This article is part of a series of writings about the new “Uniting Methodists” caucus group within the UMC, led by Adam Hamilton, some high-profile leaders within general agency and liberal caucus circles, and others. Within these articles, I have put in bold sentences for which I would especially welcome feedback in the comments if I have missed something major. I have put *stars in front of the names of individuals on the “Uniting Methodists” leadership team. Articles in this series will be released over the course of several days. The “Uniting Methodists” group is examined in light of the following:
The most prominent presenting controversial issue debated at United Methodist General Conferences is approval of homosexual practice.
Significant super-majorities have consistently upheld our rules banning our clergy from performing same-sex union ceremonies or being openly homosexually active themselves. At the last two General Conferences, opposition to change was so evidently strong that liberals gave up on even trying for votes on repealing these two policies. Given these strong General Conference majorities, someone truly in the “center” of gravity of this most representative body of United Methodists would support keeping our standards on marriage and ordination, or at most would be one of those people who for some reason votes for change on one of these but not the other.
But amidst all of its frustratingly vague rhetoric, the only really concrete proposal I see in the “Uniting Methodists” platform is to change the rules to explicitly make the UMC a denomination that officially allows homosexually active clergy and same-sex union services. So at its core, this group’s agenda is more or less what the older liberal caucuses have been seeking for years and so is nothing new under the sun.
As for the details, those are not nearly as new as some seem to think. Their proposal to leave it up to each annual conference to decide its ordination standards related to “LGBTQ persons” is essentially the same liberalizing policy that split the Episcopal Church.
This leaves unanswered such major questions as how bringing the divisive battles of General Conference to each annual conference would play out, and how much respect for conservative consciences is really shown given how this policy would allow official sanction for homosexually active bishops while requiring disapproving annual conferences to still pay into the common pot that would fund such bishops. This fits with a go-slow strategy of hoping that one annual conference after another can be flipped until there are homosexuality-affirming ordination policies throughout the denomination. Indeed, I have seen an extremely liberal blogger to which some “Uniting Methodists” like to link publicly state that while he wants to LGBTQ liberalism from every region and congregation, he is joining “Uniting Methodists” as a means of achieving that eventual end! And their proposal to remove prohibitions on clergy performing same-sex unions goes far beyond any “local option,” as there is no talk of giving annual conferences or congregations any authority to restrict any of its pastors from doing such things.
Furthermore, the UMC currently has no clear policy on transgendered clergy. So if this group really means the plain-sense meanings of their professed support “for disciplinary changes so that annual conferences are neither compelled to ordain LGBTQ persons, nor prohibited from doing so,” this would actually necessitate that they petition General Conference to explicitly allow annual conferences to adopt ordination policies excluding anyone who has undergone sex-change surgery. If this group actually does that, I will fall over.
All of this to say, on the most prominent controversy within our denomination, this so-called “Methodist middle” group is actually exclusively aligned with one minority faction. As one of its leadership team members admitted, “Clearly, I am not ‘in the middle’ or ‘on the fence’ with regard to this struggle which is threatening to split the United Methodist Church.” The same is evidently true for all of this group’s leaders, given the platform they all signed onto.
Interestingly, while *Adam Hamilton’s 2014 “A Way Forward” manifesto had at least paid lip-service to holding individuals pursuing homosexual relationships to the standard of monogamous fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, I saw no clear stand against pre-marital sex in the Vision statement for his new “Uniting Methodists” group.
The reality is that numerous activists for the LGBTQ liberationist cause have also petitioned General Conference to end our disapproval of adultery and pre-marital sex. The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) openly defends pre-marital sex among clergy.
This new caucus’s odd silence on such matters fits with the broader pattern of how it seems to be operating with the slogan once associated with certain phases of the French and Bolshevik Revolutions: “No enemies to the left.”
Indeed, if every leadership team member had a court-ordered, legally binding requirement to aim all of their firepower against the conservative side of debates and bend over backwards to try to avoid alienating potential allies among the older liberal caucuses, I am not sure how much they would need to alter what they are doing already.
Now to be fair, both *Hamilton and *Mike Slaughter have, when pressed by me, said that they personally disapprove of adultery and pre-marital sex. And I believe them. However, given the above, along with *Slaughter strong, on-record opposition to accountability for clergy unrepentantly involved in adultery or pre-marital sex, it seems that this is not a consensus position among the “Uniting Methodists” leaders and/or that this is a value that they are perfectly willing to sacrifice for the sake of advance their higher priority of liberalism related to homosexuality.