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:
A strong emphasis of this new “Uniting Methodist” caucus is essentially, “support us because WE are the ones who will bring unity to the church!” Some rather liberal folk associated with this group have used such rhetoric as part of their campaigns to get elected to General Conference.
The leadership of this caucus is largely a coalition of activists affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) – which has been the main liberal caucus in our denomination – along with liberal officials of denominational agencies and *Adam Hamilton and some of his followers.
I have seen folk from this group eagerly seek the appearance of moderation, of seeking common ground with traditionalists, and of including United Methodists from across our many divides. But the track record I have noted raises major questions about how such PR matches the actual substance. Beyond shallow sloganeering for self-promotional purposes, what is the content of the unity this groups wants us to seek?
As noted, others have tried reaching out to leaders of this caucus without much response.
When *Mike Slaughter and his friends started their group in West Ohio several years ago, calling themselves “centrists,” I made a good-faith effort to reach out to him, hoping to find some areas of common ground where we could work together, even if we had big disagreements elsewhere. *Slaughter’s response was to pass me off to one of his associates in his group, a guy in whom I did not find much interest in my attempts at bridge-building, and someone who I have since found likes to publicly denounce renewal groups and me personally with such rhetoric as “Lomperis[’s] aim isn’t theological but rather to clear the way in Washington for certain business interests to abuse the least and the lost for their own gain.” It’s hard to respectfully build bridges and find common ground with folk who are not interested in doing so with you.
Hence, I have had to focus on the public record in this article series, which has shown that the sort of unity sought by at least several key leaders in “Uniting Methodists” is not one based on shared core theology about even the most basic Christian beliefs, or agreeing to live in covenant community together. Without such firm content, such posturing about “unity” quickly descends into a caricature along the lines of “Above all else, our unity is what unites us and the greater our unity, the more united we will be.”
While there is some lip service about allegedly opposing the “extreme” ends of conservative as well as liberal United Methodism, this caucus’s “no enemies to the left” approach and the content of its concrete proposals make clear that orthodox believers would lose big, and would be the only ones to lose.
And generally, people who use the language of calling you as “extreme” are communicating their lack of interest in working with and including you. But as noted above, folk who would dismiss Christians who cannot accept same-sex unions as “extremists” have a bad case of mainline myopia, with little appreciation for how truly marginal the revisionist position is within the body of Christ as a whole.
Even within United Methodism’s tiny realm of the body of Christ, it was striking to see *Jim Harnish describe initial opponents of the bishops’ proposal at General Conference as “the folks on the extreme ends of the continuum.” Forty-nine percent of delegates voted NO on this proposal (the second time). If he’s already prepared to dismiss nearly half the UMC as insufferable “extremists,” this raises a lot of questions about how big his tent really is.
And despite the official email address for the caucus proclaiming to be for “all of us,” *Harnish admits that his hope for the results of the commission are to “clearly define the center of our life together that will include grace-filled ways for those who find that center to be either too conservative or too progressive to find their way into other ways of ministry.” In other words, redefine our sexuality standards so that some conservatives and liberals will leave the denomination. So much for unity. But those people who left are just “the extremes,” so it seems that “good riddance” is the implication.
Indeed, one thing is for sure: if the UMC makes any official move to liberalize our standards on sexual morality, a whole lot of orthodox members will soon leave. No one seriously disputes this.
Not to mention such other ways in which leaders of this group have pursued actions they are smart enough to realize would effectively make a great many folk with less liberal political views than themselves lose interest in joining our church or remaining United Methodist, such as *Doug Damron’s seeking to make the UMC unwelcoming to people who don’t believe that all abortions are “holy,” or *Lonnie Chafin’s work to use the name and resources of the church to promote his personal partisan political preferences, to the exclusion of all others.
But as for the liberal extremes, the idea that any would leave a UMC taken over by this new caucus seems to be more of red herring promoted for political consumption rather than a remotely realistic possibility. Indeed, what motivation would be given for liberals who have chafed under our conservative rules for decades to suddenly leave once they are liberalized? Why would the very liberal, RMN-affiliated, Oliveto-supporting liberals among the “Uniting Methodists” leadership want to leave a denomination after they took it over?
Indeed, *Damron and *Slaughter’s West Ohio group strongly opposed the proposal in the Covenantal Unity Plan to simply allow liberal congregations unwilling to honor our sexuality standards to leave with their property (and really nastily misrepresented the plan in ways that are hard to believe were not intentional). On the other hand, they said they “we are encouraged” by some traditionalists and revisionists once considering a proposal for the former to give up the entire denomination, and allowing liberal policies on homosexuality throughout, in exchange for letting conservative congregations abandon the UMC and take their properties with them, but only after jumping through a bunch of hoops the covenantal unity plan would not have imposed on departing liberal congregations.
In other words, they are on record as opposing any departure for even the most extreme liberals – no matter how generous the provisions and no matter how small the number who may take advantage of this – but are much more positive to having traditionalists leave the UMC, under much less generous terms.
Thus, by all appearances, the “Uniting Methodists” project is seeking to unite as many liberals as possible with as many moderates who can be convinced that this group is a lot more centrist than it really is, in hopes of forming a “united” front to force evangelicals to, in *Harnish’s words, “find our way into other ways of ministry.”
This is a time when I would really LOVE to be proven wrong. The bolded sections in this article series are invitations to leave comments below if I have missed anything. But this record I have noted already says quite a lot, and raises many questions I have not seen “Uniting Methodists” answering.