From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Commentary: Southern-style Methodism stresses unity, not division

Date 22 Feb 2001 13:34:40

Feb. 22, 2001 News media contact: Tim Tanton·(615)742-5470·Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE:  A photograph of the Rev. Louis L. "Biff" Averitt is available with
this commentary.

A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Louis L. "Biff" Averitt

It is my desire to speak to those who would be afraid of a "Southern
captivity" of the United Methodist Church. There are some - such as the Rev.
Keith Pohl ("Church experiencing Southern 'captivity,' says retired editor,
UMNS #531, 11/27/00) - who are fearful of the Methodists in the South.
"Methodism in the South, generally, has more in common with the Southern
Baptists than ... with the United Methodist churches in the North," Pohl
writes. He points to the South capturing the United Methodist Church' 2000
General Conference by holding, for example, six of the 10 standing committee

I attended the 1984 General Conference. That was 16 years ago, but at that
time the South controlled only five - not six - of the legislative
committees and had 4.8 million members. At the time, the three Northern and
Western jurisdictions controlled five legislative committees and represented
another 4.4 million United Methodists.

In 2000, the Northern and Western jurisdictions had a combined membership of
3.6 million, while the two Southern jurisdictions represented 4.7 million.
Now the South has six committee chairs to only four for the others. 

Would it not seem logical that when the membership was almost evenly split,
each group would have half the chairs, and that now, when the South's
membership exceeds the others by more than 1 million, the jurisdictions
should be represented in proportion? I think it's just fair.

Pohl suggests in his articles, which originally appeared in the Michigan
Christian Advocate, that the solution to this captivity is to break the
South's control by changing jurisdiction boundaries. That would break up the
numbers by putting Southern states in Northern-controlled areas, creating a
situation in with the Southerners could be outvoted. This would give the
North more people and reduce the South's majority. If this cannot be done,
then perhaps we should let each jurisdiction of annual conferences develop
its own Book of Discipline and elect its own bishops and judicial councils,
he suggests.

Let me address these suggestions. In regard to gerrymandering the breakup of
the South by moving some states into Northern areas where they can be
outvoted: to use Pohl's own words, this sounds more Southern Baptist than
Methodist. This was the tactic used for the conservative group to gain
control of the whole Southern Baptist Convention, and led millions in 
Texas, Florida and Georgia to leave it and go independent.

If we were to be Southern Baptist in style, as Pohl suggests, we would have
exercised our majority power to control all 10 committees. All seminaries
would have to do what we wanted, or we would purge them and fire their
leaders. We would not allow any newspapers controlled by our denomination to
voice opposing views. We would silence all opposition.

Secondly: If we were like Southern Baptists, we would oppose women preaching
in the pulpit. If we were like Southern Baptists, we would do as Pohl has
suggested and push for autonomy of annual conferences or jurisdictions, and
every congregational group writing its own Book of Discipline and doing its
own thing. Now who sounds more like Southern Baptists?

But Methodism Southern style is shaped by strong connectionalism at all
levels, and a long and strong history of paying our apportionments to
support the United Methodist Church as a whole for ministry at home and
around the world. Methodism Southern style is Wesleyan in theology,
Methodist in doctrine and, most of all, united in the principles established
in 1784 through Francis Asbury to support the vote of the majority and to
protect the rights of minorities.

In closing, let me say as simply as I can what Southern-style Methodism
really is. We do not want to be Southern Baptist or to divide United
Methodism. We want to be united as Methodists. We want to be as diverse as
the whole country and as united as these United States. We do not wish to
oppress any part of America because we have seen what captivity and
oppression have done in the past, and all we want is for all people within
Methodism - north, south, east and west - to be free to love God and
neighbor as self.

# # #

*Averitt is superintendent of the Paragould/Jonesboro District in the North
Arkansas Conference. This commentary originally appeared in the Arkansas
United Methodist newspaper.

United Methodist News Service
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