United Methodist Church



Protestant Christian Church

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United Methodist Church (UMC) is a Protestant Christian church based primarily in the United States with significant membership in Western Europe, Africa, and the Philippines. The UMC has almost 13 million members, with almost 6.5 million living in the US. In 2007, 5.1% of Americans were members of the UMC, a proportion that fell to 3.6% in 2014. 1

The UMC is based on Methodism, a theological sect founded by John Wesley in the 18th century. Methodism is characterized by a focus on faith as a means of salvation, and on spreading Christianity to save souls and create more followers of Jesus Christ.

The UMC officially supports a mix of left-of-center and right-of-center political positions. The church supports legal abortion, but opposes the practice morally in most instances. The UMC supports increased gun control, opposes euthanasia, and opposes capital punishment. As of 2014, the UMC’s membership identified as slightly more conservative than liberal and aligned with Republicans more than Democrats.

After years of theological debates within the UMC over LGBT issues, the church is expected to officially schism in the next few years with the liberal congregations (largely based in the US) retaining control over the UMC, and the conservative congregations (many based abroad) splitting off to form the Global Methodist Church.



Methodism, the theological foundation of the United Methodist Church, originates with John Wesley, an 18th century religious scholar. Wesley was part of an informal Bible study group at Oxford University which was mocked by other students as the “Holy Club” and the “Methodists” for their methodical readings of the Bible. Wesley would develop an interpretation of the text which favored literal readings and an emphasis on faith as the path to salvation, as opposed to work or effort as was popularized by contemporary Protestantism (particularly Lutheranism and Calvinism). These views would be refined after a short and unsuccessful posting as a church vicar in Savannah, Georgia, and extensive studies with German Moravian Christians. As Wesley gained a following in the mid-late century, his beliefs became known as “Methodism” in reference to his old study group’s nickname. 2

American Methodism

Shortly before the American Revolution, followers of Wesley brought Methodism to the United States. Wesley intended for Methodism to stay within the Church of England, but the Revolution would decisively split off the American congregations. In 1784, the Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in Baltimore, Maryland. The Church would go through numerous divisions and mergers over the following centuries. In 1844, it had its first major schism over the issue of slavery, which led to the formation of the Methodist Episcopal Church South as a separate entity. In 1939, the two churches merged to form the Methodist Church. 3 In 1968, the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church (another splinter group) to form the UMC. 4

2021 Schism

In May 2021, leaders of the conservative faction of the United Methodist Church announced their intentions to split off to form a new denomination known as the Global Methodist Church (GMC) over theological debates concerning LGBT issues. 5

The majority of worldwide UMC members are considered conservatives on LGBT issues. In 1972, the UMC made its official position that gay individuals are welcomed in the church but that homosexuality is “not compatible with Christian teaching.” As of June 2021, this remains the official position of the UMC. According to its website, the UMC does not perform same-sex marriages, nor allow priests to be openly homosexual,6 though an openly lesbian woman became a UMC bishop in 2016. 7

A majority of American UMC members are considered liberal on LGBT issues and have repeatedly pushed for socially liberal LGBT-inclusive practices to be mandated by the church. 8 According to The Atlantic, the UMC’s American members have closely tracked the general US consensus on LGBT issues over time. In 2016, 60% of UMC members said homosexuality should be supported by society. 9

In 2019, the UMC called a conference in St. Louis to examine the LGBT issue. The member representatives voted to strengthen traditionalist practices restrictive on LGBT activities with a 438-384 vote due to an alliance between the minority of conservative American voters and the majority-conservative international voters (with particular strongholds in Africa and the Philippines). After the conference, an informal agreement was made by the conservative and liberal factions to discuss the possibility of schism at the next conference. However, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the 2020 conference. 10

Political issues

The United Methodist Church considers it within its purview to be active in politics on a doctrinal basis. Pastors are “expected and encouraged” to preach and promote the UMC’s official political positions, and may get involved in local politics at his or her discretion as long as the UMC is not officially represented. The UMC maintains the General Board of Church and Society as its lobbying arm in Washington, D.C., and New York City. 11

Member Political Alignment

According to a 2014 Pew Research poll, 45% of UMC members identify as conservative, 38% as moderate, and 15% as liberal. 48% identified more strongly with the Republican Party compared to 42% for the Democratic Party. From 2007 to 2014, the UMC’s membership became slightly more conservative and less liberal. 1213


The UMC officially has a moderated stance on abortion that aligns with neither a doctrinaire pro-life nor a licentious pro-abortion view. The UMC explicitly places “life” above “choice” in the matter, but considers the life of the mother as a valid factor in addition to the unborn child. Thus the UMC advocates for the legality of abortion, but discourages its use on most occasions, including as a means of birth control, for eugenics goals, or for late-term abortions. In cases of unwanted pregnancies, the UMC advocates adoption, but considers abortions permissible. In the cases where a pregnancy puts the mother in danger, the UMC supports abortion. The UMC also encourages sex education and birth control as means of reducing abortions. 14


UMC founder John Wesley was an avid supporter of the temperance movement to outlaw alcohol. Though the modern UMC does not forbid the consumption of alcohol, temperance is considered virtuous. 15

Capital Punishment

The UMC opposes capital punishment because it prevents sinful individuals from attaining salvation. 16


The UMC opposes euthanasia both legally and morally. As with nearly all Christian sects, suicide is considered sinful on a doctrinal basis. 17

Gun Control

The UMC supports federal gun control and international bans on weapons made of materials that cannot be detected by conventional metal detectors. 18

Political Contributions

Sine 1990, employees and affiliates of the United Methodist Church have given $997,195 to political candidates. Up to the 2014 election cycle, donations were in the low tens of thousands of dollars in each cycle, with 40-70% contributions going to Democrats. In the 2016 cycle, contributions rose to almost $160,000, and then over $500,000 in the 2020 cycle, with almost 80-90% of contributions going to Democrats. 19

In the 2020 election cycle, employees of the UMC gave $446,440 to Democratic candidates and $45,469 to Republican candidates. The largest recipient was President Joe Biden (D-DE) who received $117,212, followed by the DNC Services Corp with $42,669, the Democratic Congressional Committee with $38,578, and the Democratic Senatorial Committee with $35,844. President Donald Trump received $10,641. 20


Since 1998, the United Methodist Church has spent $117,000 on lobbying, according to OpenSecrets. The bulk of these funds ($100,000) were spent in 2014-2015, and the UMC has not engaged in lobbying since. 21


  1. Green, Emma. “Methodist Politics.” Reporter’s Notebook. Atlantic. May 22, 2016. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  2. Welsey, John. “A Short History of Methodism.” John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life. 1872. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  3. Miller, T. Glenn. “Methodists.” The American Religious Experience. 1976. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  4. “The Uniting Conference of 1968 and the Birth of The Methodist United Church.” SMU Brickell Library. Accessed June 16, 2021.,Introduction,into%20a%20racially%20integrated%20denomination.
  5. “United Methodist conservatives detail breakaway plans over gay inclusion.” NBC News. March 2, 2021. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  6. “What is the church’s position on homosexuality?” United Methodist Church. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  7. “United Methodist conservatives detail breakaway plans over gay inclusion.” NBC News. March 2, 2021. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  8. “United Methodist conservatives detail breakaway plans over gay inclusion.” NBC News. March 2, 2021. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  9. Green, Emma. “Methodist Politics.” Reporter’s Notebook. Atlantic. May 22, 2016. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  10. “United Methodist conservatives detail breakaway plans over gay inclusion.” NBC News. March 2, 2021. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  11. “Is the United Methodist Church involved in politics?” United Methodist Church. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  12. “Political ideology among members of the United Methodist Church.” Pew Research Center. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  13. Green, Emma. “Methodist Politics.” Reporter’s Notebook. Atlantic. May 22, 2016. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  14. “What is the UM position on abortion?” United Methodist Church. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  15. “May United Methodists drink alcohol?” United Methodist Church. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  16. “Death Penalty.” United Methodist Church. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  17. “What is the United Methodist stance on assisted suicide.” United Methodist Church. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  18. “Book of Resolutions: Gun Violence.” United Methodist Church. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  19. “United Methodist Church.” Open Secrets. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  20. “United Methodist Church.” Open Secrets. Accessed June 16, 2021.
  21. “United Methodist Church.” Open Secrets. Accessed June 16, 2021.
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