Religion: Methodist Malaise

The United Methodist Church is a case of a great American success story that is going bad. Once a movement that leaped like brush fire along the 19th century frontier, the U.M.C. has suffered a net loss of 518,000 members in the past four years—the biggest of any church in U.S. history. Over a longer time span Sunday school attendance has slid by onefourth, the once-prized foreign missionary force by one-fifth. A recent survey by U.M.C. program planners found that grass-roots Methodists bitterly distrust church officials.

At the church's General Conference in Atlanta, which...

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