A gathering of centrist and progressive United Methodist Church leaders has concluded that they plan to resist newly adopted policies that are seen as discriminatory against gay, lesbian and transgender members, rather than break away from the global church.
That’s the path that emerged from meetings of 600 United Methodists this week in Leawood as part of the UMCNext Conference held at the Church of the Resurrection.
United Methodists leaders, including Church of the Resurrection Pastor Adam Hamilton, were dismayed with the results of a worldwide General Conference of the church in February in which a majority of delegates voted to uphold what’s referred to as the Traditional Plan. The policy reaffirms that homosexuality is incompatible with Methodist scripture and upholds a ban on same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender clergy.
The church also adopted punishments for violating those policies, including financial penalties and excommunication for clergy.
The worldwide conference led to some United Methodist churches that are welcoming to LGBTQ members to consider breaking away from the global church.
Hamilton on Wednesday acknowledged that may still happen with some churches that are particularly distressed by the policies enacted at the global conference.
As for Church of the Resurrection, the largest Methodist congregation in the United States with more than 22,000 members, Hamilton said he’s pushing for more inclusion for LGBTQ members in the broader United Methodist Church.
“Some will probably break away sooner rather than later. In some more progressive settings and communities, it’s very hard to continue to stay when your denomination has made a policy statement that is harmful to many of your members,” Hamilton said in an interview with The Star on Wednesday. “In our congregation, I think our people understand our pastor is working on this.”
The UMCNext Conference ended with a pledge for four commitments from its members:
▪ A commitment to the Wesleyan version of Christian faith;
▪ A resistance to injustice and oppression of any kind, whether it’s people of color, disability or LGBTQ;
▪ A rejection of the Traditional Plan;
▪ Favoring the inclusion of LGBTQ persons.
“We’re saying it’s not OK for the church to treat people as second class,” Hamilton said.
As for what the resistance to the Traditional Plan will looking like, leaders at the UMCNext Conference said that could look different from one church to another. In some, it will be the continued ordination of LGTBQ clergy. In others, it will be efforts to bring resolutions of inclusiveness at the next General Conference.
“I understand there will need to be a wide variety of resistance tactics,” said Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, senior pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington D.C. “For some, yes, there will be violations. There will be those that will risk a lot for the sake of justice and for the sake of loving.”
Hamilton said he received a call from a bishop in Africa, a continent where influence supporting the Traditional Plan has grown, who expressed that some among the more conservative faction of the United Methodist Church hadn’t anticipated the backlash to the Traditional Plan.
While scripture can be interpreted as opposing same-sex marriage, Hamilton has said that views about scripture can and have changed over time.
“I think there’s a recognition on the part of some in the global church that understanding perhaps that many of the U.S. church interpret scripture on same-sex marriage the way we interpret scripture on slavery and the subordination of women and a whole host of other things,” Hamilton said. “While that may not be where they are, they’re wrapping their minds on how can we be in the church where some of our denomination does interpret things this way.”
How successful the resistance may be and how long it can co-exist in the broader United Methodist Church remains to be seen. But leaders of the UMCNext Conference stressed that LGBTQ members can feel welcome.
“I want to say you are not alone, you are loved, you are made in God’s image,” said DJ del Rosario, a pastor from Washington state. “And we are better because of you, not in spite of you.”