The four-and-a-half-year war is finally over.

No, I don’t mean the American Civil War, which, culturally speaking, has never ended. Instead, I am referring to the latest civil war among Methodists. 

The first Methodist Civil War lasted from 1844-45. Short but momentous, the conflict ended with Methodist congregations of the South choosing the enslavement of Black people over human freedom, splitting from freedom-minded sister congregations of the North. During the American Civil War that followed not long after that, southern Methodists shed their blood in a failed effort to continue enslaving and brutalizing Black people in perpetuity.

Methodists remained divided between North and South for roughly the next hundred years. They finally, but only partially, reunited in 1968 as the biracial United Methodist Church (UMC). 

In reality, many racist southern Methodists, not wanting Black people in their midst, remained disgruntled. Within the UMC, a straight white contingent emerged

Deeming “women’s theology, liberation theology, black theology, Third World theology, theologies of human rights” to be evil, the rebels held aloft their exclusive banner of “God’s Truth.” A “shadow denomination,” that conservative Methodist network came to have an outsize influence within the UMC, eventually bending the denominational infrastructure rightward.

Ironically, modern racist white Methodists found an ally among African Methodists, to whom white United Methodists of earlier generations had taught traditional anti-homosexual theology. This is not to say that African Methodist leaders had no agency in developing their own anti-LGBTQ theology. It is merely to recognize that none of our theologies emerge from a vacuum.

As many American Methodists, by the second decade of the 21st century, began embracing equal rights for LGBTQ persons, African Methodists’ opposition to LGBTQ people was growing stronger. 

And so it came to pass that during the 2019 UMC General Conference—after three prior years of intense debate—the second Methodist civil war began as African Methodists, allied with homophobic white southern American Methodists, began breaking away from their inclusive denomination, as white southern Methodists had done to their northern counterparts in 1844. 

In January, the second Methodist civil war ended, four years of separation coming to a formal and lasting divide, some 24% of all American United Methodists abandoning the UMC for the new, anti-LGBTQ “Global Methodist Church” (GMC). Of the American “disaffiliating churches,” more than 97% are “predominantly white.” Seventy-one percent of the newly-christened American GMC congregations are from the states of the Old Southern Confederacy. 

Not coincidentally, American Methodists’ inner turmoil over homosexuality escalated toward war in 2016, the same year that a contentious U.S. presidential election rocked America’s political and Christian world. 

Eight years later, a 2022 Public Religion Research Institute poll examined “the connection between racism and the right-wing” MAGA movement. The poll included a question about the white South’s “Lost Cause” mythology that, following the Civil War, had been deceptively crafted and widely publicized to falsely deny the very public reality that slavery was the cause of the Civil War.

The PRRI poll revealed something interesting, if not altogether surprising: “Republicans overwhelmingly back efforts to preserve the legacy of the Confederacy (85%), compared with less than half of independents (46%) and only one in four Democrats (26%). The contrast between white Republicans and white Democrats is stark. Nearly nine in 10 white Republicans (87%), compared with 23% of white Democrats, support efforts to preserve the legacy of the Confederacy.”

Just now coming to an end, the second Methodist civil war, as evidenced in the United States, was the result of “Lost Cause” racist sentiments paired with opposition to the LGBTQ community—a dual reflection of persistent opposition to human rights in American society and culture. 

Even some conservative United Methodists perceive white Christian nationalism—the false belief that the United States of America was founded as a white Christian nation grounded upon biblical law and must return to biblical law today—as contributing to the second Methodist Civil War. 

Others take great pains to deny the association. Katy Patterson, an elder in the anti-LGBTQ breakaway Global Methodist Church, tries to do just that yet fails to acknowledge that opposition to non-heterosexuality is a key anti-human rights component of Christian nationalism.

Today, as we near the 125th anniversary of the battlefield defeat of the self-perceived “Christian” anti-human rights Confederate States of America, the extremist ideology of those southern “Christian” enslavers of old remains firmly embedded within the United States of America.

As the Global Methodist Church stands up in ideological victory during this political election year of 2024, we are again reminded that the actual anti-Christian and anti-democratic Southern Confederacy remains a Christian nationalist zombie that will not go away. 

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