Who Are We (UMC Nationally)
I was doing research on another topic and ran across a survey of UMC members conducted in 2019 and wanted to share this with you:
United Methodist Communications surveyed United Methodists in the U.S. on their theological beliefs, and the largest group identified themselves as "conservative/traditional." The United Methodist Church is a big tent theologically, and people with conservative or traditional religious beliefs make up the largest group under that spreading canvas.
Of those contacted, 44 percent identified themselves as conservative/traditional in religious beliefs, 28 percent as moderate/centrist and 20 percent as progressive/liberal. These terms were used to describe theological views only and do not necessarily reflect social or political views. The differences have not defined the church, however. The church has “held together by the grace and faith that transcend its differences,” Krause said.
The survey asked whether the primary focus of The United Methodist Church should be saving souls for Jesus Christ or advocating for social justice to transform the world. Eighty-eight percent of conservative/traditionalists said saving souls, while 68 percent of progressive/liberals chose social justice. “Essentially, they’re focused on different ends of the mission statement,” Niedringhaus said, referring to the denomination’s official goal to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
The survey was balanced geographically, so that areas where United Methodist membership is strong, such as in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, had more respondents than where that isn’t the case, such as the Western Jurisdiction.
On some matters addressed in the survey, there was broad agreement. For example, large majorities of all three self-identifying groups believe in Jesus’ birth from a virgin, his crucifixion in order to reconcile humans to God and his resurrection in bodily form. By big margins, conservatives, moderates, and liberals understand God as creator of heaven and earth and believe God’s grace is available to all. But only 50 percent of liberals believe in a literal hell, compared to 82 percent of conservatives and 70 percent of moderates.
One question asked respondents to choose the most authoritative source of their personal theology. The largest group of conservatives, 41 percent, chose Holy Scripture, and the second largest, 30 percent, said Christian tradition. Meanwhile, the largest group of liberals, 39 percent, cited reason as most authoritative. The smallest, 6 percent, chose Holy Scripture.
An overwhelming majority of conservatives, 86 percent, said a relationship with Jesus is the only way to salvation. Sixty-four percent of moderates agreed with that, and 54 percent of liberals did.
The self-described moderates generally ended between conservatives and liberals in the results for specific questions. But often they were closer to the conservative position.
“I don’t think you can add the moderates and progressives and say that’s where the church is,” Niedringhaus said. “Theologically, many (moderates) are more traditional.”
The survey showed that women are more likely than men to hold liberal/progressive views and that church attendance is strongest by conservatives.