Queer Clergy

May 31, 2019

Progressive United Methodist Summit Eyes the Start of a New Church Movement

On May 17-18, a progressive group of LGBTQ United Methodists and their allies held a summit, Our Movement Forward, to share their thoughts and articulate their position on the future of the United Methodist Church (UMC). The event was held at Lake Harriet UMC in Minneapolis, MN. These clergy and lay leaders discussed what LGBTQ-affirming United Methodists can do to shape the church, laid out some of their non-negotiables moving forward, and discussed the merits of staying in the denomination compared to creating a wholly new church structure. The gathering was also committed to elevating the voices of people of color, queer people, and transgender persons, who they feel have been marginalized and gone unheard.

The convening group, UMForward, is perhaps best known for promoting the “Simple Plan” presented to General Conference 2019, which would have liberalized church standards on homosexuality as well as adultery and premarital sex, and not paid even lip service to including traditional believers in the church.  UMForward has deep ties and leadership crossover with the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus (UMQCC), Methodists in New Directions (MIND), and the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN).

Compared to previous UMForward gatherings, Our Movement Forward displayed clear energy behind “creating a new thing,” and splitting off from the global, orthodox UMC. A common thread throughout the two-day meeting was that to keep their integrity and live out their deeply held beliefs, these leaders must be in a church that is uncompromising in its full affirmation of LGBTQ people and practices.

While the strategy sessions of the summit were not publicly viewable, the event’s livestream brought a great deal of insight into the mindset of the UMC’s most vocal progressive activists.

Dr. Jay Williams, pastor of Union UMC in Boston, recognized the strength of General Conference’s decision to uphold traditional teaching on marriage and human sexuality, describing it in grim terms to his friends, while also deriding conservatives:

“In February at the Special General Conference the United Methodist Church as we knew it died. The church died, and the Traditional Plan, the TP, and I mean TP, was responsible for this death. And there were a lot of folks complicit with the process. Organizations, and tactics, and coalitions that participated in what ended up as the death of the church as we knew it.”

However, Williams made it clear that compromise and centrism, not conservatives, are the true threats to their progressive mission. When asked what his personal non-negotiables were, he said: “We can’t compromise, period, [on] queer liberation… So any pathway forward cannot compromise to moderation, or to any form of centrism, that is more interested in numbers and holding kind of a big tent, versus living out the fullness of the gospel.” He views seeking compromise with centrists as not only valueless but harmful to himself and the LGBTQ cause: “the biggest threat to queer liberation actually isn’t conservatism. We know where conservatives stand. The biggest threat to queer liberation is centrism and moderation.”

Rev. M Barclay, the first openly “non-binary trans person” commissioned as a provisional deacon in the UMC, echoed Williams’ disdain of centrism in the UMC. “There has been so much use of the name and way of God to dominate people, and the One Church Plan was that. To say that God is for whatever you think is right in your context is dominance and control and evil.”

Many of these same sentiments made it into Loved and Liberated: A Proclamation from Our Movement Forward Summit:

Our primary commitment, as baptized Christians, is to the fullness of the Gospel and liberative change, and not to denominational preservation. While we do not rejoice in schism, we will not sacrifice PoC+Q+T people on the idolatrous altar of “church unity.” Emerging expressions of Methodism cannot start with coalitions that preserve and institutionalize oppression under the guise of “conscience,” “big tent Methodism,” “contextual ministry,” “religious freedom,” and “tolerance of all viewpoints.” We need something entirely new.

Those at the summit not only expressed a desire for a movement separate from the current UMC, but also one with a very different structure. UM News reported that “A frequent refrain in small-group discussions was a desire to have a radically different structure than the current denomination, leaving behind the current hierarchy of bishops and the clergy appointment system.” The proclamation that came out of the conference reflected this, stating that they “seek a new expression of Methodism” apart from the UMC, which they described as a crumbling connection.

During a panel discussion, Dr. Althea Spencer-Miller, a professor at Drew Theological School, said she envisions a more flexible and nimble church, one built by “a series of commitments we’re willing to renegotiate every time a shift happens.”

Summit attendees were also told that task forces to analyze and handle the legal and financial ramifications of separation will be necessary, and those with the willingness and skills to serve in these ways were encouraged to get involved.

While the future of the UMC is still very uncertain, Our Movement Forward unambiguously showed that some of the most progressive United Methodists are gearing up for a departure from the denomination, and that they do not intend to do it alongside so-called centrists like Adam Hamilton and the Uniting Methodists, who still emphasize compromise and contextualization on issues of marriage and ordination.

(An earlier version of this article stated that the conference was held at New Milford UMC. It has been corrected to Lake Harriet UMC.)

24 Responses to Progressive United Methodist Summit Eyes the Start of a New Church Movement

  1. td says:

    While I don’t agree with them, I respect them and recognize that they have the integrity to be honest and are beginning to take the responsibility of leaving upon themselves. It is indeed a contrast to the UMC next group that met in Kansas whose perceived message afterwards was that they will protest, rule-break, and destroy the whole thing to get their way- with the goal of purging the majority from the UMC.

  2. Palamas says:

    Gotta love how, in typically leftist, academic, and unthinking fashion they lump “people of color” in with LGBTQXZY+. “People of color” have power and influence all out of proportion to their numbers in the UMC, and are in no way comparable to sexual minorities (especially since there is nothing sinful about having dark skin, as opposed to being engaged in behaviors Scripture condemns).

  3. Aloysius Shiplap says:

    Not to deride, but seriously to ask, how does one define ‘PoC’ in the context of a global church? and how can one see oneself as a champion of ‘persons of color’ while simultaneously doing all in one’s power to defeat the African and Asian church? Who, in Korea or the Philippines, is a ‘PoC’? Or in Nigeria? Inquiring minds need to know. I would be glad to be shown otherwise, but the term would appear to be a piece of American parochialism.

  4. Mike says:

    It’s beginning to look less and less likely that UM Forward, UMC Next and Mainstream UMC will be able to “come together” (sorry!), along with other fringe non-traditional groups, to agree on what their future will look like.

    This kind of disunity in terms of goals and endgame agendas show what happens when people abandon orthodox doctrine / faith / practice.

    The UM Forward folks saw through the ruse of “unity” being pushed by the bishops and others; it appears that unity outside of the current traditional Discipline of the UMC may be very difficult (for them all) to attain.

    • MJ says:

      Yes, it looks like there will be a fractured Methodist left in the future. To be fair, though, when other denominations lurched left, it was often the “traditionalists” who fractured when forming new denominational structures.

      • Tom says:

        Both the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and the Southern Baptists resisted the lurch left and remained in the hands of Bible-believing Christians. So there is precedent, and there is hope.

  5. senecagriggs says:

    Will the people who fill the pews on Sunday morning leave their church building/friends to follow the progressives?

    Don’t think so – even if they kind of agree with the progressive’s view on sexuality. Inertia is extremely hard to overcome.

    • td says:

      No, they won’t. But the plan will be for whole annual conferences to leave and to take their churches with them.

      • Reynolds says:

        The AC cannot vote for the local church unless the rules are changed. The rule will never change. Each church will have to vote and it takes 2/3 to leave. Simple math says most churches will stay preachers will have to change the views or leave

  6. Gary Bebop says:

    No “Way Forward” church will provide sanctuary for traditional orthodox Methodists. “It’s not happening,” as some say. If there is to be a remnant traditional Methodism, it will be established by Traditionalists “who will not be moved” by the gyrations and hellfire of an angry Methodist Left.

    • td says:

      It’s true. You can’t really have a church with clergy who don’t follow their church’s rules. It is untenable. This has been a clergy issue from the start and still remains so. Our US clergy want to change the rules for themselves and they hold all the levers to enforcement (or non enforcement) of current rules. The only thing they don’t control is GC.

  7. Pat says:

    Satan will use the progressives all he can to finally destroy the Methodist Church as founded by John Wesley. The split will be ugly as this is what the progressives want it to be. Those that remain will have to be held accountable to the BOD and has to finally be enforced. If those in authority do not enforce the standards as stated in the BOD, then leadership is as much to blame as the progressives in their ignoring Bible scripture.

  8. Greg Iverson says:

    FYI, New Milford UMC is in New Milford, CT, not Minneapolis, MN.

  9. You at least could have tried to get the location right. But if defamation is the goal facts don’t really matter, do they?!?

  10. Rev. Dr. Lee D Cary says:

    We’re witnessing the balkanization of the UMC. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? At this point, value judgements on that don’t matter. It’s an undeniable…thing.

    I served as an ordained elder in two Annual Conferences before retiring. Special interest groups and caucuses were in vogue. Clergy posturing to be noticed, and grand pronouncements at the gatherings were coin of the realm. (Sinclair Lewis’ description of an AC in “Elmer Gantry” is all too accurate.)

    I remember one D.S. heralding the mission of one of the conferences as being to “evangelize every living creature within the conference boundaries,” and wondered how that would impact my dog, “Rags” (R.I.P.).

    Do these balkanized factions, proliferating like amoeba, realize how silly they look to most UM laity? I doubt it, for they function within a sad, self-righteous, ideological bubble of their own making.

    To quote a sporting gear vender’s slogan: If you’re going to leave the UMC then be bold and – Just Do It.

  11. William says:

    If the ‘one church plan’ had of passed, traditionalists would have left and formed a new denomination. The structure was in place headed into the 2019 General Conference, is still in place, and remains on hold. They were unified then and are more unified now. They’re offering to negotiate a separation. They are as consistent, open, transparent, and up front as can be. It’s looking as if UMForward is ready to talk. Where are the so called centrists? Adam Hamilton, where are you? It is abundantly clear now that peace can be achieved only through a separation. So, do the centrists want peace or are they enjoying the fight too much and plan to continue it at the 2020 General Conference? Again, Adam Hamilton, where are you?

    • Lee D. Cary says:

      I’ve observed that in most serious debates in life, the “Centrist” is an ideological coward. Like a serial abstainer.

      Their self-appointed role is to moderate conflicting opinions. More often than not, it’s a ruse.

      Centrists – in the middle between “Left” and “Right” are, more often than not, leftist-lite.

  12. MikeS says:

    Well, Bon Voyage!

  13. Loren Golden says:

    “To say that God is for whatever you think is right in your context is dominance and control and evil.”
    I hope that “Rev.” Barclay will see the supreme irony in this statement and remove the log from his/her eye.

  14. Loren Golden says:

    “Dr. Althea Spencer-Miller … said she envisions a more flexible and nimble church, one built by ‘a series of commitments we’re willing to renegotiate every time a shift happens.’”
    “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Lk. 4.14)

  15. Skipper says:

    They need a separate movement. It’s always so sad when people turn away from God and live in a worldly fashion.

  16. The reason there are many different protestant denominations is because of differing opinions of certain scriptures. So they should leave and have a denomination of their own. I certainly do not believe God will bless them and accept their sinful lifestyle. But at least they will not take away from the Methodist mission with fruitless arguments of what is already stated as sin;

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