Is a Way Forward for a “United” Methodist Church Really a Way Forward? Part 1

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Introduction

Adam Hamilton and a group of leading United Methodist pastors have recently issued a proposal entitled A Way Forward for a United Methodist Church. This is a document which must be taken seriously and responded to in a careful, thoughtful way. My purpose is not to vilify or criticize anyone who has written or signed this document. On the contrary, I believe that they are all deeply concerned about the state of the church and they sincerely believe that this proposal is “a way forward.” Adam Hamilton, Mike Slaughter and the other co-signers have all served the church with distinction and I want to express at the outset my heartfelt appreciation for their service. They sincerely hope and pray that this proposal will result in a specific legislative act at the 2016 General Conference which will give birth to a new chapter of church unity. In my estimation, this proposal will not achieve these lofty goals, but will result in the further demise of the UMC and will actually increase our disunity and impair our communion with one another. Our Methodist heritage is too precious to lose! We must all work together to preserve the great deposit of Wesleyan faith for the world.

Holy Contention, Holy Conferencing

This is the first of seven blog posts on this document. Let me say at the outset that I believe in “holy contention.” This means that those of us who are United Methodists have the right – and responsibility – to discuss, evaluate and press one another about any proposal which is put forth which has such important implications for our future and our witness in the world. This is not a reason to lament. We must make an important distinction between, on the one hand, “in-house” family contentions and, on the other hand, public disputes which bring one another before a secular court. Without holy contention we would be Arians and have never received the Nicene Creed or Chalcedonian formulation. Without holy contention there would have been no Reformation. Without holy contention there would have been no dissent movement which gave birth to the Methodist revivals. All of these glorious moments in the history of the church were enabled because of genuine contention for the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were each testing the true nature of the gospel and the truths of God’s Word. We are in such a test today. We need to examine ideas, talk with one another and sit down at the table and discuss things as brothers and sisters in Christ who love each other. Surely we all agree that whatever policy or Discipline statements or legislation which emerges at the end of this discussion must make sense biblically, theologically, historically, ethically and pastorally. We owe it to those who have gone before us and have contended for the faith to end up with something which resonates and rings true to the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. After all, Christianity did not start last Tuesday, and it is our job to receive it and pass it on faithfully while, at the same time, being faithful to the context to which we have been called.

What Exactly is the Proposal put forth by Hamilton?

Let’s start by trying to capture as succinctly as possible the proposal which has been put forward. The line of argument and proposal is as follows:

The Problem Stated:

(1) The United Methodist Church is divided over the issue of homosexual behavior. Some believe it is “incompatible with Christian faith” whereas others believe that same sex marriage is the moral equivalent of heterosexual marriage.

(2) The Biblical texts which condemn homosexual behavior (e.g. Rom. 1:26, 27; I Cor. 6:9; I Tim. 1:10, etc.) reflect a first century cultural perspective, not the timeless will of God for the church.

(3) Opinion polls reveal a dramatic shift in attitudes about homosexual behavior.

(4) A split in the United Methodist Church would bring irreparable harm to both sides.

(5) The United Methodist Church needs a “third way” between the two sides which will restore unity and bring peace.

The Solution Proposed:

(1) The current language of the Discipline regarding homosexuals and homosexual behavior would be retained and left unchanged. The current Discipline affirms the following:

a. the sacred worth of all persons,

b. homosexual behavior is incompatible with Christian teachings

c. the ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals is forbidden, and pastors are prohibited from celebrating same-sex unions.

(2) Any local church with the support of the pastor and 2/3 vote of the congregation would be permitted to reject the Discipline’s statements regarding homosexual behavior and adopt their own inclusive views and practices.

(3) Annual Conferences would also be granted the authority to reject the Discipline and could decide to ordain gay and lesbian clergy.

(4) Local churches that remain faithful to the Discipline would not be forced to accept gay or lesbian clergy as their pastors.

(5) By re-locating this debate to the local church, it will end the rancor, animosity and debate which has dominated General Conference every four years and replace it with peace and unity around our common heritage and shared goals.

This is the beginning of a series of blogs about the document so that, over time, the full implications of it might become better understood.

Tomorrow’s post will raise the question, “What is the Basis for Church Unity?”