Readers of OrdinationTruth.com are likely aware that, similarly to the divided situation within the Seventh-day Adventist Church over women’s ordination, the United Methodist Church is locked in schism over LGBTQ practice. Methodists held a Special General Conference Session in St. Louis, MO in May 2019 in which the majority of delegates voted to uphold the prohibition of LGBTQ practice in their church. LGBTQ supporting Methodists were outraged, and held meetings May 17-18, 2019 at the Lake Harriet United Methodist Church, Minneapolis, MN, and May 20-22 at Church of the Resurrection, Leawood Kansas, and in other locations.
The Minneapolis group released an extensive document dated May 18 titled “Loved and Liberated: A Proclamation from Our Movement Forward Summit,” in which they declared they would not abide by the decision and would settle for nothing short of full LGBTQ practice in the church. Consider a selection of excerpts from that document:
We have experienced the death of a denomination that was crucified by the special General Conference. United Methodism as we once knew it is dead.
We must do ourselves what neither the Judicial Council, nor Council of Bishops, nor any part of the institution would do: We declare the full liberation of PoC+Q+T Christians as the only way forward. [PoC = People of Color, Q = Queer, T = Transgender].
The Holy Spirit has been unleashed, and we are no longer captive to unjust systems in our denomination that oppress and crucify marginalized bodies.
Jesus of Nazareth—the poor, brown itinerant preacher of first-century, Roman-occupied Palestine—embodied unconditional love and radical solidarity with the marginalized.
PoC+Q+T persons are created in the imago dei, the image of a loving God who declared the creation “good.” PoC+Q+T Christians are God’s good gifts to the Church. There can be no concession of any kind to those who oppose the full inclusion of PoC+Q+T Christians in the life of The United Methodist Church.
As liberationists—those who strive for collective liberation of PoC+Q+T—we reject gradualism and incrementalism. We declare “progressive” as an inadequate descriptor for this moment. Progress is relative; liberation is an absolute.
Queerness is rooted deeply in the biblical witness of the non-complicit, non-conforming, non-conventional, and non-compromising Jesus of Nazareth. To Queer is to overturn the tables of wrongdoing, just as an enraged Jesus confronted usury and toppled the tables of the loan sharks. As Wesleyan Christians, we pursue the queer Christian endeavor of spreading “scriptural holiness throughout the land.”
Our primary commitment, as baptized Christians, is to the fullness of the Gospel and liberative change, and not to denominational preservation. While we do not rejoice in schism, we will not sacrifice PoC+Q+T people on the idolatrous altar of “church unity.” Emerging expressions of Methodism cannot start with coalitions that preserve and institutionalize oppression under the guise of “conscience,” “big tent Methodism,” “contextual ministry,” “religious freedom,” and “tolerance of all viewpoints.” We need something entirely new.
Guided by the Holy Spirit, we seek to create an expression of Methodism that is Christ-full and centers PoC+Q+T voices and their lived experiences in a vibrant, emergent Church where full access and inclusion with regard to membership, leadership, ordination, and sacred unions is the mandate, not the exception.
Divinity dwells in our flesh and our bones, and divinity delights in that which is other, different, strange, deemed illegal, incompatible, unworthy.
We will not compromise queer liberation or the full inclusion and affirmation of PoC+Q+T people in any way. This non-negotiable stance includes ceasing all bans, penalties, and church trials related to gender and sexual identity or expression, marriages, and sacred unions.
We commit to mutual accountability, radical solidarity, and the dismantling of hierarchical structures. Organizational structure is important and necessary for the emergent church. Regardless of clergy or laity status, we hold each other to our baptismal vows to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in all forms.
We commit to intentional relationship-building that transforms traditional power hierarchies and builds radical networks of relational power. (All quotes from “Loved and Liberated: A Proclamation from Our Movement Forward Summit,” https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf0WCRla0wK2SZjM4n6J-kzFxYvk_MpwQLQeLdgLhCwXaXWOg/viewform?usp=sf_link.)
Here are some observations:
- The group of General Conference delegates who made the largest contribution to the 2019 Special GC Session vote that embraced the “Traditional Plan” likely was the overseas delegation, dominated by PoC from Africa. This suggests that the PoC portion of the equation is actually a group of very specifically radicalized liberal North American PoC, rather than PoC in general.
- Another observation: how will the UM-Forward group organize in any meaningful manner if the essence of their approach is rejection of rules and structures?
- Walter Fenton of the Wesleyan Covenant Association indicates that Methodists who had claimed to be “centrists” have now fully sided with the LGBTQ group (see Walter Fenton, “Late to the Resistance,” https://wesleyancovenant.org/2019/05/27/late-to-the-resistance/). Now it turns out that the “centrists” weren’t in the center after all, and are now revealing their true position. The dynamics of the situation and their ideological commitments are moving them leftward. “At one point many of them affirmed the church’s sexual ethics and endorsed its ban on same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy. Over the years they slowly gravitated to an ‘agree-to-disagree’ position on the issues, and then recently they became advocates of what they called the ‘moderate and rational’ One Church Plan. That plan would have allowed annual conferences to continue to prohibit the ordination of practicing LGBTQ+ clergy, permitted pastors to continue to teach that the practice of homosexuality is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching,’ and to refuse to preside at same-sex weddings. But now Hamilton and some other centrists have decided they are going to resist the will of their church’s General Conference.”
- Fenton’s conclusion? “we think resistance is an odd organizing principle for a church where no one is forced to join and all are entitled to advocate for change. Unfortunately, strategies of defiance and resistance have now reduced our options to separation, dissolution, or more fighting leading to our fairly swift demise. Resistance will only cause more harm and pain and chase more rank and file United Methodists out of the church.”
Seventh-day Adventists can learn from Methodists. Many years past they decided to ordain women, and in so doing validated the root theology which also supports LGBTQ directions. Now the scythe of that theology is sweeping through their church in a catastrophic arc of denominational self-destruction. The Methodist situation bears striking similarities to our own. Like Methodists in their relentless LGBTQ advocacy, Adventist conferences and unions supporting women’s ordination have opted to rebel against our own General Conference Session vote in 2015 and ordain women anyway. But whereas the Methodist situation is becoming much clearer, our situation remains fuzzy. Will the compliance process voted in Annual Council be invoked and rebel sections of the church actually obey the world church decision, or, will we see yet more disregard for world church decisions? Will that continue until the day when a significant number of Adventists at last understand that women’s ordination and LGBTQ issues are driven by a common theological engine?
If the Methodists are an adequate test tube, we should make a sustained effort to understand what must be done, and get out of fuzzy.