or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Adam Hamilton is the Senior Pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, the largest United Methodist Church in the world, with over 20,000 members. He founded the church twenty-five years ago when he gathered a small group and rented space in a funeral home. Adam is deeply committed to biblical Christianity, Wesleyan theology, evangelism, spiritual development, and the mission of the church in the world.
He also embodies one of the most basic Methodist characteristics: pragmatism. He believes in getting things done. And he favors what will work over ideological or even doctrinal purity.
Last spring Adam wrote a blog post called, “Same Sex Marriage and the Future of the UMC.” It is more pragmatic than prophetic, but it suggests a practical way forward that avoids schism. It will not please everyone. In some ways, it will not please anyone.
But as a person who wants to avoid schism, who believes that our denominational diversity and pluralism are strengths, I think it deserves serious consideration.
In many ways he is the perfect person to bring such a proposal. His position has evolved over the years. He has impeccable evangelical credentials. And it should be noted that he has taken no small risk in going public with his thinking on this issue.
His concern is that at our next General Conference in 2016 we need to come up with a plan that will allow us to live with our differences.
Living with our differences would require sacrifices on both sides, but the sacrifices would not be equal. It would mean that traditionalists would have to live with the knowledge that in other parts of the denomination pastors were celebrating same sex weddings and conferences were ordaining gay and lesbian clergy. Those advocating for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church would have to live with the knowledge that full inclusion did not exist across the whole denomination. Most significantly, LGBTQ folks, those most directly affected, would have to live with a situation in which a portion of the church still excluded them and considered them to be uniquely sinful human beings, “less than” others.
He begins with three assumptions:
1. The more complicated the change, the less likely it will pass.
2. The more places in the Discipline that must be changed, the less likely it will pass.
3. The more radical the change, the less likely that it will pass.
He then suggests a three part solution:
1. Pastors would decide whether or not to officiate at a same sex wedding.
2. Churches would decide whether or not their buildings could be used for same sex weddings.
3. Conferences would decide whether or not they would ordain LGBTQ persons.
Under this plan the current condemnatory language about “the practice of homosexuality” being “incompatible with Christian teaching” would remain. But the Discipline would allow local churches and pastors to adopt a more inclusive stance.
He wisely observes that, “We are a denomination divided over how we interpret the scriptures regarding same-sex relationships; most of our congregations are also divided. Any possible solution must allow room for differences of opinion. What seems clear to me is that a viable long-term strategy cannot be found in a one-sized-fits-all policy imposed upon every church in every region and nation by the 800 delegates to the next General Conference.”
We might note that there are really two sticking points in the current position of the church. The first is that it is painful to be told that one’s life is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” And that is no small thing. But those against inclusion were not content with condemnation and they compounded that first problem with a second one. The second problem is that unlike the Disciplinary positions on gun control, war, the death penalty, abortion, labor unions, or a host of other issues, we have chosen to make this the one social issue on which we impose penalties. If we didn’t have the penalties, then many churches and pastors would choose to be inclusive in spite of the Disciplinary language, and most of our church members wouldn't even know it existed.
Adam Hamilton gives us a way forward. And I continue to believe that maintaining our very imperfect union is important. But we also need to be clear. It is not really a middle road. It requires that some LGBTQ persons continue to be excluded and it continues to enshrine words of condemnation. The traditionalists might feel bad about not being able to prevent every same sex couple from being married in a United Methodist Church, but it is hard to see that as a great sacrifice.