Magazine article The Christian Century

Decentralization for United Methodists?

Magazine article The Christian Century

Decentralization for United Methodists?

Article excerpt

United Methodists should accept the growing ideological polarization in the denomination as the inevitable price tag on pluralism and as a fact of contemporary American culture, according to widely known church consultant Lyle E. Schaller. Writing in the September/October issue of Circuit Rider magazine, Schaller identifies schism as one of several possible responses to the "increasing degree of polarization within what is alleged to be a connectional church." Circuit Rider is produced for United Methodist clergy by the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, Tennessee.

In the article, Schaller encourages United Methodists to "recognize that the highly centralized polity of this denomination, built on a high level of distrust of local leadership, is incompatible with ideological pluralism." Instead of searching for a denomination-wide consensus or common ground, he says the goal might be to design a polity that is compatible with ideological diversity. And to do this, he suggests that the size of the "institutional tent" be expanded and control be decentralized.

One possibility, Schaller says, is to create a federation of annual (regional) conferences. Some nongeographical but relatively homogeneous annual conferences would be organized around a shared ideology or some other point of commonality. Others might be highly pluralistic and nongeographical, while others might be traditionally heterogeneous and geographically defined. In this option, according to Schaller, the minimum requirement could be that each annual conference include at least 800 churches or congregations with a combined average worship attendance of at least 60,000 in the most recent reporting year.

Schaller says an ad hoc task force might be appointed that would introduce appropriate amendments to the 2000 United Methodist General Conference. …

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