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

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014


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?”


  • Mark says:

    Hamilton’s proposal is, of course, a self-contradiction. His hope, apparently, is that enough people will eventually disregard the Discipline such that it will be changed. But if people are willing to live in defiance of vows they have taken then the skids are greased for more defiance. This is a true slippery slope right out of the pages of The Screwtape Letters.

  • MarkE says:

    The UMC is structured that it’s all for one and one for all. This proposal will not work. It will also open the door for the rejection of other parts I the Discipline. We either have to be all in or amicably split.

  • Author says:

    Love this part “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. ” No split, it is a marriage and you cannot tell every one to stay married and work it out and then the church not do that. The Hamiliton proposal puts the issue in perspective and puts it in the local churches so pastors can discern the course needed for that congregation. That is very Methodist and very reasonable. It takes into account reason and experience. It keeps our pastors and bishops out of an endless no win debate that does not glorify Christ or the mission. Church has evolved over time. Jesus hugged lepers, talked with prostitutes, and others who were deemed unacceptable. He told them they were acceptable. Should not we? I would rather live and be uncomfortable with giving someone love that I did not quite agree with rather than be uncomfortable and give them law. Christ chooses whom he chooses whether we like it or not and often they have some deep sin or need. That is His point and His Way. Our God is great enough to handle even if we oops. 🙂 He loves a good oops since it lets Him work in glorious ways. It is not all up to us. Maybe it is a step in faith for a denomination known for the strength of its laity. 🙂 Believe me it is very, very, very good and strong.

    • Holly says:

      Response to a comment above about Jesus hugging and accepting lepers and prostitutes. He also *healed* them. He loved them enough to not leave them as they were!

      • Rev Roy says:

        Yes Jesus did associate with sinners; liken to the :woman at the well: not rebuking her, He simply told her to “Go and Sin no More”. The same as we should convey to our homosexual friends.

  • Author says:

    I agree that this is a “slippery slope”. As I have said before, forget Biblical principles for awhile. Once same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, other models of marriage will want their day in court. Bisexual marriage, polygamy, polyandry, transgender marriage, etc. can all claim loving adherents. This will bring even further confusion, especially to children born of these unions. Is this what we want as a society?

    • Larry says:

      What are the Christian boundaries of marriage? What defines these boundaries? What do you understand Jesus as saying? Given the many Old Testament examples of culturally acceptable marriage, I rely on Jesus’ expressed perspective on acceptable limits on marriage. I ask these questions as one who is personally committed to male-female monogamy in my own marriage. What Jesus standards apply to marriage today?

  • Jim says:

    Sounds like a proposal for a modified congregationalism driven by abandonment of the biblical form of historic Christianity; a move that will lead to disunity rather than unity. I had hoped to survive in such a ‘liberal unity’ in my old congregational denomination (Disciples) but a new unity emerged with the national vote going liberal. I’ve fled, leaving my credentials behind, to the ACNA, hoping there we can hold the ground for historic orthodox Christianity and honor God before man. Looking forward to the upcoming blogs.

  • […] A Way Forward For The United Methodist Church– The UMC is divided over homosexuality.  This article briefly explains the issue.  This contentious issue has the potential to divide the United Methodist Church.  May we pray that this once evangelical denomination would regain the passion and vigor of her founding fathers.  UMC leaders may do well to heed the words of Al Mohler on this issue. […]

  • Pete says:

    I heard it best said that the best way to grow a church is to split it. I am not sure if that is 100% true, but that seems to be the path that is being traveled here. The UMC is going the same route (almost) as the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) did a few years ago and the fallout from that split is still being evaluated.

  • JohnM says:

    I’m not a United Methodist so I don’t know if I can say I’ve got a dog in this fight or not. That said, I don’t see how this would amount to anything but a “house divided against itself”, even under congregational polity, never mind within an episcopal denomination. It surely is naïve to suppose “…re-locating this debate to the local church, it will end the rancor, animosity and debate…”

  • Rob Price says:

    Semantics and denial. This proposed “solution” is nothing more than schism with a coat of paint slapped on it. And by the way, how does this not set a precedent for flouting the Discipline at other points as well? Can we stop kidding ourselves and lying to our flocks, please?

  • Point 2 under the “Problem Stated”
    “(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.” So on this bases we can eradicate what we don’t like in the Bible. Society is different now. Not only so, but to classify those passages in such a framework, is to deny a large portion of Scripture. Such a modern qualification is very bothersome. Is the need of conversion to Christ somehow not as important today since we are so much more educated?

    I believe the Bible is for all ages and is a rebuke to the error of the gays, and the denial of Christ by all to many United Methodist theologians. What you ought to be discussing is what is a real Methodist? Can a Methodist believe like our Calvinist and Baptist brothers and still be Methodist? Speaking here of Biblical Arminianism of course. If there is a split, just what will we be? Will we be Episcopal or congregational in church Government? Or we be a silly hodgepodge doctrinal absurdity having a good ole time in Jesus? The heat of the moment is important, but we must look beyond this moment to an eventual split if that happens.

    The dye is all but cast. Let’s get more serious then trying to find a compromise. The “Holy Conferencing” has fail to produce anything lasting in the last many years. Talking is now giving away to actions that we tried to avoid. And perhaps God is trying to move within in our ranks? Love should never be used to avoid doing the right thing. In this case Gods discipline, the Bible, would be the rule of our founder Mr. Wesley and therefore why not ours too? But to relegate this conflict to a first century cultural perspective seems to be some sort of backhanded denial of what God is teaching through St. Paul.

  • The Constitution states that all men are created equal and all the states agree to follow the Constitution but some states can vote to permit slavery and others can reject slavery. That compromise didn’t prevent the Civil War and I don’t think this “solution” will keep the UMC together. Eventually, there will be two branches and members will have to ask if their local church is one of “those” or “the other?”

  • Dave Fowler says:

    Does it bother me that these issues get argued about every 4 years at General Conf.? Sure.
    Would I rather have them argued about and split every local church? NO!
    Frankly, at the local church level, we can live with general conference delegates having a holy tiff every four years. Keep up the good fight, and keep it far away. 🙂

  • […] Rev. Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, offers a seven-part response in which he identifies deeper theological and ecclesiological problems in the UMC which “A Way Forward” avoids, critiques the proposal’s post-modernism, explains how it would lead to “more conflict and division, not less,” notes how it fails to address the realities and pastoral needs of self-identified members of the LGBTQIA community, and observes that “not a single verse of Scripture is actually quoted in A Way Forward.” He concludes his series by tentatively suggesting the outlines of a plan for the UMC to “Multiply, not Divide.” […]

  • greg says:

    I think the seeker friendly approach of the past led us down this path. the church threw aside any controversial doctrine, hoping the unsaved world would embrace them. and it worked. the unconverted stormed in and became the majority. pastors that stood by the bible were quickly disposed of. then the kjv bible was ushered out.
    only now are they realizing what they have created. in the very near future, the lgbt activists in the church won’t allow any pastor to play both sides of the fence. they are going to demand equal rights and acceptance of their lifestyle. everyone will have to choose a side. it will, at best, divide the church.

  • […] whether to keep or reject the anti-homosexuality language of the denominational Discipline.  (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7)  Tennent is a minister in the United Methodist […]

  • Pastor Hamilton has already been warned to go back to the Bible or face severe judgment. This includes what I told him in person regarding Roe vs Wade and to end the killing of Almighty God’s children. It is time to split the Methodist church into the Bible believers and those which would listen to man. May God help you Adam. In the Love of Jesus Christ who shed his precious blood for you and me !!! Remember you can not serve two masters.

  • […] 1. Is a Way Forward for a “United” Methodist Church Really a Way Forward? […]

  • Tim Stockton says:

    Deception begins with changing our beliefs… and our view of God and His Righteousness. If I believe that lying is ok and others support my belief that lying is ok (as long as it’s a “white lie; or you don’t lie in church, etc) then I am going to trust it’s ok to lie at times…
    Satan now through society is all the time attempting to change the truth to a lie to cause those who believe the truth to be deceived. As the years have passed there have been many things that did not used to be accepted that now are and the younger generations are being taught these deceptions; and their faith is being skewed; Jesus is the Truth the way and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through HIM; attempting to bend the truth (which Is Jesus and His word) to fit societies standards or your own personal beliefs not to offend or be offended is walking on dangerous ground; of having no faith at all in God and as it tells in Romans 1: 21-32 that we can even be turned over to a reprobate mind. When we put our trust in something else besides God and His truths: Idols are born.
    *this is a paragraph out of my “Faith Talk” I will be giving on an upcoming Chrysalis. It makes me think of this unfortunate issue that should have never been an issue within the United Methodist church. While there is still time and those pushing the agenda of “A Way Forward” get their way there needs to be a rise “Going Back to the Truth” and the “old paths” and removing anyone from positions that go against current Methodist beliefs and doctrine.

  • charles says:

    Are we at peace to sellout the Scripture and God’s Word to us to preserve the UMC? Allowing any area not submitting to the authority of Scripture breaks down the whole Church. This is not acceptable for me. We already have Bishops, clergy and even annual conferences openly not following the Bible or the book of Discipline. What would this do? It is not a way forward but a way the UMC is selling out to be more like the world.

  • Why are we putting our heads on the chopping block to satisfy what surely must be a tiny minority? In other words, what percentage of the population is homosexual and Methodist at the same time? I suspect the answer is a fraction of a fraction of one percent. For this we are willing to risk everything? No. Adhere to the rules and tell those who do not like it that they are welcome to come worship at any time but not to lead and not to be wed within the UMC.

  • Sam Grant says:

    The Apostle Paul would undoubtedly ask, as usual, “what does the Scripture say?” Further discussion unnecessarily!