Does The United Methodist church believe that babies are born in sin?
Yes. We do believe that babies, at birth, are contaminated by sin. The ancient teaching of the church on this is called the doctrine of original sin.
The Articles of Religion in our Book of Discipline state:
"Article VII - Of Original or Birth Sin
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually."
The point here is that we do not choose ["Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam"] to follow the way of sin; indeed, we cannot help it without the grace of God.
It means, as Romans 5 puts it (see all of chapter 5 which is about salvation) "as by one man's disobedience [Adam's] the many [meaning all who are born] were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience [Jesus] the many will be made righteous." This is Paul’s way of spelling out both the doctrine of sin and the doctrine of salvation. Remember here, we are dealing with Paul's way of setting this up. Christ can redeem all because his faithfulness to God in perfect love and obedience matches and exceeds the disobedience of one man, Adam.
The notion of original sin does not compute very well with the modern outlook. Most of the 20th century church tried to dance around it and then wondered why Jesus' saving work was hard to get serious about. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” says 1st John, vs. 8.
The point is that we, from birth, need the grace of God available in Jesus Christ. We cannot hope in some tiny spark of goodness at our core that is always there to get us through. We are without merit or claim upon God on our own. This is a hard pill to swallow in our "enlightened" and modern perspective. On the other hand, what a gracious hope and gospel we proclaim and live if we simply accept the desperate need we are in from the beginning and the washing of water and the word in baptism where God claims us as God's own in union with Christ, dying to sin and living alive to God by the power of the Spirit.
Rev. Dan Benedict
Center for Worship Resourcing
General Board of Discipleship