Well-known Methodist minister Rev. Adam Hamilton has backed a proposal that could lead to a three way split of the United Methodist Church (UMC), based on congregations’ views on homosexuality. Hamilton, who serves as the senior pastor at the megachurch Resurrection UMC based in Leawood, Kansas, made the remarks to a group of seminarians in Portland on Tuesday morning before General Conference began its seventh official day of proceedings. He said the plan emerged after speaking to Methodist leaders from across the political spectrum at General Conference about “reordering” the UMC.
The proposal, if supported by the General Conference, would first create a commission. The commission would then form a plan for “reordering” the UMC. As Hamilton outlined this plan:
“That plan for reordering would create, out of one United Methodist Church, potentially three United Methodist Churches. And one would be the conservative Methodist church.
“One would be a church for those who are progressive, who only want to be in a church with people who are progressive, and will allow nothing less than full inclusion on everything and for everybody. In other words, that every pastor needs to be doing same-gender weddings – every pastor, every church needs to host same-gender weddings. So if that’s where you are and you say, ‘That’s a justice issues and we really can’t be with other people who are not like us on this.’
“And then a church for what I perceive to be the vast majority of United Methodists, which are somewhere in the middle, who are able to say, ‘We’re going to allow churches and pastors with these convictions to be able to officiate same-gender weddings, annual conferences to make decisions about who they will ordain. (This was basically the ‘third way’ proposed by the Connectional Table.) And we are going to also recognize that there are faithful Christians who have a more conservative interpretation, and provided that everybody is seeking to love with justice, we are not going to force those churches to adopt policies that don’t line up with their conscience.”
Hamilton said he thought the “middle” United Methodist group would constitute “75 percent of our churches.” As he met with other Methodist leaders, Hamilton said he felt like he was going “to throw up” at the prospect of a split. But he said he didn’t see “any other way that we’re going to break past the gridlock.”
Yet this prospect also “excited” him. Hamilton said this could afford the middle Methodists the opportunity for “rebirth” through having a “new church start with the denomination.”
“What would happen if we rebirth that and we wrote a brand new book of discipline; we didn’t keep trying to adopt a 1968 Book of Discipline,” Hamilton asked. “What would happen if we could order our boards and agencies in such a way that they were perfectly missionally designed for the 21st century, not trying to tweak the ones that were designed for the middle of the 20th century?”
“Now that I could get excited about,” Hamilton noted after comparing this opportunity to planting a new local church.
After lobbying against a split for the past three years, Hamilton described how he changed his mind. “What began to change for me was watching first of all Rule 44. We spent a day and a half debating whether we could have meaningful Christian debate about this.” He said this process showed “such a lack of trust” on both sides of the debate.
He said “moderates and progressive” anticipated seeing “a little bit of movement” during legislative committee process “that allows some tension to be relieved in the system.”
“But instead the votes continue to be for things that were even more regressive than what we’ve had in the past,” Hamilton said. “So mandatory penalties if you officiated a same gender wedding.”
Earlier Hamilton noted that he had expected delegates at the General Conference to formally “agree that we disagree” about homosexuality in the Book of Discipline, to “soften the language that says that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and to take officiating same-gender marriages “off the list of chargeable offences” for clergy.
Later in the day, Council of Bishops President Bruce R. Ough spoke for the majority of bishops opposing a split. “We are not advancing or advocating any plan for separation or reorganizing the denomination,” Ough said in a speech to General Conference.
On Wednesday morning, again speaking on behalf of the Council of Bishops, Ough asked the General Conference to back a plan to defer legislation on sexuality to a special general conference at an unspecified later date. Hamilton supported this proposal on the floor of General Conference around 11:30 am on Wednesday.