr. Lewis served on the Anti-Racism Task Force in The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church and understands those concerns are real.
"I heard story after story about those issues while in listening sessions with pastors. That's where we began to hear the stories about salaries and the lack of opportunities," she said.
"We have a long way to go. We have to be intentional in how we acknowledge this."
And that, she said, leads to a major point that she believes Black clergy and lay people want to communicate to their brothers and sisters across the denomination. Yes, they want to remain in the United Methodist Church.
"However," Rev. Dr. Lewis said, "They're also saying that they're not remaining with the UMC to stay the status quo."
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org
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