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Will Methodism Tilt Right?

The African evangelicals arrive.

12:00 AM, Apr 24, 2008 • By MARK TOOLEY
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Will U.S. evangelicals and Africans be able to change other aspects of the denomination's public policy witness? The church's lobby office, the largest Religious Left lobby in Washington, D.C., had been advocating that the church's pensions agency divest from Caterpillar, Inc., for selling equipment to Israel. Just today, the lobby office withdrew its proposal, after a "dialogue" with Caterpillar. The plan had been poorly received at a gathering for leading delegates earlier this year, and the lobby office likely smelled defeat. More extreme proposals for divestment from other sources will likely fail at the General Conference.

Almost certainly, some liberal political resolutions will still get rubber stamped in Fort Worth, based mostly on habit. Conservatives in the church, accustomed to being a minority, have usually focused on key theological and sexuality issues, letting the ostensibly less important political issues, so cherished by church liberals, sail through. The 2004 General Conference failed specifically to denounce the Iraq War, despite repeated urging by their bishops. It remains an open question whether this General Conference will address Iraq. But the General Conferences of 2000 and 2004 added specific "Just War" language to their Social Principles, to the dismay of many church liberals.

The evangelical resurgence in United Methodism will not be as sudden or dramatic as the conservative victories in the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s. But the tide that is now carrying the denomination clearly flows from a conservative direction. The ramifications of a once liberal Mainline denomination returning to theological orthodoxy are potentially momentous.

Mark D. Tooley directs the Institute on Religion and Democracy's program for United Methodists.