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:
In terms of overlaps with other UMC caucuses and the central controversies over sexual morality, “Uniting Methodists” has positioned itself solidly within the liberal minority faction of our denomination, as I have noted. But some may argue that they could still have at least a modest claim to a “centrist” or “Methodist middle” label if they are dramatically closer to some “center” than the majority of other liberal United Methodists.
By far the most significant divide among the minority of United Methodists seeking to liberalize our standards is over how change should be brought about. Some advocate change “through the proper channels” while also agreeing that as a basic matter of integrity, our clergy must uphold and be accountable to the basic covenantal standards of our Book of Discipline as long as its rules remain in place. Others prefer a trust-shattering, any-means-necessary approach that encourages clergy to break our marriage and ordination standards, and then seeks to defend such covenant breakers from any real accountability.
From the “Uniting Methodists,” I have seen plenty of the latter approach, but nothing clearly and consistently of the former.
Since 1999, our church law (see Judicial Council Decisions #847 and 871) has explicitly forbidden any of our congregations from formally affiliating with RMN. But Oaklawn UMC in Dallas and Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C., under the respective leaderships of *Rachel Baugham and *Gaines-Cirelli, are both openly violating this rule. It was also under *Gaines-Cirelli’s leadership that her previous congregation became illegally affiliated with RMN.
As for breaking our marriage or ordination standards, *Gaines-Cirelli has publicly encouraged this in her own conference. The RMN with which she, *Baugham, and *Nuckols are affiliated has for the last several years zealously pursued a campaign of encouraging as much disobedience to our standards as possible. *DJ Del Rosario spoke supportively of his own Pacific-Northwest Conference board of ordained ministry’s open defiance of the Judicial Council and our ordination standards and further opined, “It’s as if there are lines drawn in the sand, and these lines are drawn to force people to choose polity and doctrine over the sanctifying grace that lays a part of foundation of who we are.” *Howell indicated his sympathies for the disobedience movement as an RMN blogger and as an episcopal candidate.
Through their UMCM, *Doug Damron and *Mike Slaughter promoted a resolution to try to pressure bishops in the North Central Jurisdiction to give clergy a free pass to violate our denomination’s standards on homosexuality with no enforcement.*Damron presented a similar resolution to the 2017 West Ohio clergy session, and this was understood to be offered on behalf of his and *Slaughter’s group. In other words, like the rest of the disobedience movement, they have been actively seeking to establish new de facto liberal policies in as many areas of United Methodism as possible, disregarding the voice of the global church and their own vows to uphold our covenant. As noted earlier, their jurisdictional resolution would have further extended this anarchic invitation to clergy unrepentantly involved in pre-marital sex, adultery, pornography, and sexual harassment. And while much of their rhetoric focused on how they did not want to have trials, their group also strongly opposed my plan to allow accountability to our marriage standards without needing church trials. Recently, *Damron has been especially vocal on social media in defending the aforementioned David Meredith’s provocatively public betrayals of our denomination’s moral standards and demanding that he face no accountability within the West Ohio Conference.
I am not aware of a single “Uniting Methodist” unambiguously criticizing such reckless disobedience by clergy to the sexuality standards they have vowed to uphold.
In fact, through their UMCM group’s very active online presence, *Damron and *Slaughter have engaged in a rather extreme degree of historical revisionism. David Meredith chose to be ordained in the UMC and to continue his status with us knowing full well of our denomination’s biblical standards for sexual self-control, which forbid the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” or anyone else sexually active outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Right before last year’s General Conference, he chose to pursue a publicity stunt of having a “wedding” ceremony to another man and publicly announcing that they had been together for many years. The clear letter and spirit of the covenant all clergy vow to uphold is that Meredith should be defrocked, if he remains unrepentant.
But as the accountability process moved along, at a very slow pace, *Damron and *Slaughter’s group went into overdrive to demonize as outrageous those who were simply upholding our standards, apparently seeking to intimidate relevant West Ohio officials into giving Meredith a free pass. *Damron and *Slaughter’s group even hysterically declared of the process against Meredith, “What we are witnessing here has never been the part of the DNA of historic and orthodox Methodism.” Since *Damron and *Slaughter both went to Asbury Seminary, long before they chose to take a hard left turn in their theology, we can be confident that they know the truth about how covenant accountability was THE defining mark of historic Methodism, with even laypeople routinely discipline in their small groups for far less serious sins than Meredith’s. So with their statement, these guys would excommunicate the Methodist class and band meetings, and even John Wesley himself, from “historic and orthodox Methodism.” But both men are also smart enough to realize that a great many American United Methodists today, especially among the liberal-activist faction with which they now identify, are ignorant of this history. So it is not clear how this statement of theirs can be interpreted as anything other than intentional deception.
Of course, by far the most provocative peak of the disobedience movement was when the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference electing openly partnered lesbian activist Karen Oliveto as bishop. Everybody knew this was a very deliberately provocative, trust-shattering move to defy and disregard our rules against any clergy, let alone bishops, being “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
Right after her illegitimate election, *Nuckols, *Theresa Thames, and *Del Rosario all indicated their support. When the Judicial Council reviewed Oliveto’s case (and basically removed any legal standing she would have to indefinitely remain as bishop), *Gaines-Cirelli actually traveled to the Judicial Council meeting to personally show support for Oliveto, and then had a pro-Oliveto rally/vigil at her congregation. *Damron has also publicly expressed support for Oliveto, claiming, “She was duly elected and consecrated as one [of] our Bishops.” Through their West Ohio group, *Damron and *Slaughter have decried Good News for calling for accountability for Dr. Oliveto.
In fact, *Damron and *Slaughter supported David Meredith to get elected as part of their slate to be part of West Ohio’s 2016 delegation. This unforced choice of theirs added some weight and perceived legitimacy to David Meredith’s unsuccessful single-issue campaign to be elected an openly gay bishop in the North Central Jurisdiction.
While a number of liberals have been unhappy about the way the Western Jurisdiction rammed through Oliveto rather than taking a pause, I have seen no evidence that any such moderate liberals are among the “Uniting Methodists” leadership.
More fundamentally, it is important to consider the practical effects of the framing and timing of Adam Hamilton’s 2014 “Way Forward” proposal and of this new “Uniting Methodists” effort. Both have essentially acknowledged that the disobedience movement has created an unsustainable crisis, refused to find fault with those who are deliberately betraying their ordination vows (let alone express any concern for their dishonoring God or causing grave pastoral harm), and proposed that the solution is to give the covenant breakers what they want. In other words, the propose dramatically redefining United Methodism in a way that will only give rewards to the covenant breakers, and only demand sacrifices of principle from the traditionalists who have exercised great patience and restraint in playing by the rules.
*Damron and *Slaughter were also perfectly willing to reward bad behavior when their West Ohio group endorsed the Connectional Table’s proposal to liberalize sexuality standards in every annual conference (see here and here). It is worth reviewing my analysis of how that plan would have made the UMC more liberal than even the Episcopal Church and how professed liberal objections were apparently little more than a political smokescreen. This proposal came about through repeated instances of Amy DeLong’s Love Prevails group, which has no official role, rudely disrupting meetings and Table leaders agreeing to meekly roll over and give into their demands, with little care for the marginalization and heartbreak this caused for orthodox Connectional Table members.
I do give *Slaughter credit for having the courage to at least briefly stand up to the Love Prevails activists to tell them that their bullying tactics were inappropriate (albeit while claiming that “if [the church] doesn’t change, it won’t survive”). But the above-noted record indicates that he eventually came around to supporting this surrender, thus moving our church governance towards a system in which the actions of duly elected leaders are vetoed and dictated by whichever outside group of bullies can be more forceful in taking over meetings.
*Slaughter himself also participated in a disruptive protest that shut down the 2012 General Conference (begin at the 22:29 mark of this video).
UPDATE: The initial “uniting conference” for this group featured an RMN employee as one of its key speakers, and an outspoken activist from the UMC Queer Clergy Caucus as one of the co-leaders of closing worship. The latter caucus had earlier released a statement with a lot of rhetoric complaining that the Uniting Methodists Movement (UMM) was allegedly not moving quickly enough towards the shared goal of LGBTQ liberation, but ultimately making clear that this far-left, covenant-breaking caucus “look[s] forward to working with … our kin in the UMM.”