Response to Adam Hamilton’s Disconnectional “Way Forward” for the UMC

on June 9, 2014

After much anticipation for a while, the Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter have released a statement proposing “A Way Forward for a United Methodist Church” amidst our current internal theological struggles.

The 56 original signers appear to largely consist of folk ranging from strongly progressive to “moderate.” For the sake of their PR purposes, we can expect statement proponents to describe the latter as being much more theologically traditionalist than they actually are. One disappointing exception is former Asbury Seminary professor Steve Harper, whose views on homosexuality have recently shifted leftward. Of course, we should remember the nuances and limits of such broad theological categories, and keep in mind that people’s theological perspectives are often not static. Someone known to be strongly orthodox some time ago may have become very theologically revisionist today (and vice-versa).

In any case, the plan in a nutshell is for the UMC to capitulate to secular Western cultural values on sexual morality by basically adopting the same standards of the Episcopal Church, but expect that, somehow, this would work out better for us in terms of ecumenical relations, global partnerships, and internal membership implosion and defections.

Make no mistake, this is no “compromise,” but a completely one-sided call to reward the bullying, any-means-necessary tactics of the protest caucuses who have been destructively breaking our communal covenantal standards, forcibly hijacking church leadership meetings, and even refusing to pray for the mainstream of the UMC.

The signers of this liberalizing statement appear to either not understand or not care that the definition of “compromise” is actually not “you concede to us everything we demand while we concede nothing to you.”

No wonder this “way forward” was quickly supported by folk like the Reconciling Ministries Network’s communications director and Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) directors Neill Caldwell and Laurie Hays Coffman!

Common sense says that behaviors that are rewarded will be repeated more often. Thus, this statement is a recipe for our church to increasingly have its key decisions made according to whichever faction is willing to be the most aggressively forceful and the most ethically unrestrained in demanding to get its way, regardless of who or how many they hurt in the process. This would in turn lead to a great many more of the people our pastors are called to care for being hurt and disgusted by United Methodism. Thankfully, victims of such bully-rewarding church governance generally will not resort to fighting back with the same unprincipled tactics, even if that is what denominational leaders, encouraged by Hamilton-Slaughter and company, say is the only way to advance one’s concerns in the UMC. But such wounded members may (as I have seen happen) either leave for another denomination or feel so hurt that they decide “drop out” of church altogether.

And after removing an authoritative, denomination-wide commitment to follow what Scripture, two millennia of consistent Christian tradition, and our own United Methodist doctrinal standards have to say relevant to moral standards for sexual self-control, this plan would impose on annual conferences and local churches across the denomination the same divisive debates, with likely similar placard-waving disruptions and protests, over what policies they will have. This would spread our painful conflicts out as widely as possible in the UMC, and directly impacting and hurting the people in our local churches as much as possible with draining, emotional, relationship-shattering congregational conflicts. (For Exhibit A, just recall how the sexuality conflict Frank Schaefer brought to the congregation he formerly pastored has devastated, divided, and shrunk that faith community.)

Furthermore, the proposal to let everybody do what is right in their own eyes would dramatically move our global denomination away from the connectional ethos that has long defined United Methodism and towards a more contract-of-convenience congregationalism.

Any honest observer realizes that going the way of the Episcopal Church, as this plan proposes, would lead to the United Methodist Church transforming into something that a great many members and congregations around the world cannot be a part of, believing their own faithfulness would be at stake.

The statement does pay lip service to tolerating (for now) some orthodox congregations and annual conferences who may remain, just as the Episcopal Church still has a dwindling number of marginalized orthodox congregations and dioceses. But it was unclear how long this will last. In a 2005 smear campaign against a faithful Christian pastor, Ed Johnson, liberal United Methodists were rather unanimous and vehement in making clear that for them it will ultimately be unacceptable for the UMC to allow a SINGLE little congregation in rural Virginia to have its pastor minister in a way that compassionately welcomes all people while upholding biblical standards on homosexual practice.

It seems worth noting that while the UMC is a very global church, all of the original signers are in America, and over half in Texas. Why exactly does this very non-representative group of people believe that in calling the church to radically change its values to conform to one moment in time in their American culture, they are wiser than the collective wisdom of two millennia of very consistent Christian tradition and the overwhelming consensus of the global body of Christ today? The statement never makes clear.

But this reminds me of one noted United Methodist theologian who recently said that when a distinguished minister or theologian claims to know more than Jesus about what marriage is, he will stick with Jesus. May our United Methodist Church, throughout its connection, do the same.

Here is a more detailed analysis of the Hamilton-Slaughter proposal.

  1. Comment by Ty McCarthy on June 9, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Yes, because those of us who are gay, which are a minority group, are the bullies here. Don’t use that word unless you have actually been beaten up by people claiming to be Christians like me and my fellow LGBT people have by God-fearing Christians trying to show us God’s love.

  2. Comment by Greg Paley on June 10, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Could you please post some links to verify your accusation that Christian in America are beating up gays? I hear this accusation often – but nothing to back it up.

    Slander and libel are not Christian, btw. If you have proof that Christians are beating up gays, please supply it.

  3. Comment by Jonathan Kuperberg on June 16, 2014 at 4:41 am

    Amen Greg. Gay-bashings are generally committed by macho young males who live degenerate lives themselves, not obedient pro-Family Bible believers.

  4. Comment by John S. on June 18, 2014 at 9:22 am

    To Ty’s defense “beaten up” can be other than physical and he does say “claiming to be Christian”. However, Ty fails to realize minorities can be bullies, see South Africa. That minorities are often not absolute, Muslims are a minority in the world but not the Middle East and so forth.

  5. Comment by Creed Pogue on June 9, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    If you act like a bully or a thug, then you are a bully or a thug. Otherwise, we wind up with the absurd situation where Caucasians are the only ones (for the next thirty to forty years) who commit crimes because no one from a minority group could act against someone else. When we become a majority-minority country, then we will have no crime or bullying because it will be impossible to commit a crime or be a bully. That is simply non-sense.

    We already have a number of situations where connectionalism is honored more in the breech than by practice. But, making that official would change us to an entirely congregational denomination. How would the Western Jurisdiction continue to ask the Southeastern to pay for their bishops?

  6. Comment by Andreas on June 10, 2014 at 4:53 am

    Thank you for your thoughts. I agree with you and offer this thought. Why don’t they leave the church they disagree with so heavily that they feel it necessary to radically and fundamentally alter it?
    I have been there. When the UMC in Sweden merged/collapsed into a new church made up of Baptist/UMC/Mission Covenant Church I moved my family to another country because I felt that the new church was a bad fit for me. I was asked to stay and work/influence for the “conservative” part of the church. I declined because what right do I have to make a church who is clearly heading in a liberal direction go in another direction? Who am I?

    We are called to serve God, not a specific denomination. This is fundamental and should be obvious to all. As protestants it is in our DNA to not stay put when we are disgruntled but to move on to newer and “greener” pastures.
    Clearly there are many practical issues at hand here, but as I found out myself, God has a way of handling those rather well.


  7. Comment by LeeRaleigh on June 11, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    I think 2 Peter Ch. 2 explains why they do not leave.

  8. Comment by StJohnGumby on June 12, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    “Why don’t they leave the church they disagree with so heavily that they feel it necessary to radically and fundamentally alter it?” It could be that for many of us, we disagree with this characterization. I, for one, do not believe that becoming more inclusive relative to GLBTQ folks constitutes “radically and fundamentally” changing the church, but rather, a natural outgrowth of a deeper understanding of God’s grace not unlike our church’s changing and deepening understanding of how God’s grace would invite us to respond to practice such as slavery, segregation, women’s role in church leadership, etc. Further, I am among those who believe that if we can hold on, in 15-20 years we will come to the place where the concept that our church should be anything less than welcoming to LBGTQ folks will seem ludicrous to 90% of our church, including lots of folks who would consider themselves “conservative.” From my perspective, this is simply not what many conservatives currently have made it out to be–a non-negotiable matter that is the center of our faith. When I stand before God at the end of my life, I do not believe that I will be asked whether or not I had the correct opinion about homosexuality. How something that is nothing more or less than an opinion about human sexuality and ethics has become a dividing line rather than something that would fall under the rubric of “think and let think” is beyond me. We need to get over it, and get on with the business of making disciples.

  9. Comment by Andreas on June 13, 2014 at 9:01 am

    This is frustrating! My first response got deleted so I have to start over. Oh well.
    Thank you for your comment of my thoughts. I can see your point of view even if I don’t agree with it.
    First of all, the “radical and fundamental alter” thing was in reference to the document “A Way forward” that suggested that each church and annual conference should be allowed to vote on this issue independently. That is a radical shift in how we do church and it would fundamentally alter how the UMC works. That is a fact. We are a connectional, not a congregational church and that matters a whole lot to a whole lot of people.
    To me this document is a very nice way of surrendering to subjectivism and I wouldn’t want local UMC churches to decide on a host (as will surely happen) of other issues. As an elder I am ordained to preach the CHURCH’s faith, not my own. This is very important to me and how can that work if the church has a hundred different faiths?
    Second, you seem to believe that this is progress, the way things work. The church evolves with the times and there is no stopping it. Our understanding of God’s grace matures and the liberal way is the true way forward. Why can’t our understanding of God’s grace instead equip us to love these people better without accepting their behavior? That would be progress.
    Tell me, what is the difference between the world and the Church as you see it, ethically speaking? Where do we draw the line that confronts the world? We are called the Church Militant, not the Church Following.
    Isn’t it a little suspicious that the church follows in the footsteps of the world, and by that I mean the American version of it? Aren’t you at least a little worried that whatever the world accepts the UMC will eventually accept as well? I mean, if we can accept divorce in cases that do not fit the demands of Jesus, what is stopping us from accepting whatever…in the name of grace or love or some such?
    This bothers me and is a reason I have serious reservations about the future of the UMC. We don’t lead, we follow and we don’t follow Jesus.
    I would respectfully ask that you don’t paint conservatives as the bad rebels here and that we have made this a non-negotiable issue. We argue that the Bible is non-neogitable and that the Bible clearly forbids homosexual acts. The homosexual issue is at base a question of how we understand the Bible and our belonging in the Christian tradition/understanding.
    It is you who are the rebels here. It is the so-called progressives who demand change. It is you who refuse to abide by church discipline (that elders have taken an oath to uphold, btw). It is you who argue that the church is wrong and should change. It is you who demand that even as the Church has perceived God to say that this is wrong, you believe that you are right. It is you who are pressing this issue, not us.
    We would much rather let this issue be as settled as it already is and get on with the business of making disciples. It is you who are forcing us to spend time and resources on this issue. It is you who divide this kingdom, not us. We have the ground since the church has had this position for 2000 years. You are new here and want to take the ground and I find it troublesome that you go to such lenghts that a schism seems likely.
    Finally, it seems clear to me that when we meet our maker at the Throne there will be a lot of surprises. Jesus himself said that even people who have done great things in his name will not be let in…that He doesn’t know them.
    For me, the way to know Christ is found through the Bible and the Church’s tradition and Faith. There is only one Jesus. We who are latecomers to the game have a difficult way of finding him, I think. We think as individuals and as such we have multiple versions of Jesus to consider…and that is logically insane.
    Sure, we can think and let think about a host of non-issues but when we start going against direct commands of the Bible we are no longer dabbling with minor issues. The roads to Jesus are many but there is only one, narrow way to follow Jesus…and that is why I don’t believe that the arguments for allowing LBGQT are strong enough. They simple don’t persuade me to leave the narrow way.

  10. Comment by eMatters2 on June 10, 2014 at 8:40 am

    This is the result of a lack of church discipline. Methodist leaders were too weak for too long in removing these non-believers from ministry, so this is what you get.

  11. Comment by Actuary Lady on June 12, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Among the around 2000 signatures are dozens from AH’s church, several others that posted multiple times, and a number that are not even in the UMC. Interesting.

  12. Comment by Scott on June 19, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    I think a schism is coming in the UMC and there is little use in trying to deny it. Those in favor of reading the scriptures in such a way as to bless current morality will never give up. Biblical Methodists cannot compromise Biblical principles just for the sake of false unity.
    I just saw the article about the Anglican Church of North America experiencing growth which got me to thinking. As an evangelical, Anglican-leaning Methodist, I would love to see a unity of evangelical Methodists with evangelical Anglicans. Sort of a “returning home” for Methodists, don’t you think? Seriously, what a dynamic new denomination this could be that could retain the roots of ancient Christendom with a new zeal of spreading the Gospel.

  13. Comment by Aneta on August 14, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Dear great fathers,

    I know that maybe I should not enter into your dispute but I can’t help myself to not interfere
    and keep my opinions to myself only, after I read all of your letters:
    A Way Forward for a United Methodist Church
    An Open Letter to Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter
    A Response to Rob Renfroe’s Open Letter

    If you were God what would you say? What would you do? Because what you are trying to solve here, is solving the issue as people, with human eyes and human boundaries. God is boundless and as such and in this way He loves all of us, each and all of us, individually and collectively.
    To Him we are not black, nor white, nor gays or lesbians, nor heterosexuals or transgender.
    These are names and labels that we have designed and developed as people and that serve only to our secular understanding of the world and our distinguishing between “good” and “bad”.

    In God’s world, then there is no “good” and “bad” because everything comes from God.
    He created us to be different because He has so many different forms Himself and each of us mirrors one kind of His appearance.

    If we want to follow Christ, then try to take His role. What would Lord Jesus said about what you are now solving?
    “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone.”
    “He who is without sin, let him stand up first in your church, and refuse gays and lesbians.”
    If you refuse them, you will reject the part of God. God who is in all and everywhere and you will reject one part of yourselves.

    God can not reject and deny Himself. He gave His most beloved Son to show us and all the world that in God’s kingdom there is no rejection and that God’s love is for all, limitless and infinite, with no pretension and rejects no one.

    Christ died on the cross for all of us – for heterosexuals, lesbians and gays. For all of us.
    We are all one.
    If you accept this, your dispute is already solved.
    If you refuse to accept it, you refuse one part of yourself and your dispute will unfortunately not be solved.

    Therefore try to think about what God wants and how Christ alone would act?
    No division, no solution of the problems in individual churches. But continual love, and search for God and following Christ.
    That is the only thing that should be of interest to Christians of all churches and the one thing we should devote our entire time and diligence.

    I hope that my letter will help you in solving your problem.

    May the Lord lead you in His way.


    PS: “At that point, many of our members would leave because they would believe that the church had left them.” – Who is the church to leave you? And don’t you attend church to meet God? Be sure that God will never leave you. Be with God, this is the most important thing and the only one that really matters.

    “…mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” – If you want to fulfil this vision. Stop fighting with each other, follow God and become an example for the rest of the world.

    “what our official stance says” – The stance is here for you. You are here for God and thanks to His will.

    “Hearing that United Methodism condones same-sex marriage and ordains practicing homosexuals would only increase the adversity under which many of them labor and potentially expose them to harm.” – God respects everyone and does not reject anyone. But He loves all equally. Do it as well and you will get closer to God.

    “We believe that sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage are sin.” – In what you believe in, is true for you. Believe in God and embrace everything. Sins do not exist until you accept they exist. If you accept that God has already forgiven you all of what you call sin, why would you prevent someone from visiting His house? Since the church is the house of God, and everyone who is from God, has the right to enter. And by God we are all, for we are all children of God.

    “We simply cannot abandon the Bible’s teachings on the practice of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.” – If God has wanted to forbid us something than why would He gave it to us? We shall enjoy everything and try what we want to try on our path on building Who we really are.

    “Your proposal would put us, who believe that same sex relations are sinful, in the position of having to deny our consciences.” – And this is what God wants. Deny all your consciences, leave all of your perceptions, dogmas and sins and connect back to your Spirt and find again your God.

    “Justice would require them to continue the fight.” – Justice never means fight. If you want justice, employ love. As in the highest love is the highest justice.

    (sorry for my English, I am not an English native speaker)

  14. Comment by Sylvia Scott on September 25, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    Yes, I love your letter about God, but, imagine Jesus making a ruling on these few words of the Bible that are making a human decision about sin. No! I do go to a wonderful reconciling church and am 83 and have been married for 63 years. I can’t imagine what happen to a gay child of these ‘traditional’ plan. It hurts to think of this rejection. God created and He knew us before we were in the womb. Now, do we tell God that he made mistakes? I think not!

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