The Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor at the Church of the Resurrection, welcomes gay and lesbian members into his congregation and respects their desire to get married. But he didn’t always.
“I was a conservative on this at one time myself,” Hamilton told a crowd of about 400 gathered at Church of the Resurrection in downtown Kansas City on Saturday.
Hamilton this week was one of the progressive delegates at the worldwide conference of the United Methodist Church in St. Louis who was outvoted by the conservative faction of the denomination to uphold a ban on same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT clergy.
Conservative delegates also approved a set of consequences for clergy who violate that policy, including suspension for first offenses and being defrocked for second offenses.
The vote comes at a seminal point for the United Methodist Church, which counts 12 million members worldwide, as some of its progressive members wonder if it’s time to break away and form a new denomination.
Hamilton, displeased with the vote, said Saturday he’s not trying persuade those United Methodists rooted against same-sex marriage, but seeks to have the denomination welcome those who feel differently.
“I don’t believe I am going to change a lot of people’s minds on that whose minds are firmly made up,” Hamilton said. “What I do hope and what I hoped at General Conference was to say, ‘Can we recognize that there are faithful Christians who are United Methodists who read this scripture differently...and can we make room for them?’”
Hamilton’s words carry weight: With four campuses and 22,000 members, Resurrection is the largest congregation in the United States.
Hamilton acknowledged that there is a push within the progressive side of the United Methodist Church that would prefer to head toward a schism. Hamilton said he has some concerns about the effect a breakaway would have upon United Methodist-affiliated institutions, like hospitals and universities.
Hamilton and others aligned with him proposed the One Church plan at the General Conference in St. Louis.
“That said, let’s make room for conservatives to be conservatives, centrists to say, ‘We’re kind of divided at my church and we’re going to work our way through this,’ and progressives to be progressives,” Hamilton said. “It was going to open the door for churches that wanted to do same-sex marriages to do them.”
The Traditional Plan prevailed, largely on the strength of growing numbers of delegates from overseas, particularly Africa, who side with a conservative interpretation of the tenets of scripture.
Among United States delegates, two-thirds voted against the Traditional Plan. But the influence of conservative delegates, led by the Wesleyan Covenant Association, won with 53 percent of the vote.
“It’s not OK, and it’s not that I’m telling you you can’t believe what you believe, but you just told us we can’t believe what we believe and you just told us there’s no more room in this church anymore unless we just shut up and take it,” Hamilton said. “And that’s not OK with me.”
Hamilton said he saw three likely ways forward from last week’s vote.
One was putting pressure on mission organizations that were voting against Church of the Resurrection’s interests.
“I’m not saying we’re not going to support you because you had a difference of opinion,” Hamilton said. “But if you are regularly willing to vote this way then you are pushing us out of the denomination. If you are pushing us out of the denomination, why would we send money and people to support you? We can find another mission partner in your area that isn’t going to try and push us out of the denomination.”
Hamilton said he thought that approach could lead to the Wesleyan Covenant Association realizing that they overstepped in St. Louis and work on a more inclusive plan.
“Will that happen?” Hamilton said. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
A second option that Hamilton said bishops in the church were considering was having an umbrella United Methodist Church with three denominations under it to serve separately progressives, centrists and conservatives. He compared it to the structure of the Anglican Church.
And the third option was progressives splitting off.
“I think it would not be hard, we would lose some people but I think our folks here love the United Methodist Church — some don’t care — but they love the kind of church we have created and so we could start a new United Methodist Church and thousands of churches would join us,” Hamilton said.
But he has some trepidation with that approach as it could leave affiliates of the United Methodist Church — like colleges, universities and social ministries — behind.
“So they get dismantled by the people who are left,” Hamilton said. “I worry about the churches who aren’t in a position where the strength of leadership is there to lead their congregations so they are stuck in a system that’s left behind and I don’t think that’s a really healthy place for those churches to be either.”
He went on: “I feel a weight of burden for all of these other places so it’s not as easy as let’s just leave and do something else because you’re leaving a whole lot of other people behind.”
Lisa Silverman, a 45-year-old lesbian member of Church of the Resurrection from Prairie Village, said she appreciated Hamilton’s voice on the issues confronting the United Methodist Church.
She said the General Conference’s vote left her heartbroken and unwelcome by the United Methodist Church.
“This is a little closer to home,” she said.
She said she preferred a more direct challenge to the church rather than waiting a year for a new vote at the next General Conference.
“I appreciate his advocacy,” she said. “He’s willing to advocate not quietly, but advocate in an outspoken way.”