Hundreds of United Methodist leaders from the liberal wing of the denomination were joined by activists in Leawood, Kansas this week for the “UMC Next” conference. The event was organized to plan their opposition to the denomination’s official rejection of homosexuality and gay marriage.
Denomination leaders voted earlier this year to strengthen their embrace of marriage between one man and one woman, laid out in the church’s “Traditional Plan.” The UMC Book of Discipline affirms that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” It prohibits same-sex marriages and the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals.
United Methodist leaders who disagree vowed this week to employ a “wide variety of resistance tactics” to fight back.
“For some of us, resisting the Traditional Plan means violating the Book of Discipline. For some persons in their context, it might not,” said Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli, senior pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church of Washington, during a press conference on the last day of the UMC Next.
“There will need to be a wide variety of resistance tactics all leaning into and seeking to help accomplish the commitments that we have made together here.”
Adam Hamilton, head pastor of the Church of the Resurrection, also voiced his opposition to the denomination’s commitment to biblical marriage. Hamilton does not believe major texts of the Bible concerning homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
He encouraged those in attendance to find ways to oppose the Traditional Plan.
“For some, resistance is putting up a banner saying all are welcome; and for others, it may mean participating in a same-gender wedding. The hundreds of participants are all thinking about what does resistance look like in their particular context,” he said in a statement.
All of the leaders at the conference agreed the denomination is divided.
“Every movement has a tipping point, a game changer, a watershed moment, this is one of them,” said convening team member Rev. Junius Dotson. “In a moment none of us have experienced before and could never have fully anticipated, we have come together and held many important things in tension. We have managed ambiguity, and cared for the waves of our own emotions and reactions. It has been intense, challenging, powerful, beautiful work we have engaged together.”
The leaders ended the conference with the following four commitments:
1.We long to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity, anchored in scripture and informed by tradition, experience and reason as we live a life of personal piety and social holiness.
2. We commit to resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, and abilities.
3. We reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and will resist its implementation.
4. We will work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts, and commit to being in ministry together.
Traditional Plan supporter Mark Tooley, president of the conservative Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD), predicts that the UMC will split into liberal, conservative, and centrist factions.
“It’s a question of how long it takes for that to unfold — and of who and how many go into each denomination,” Tooley told the Associated Press. “A lot of churches will be irreparably harmed as they divide.”
The Rev. Scott Hagan, a pastor from Bonaire, Georgia who supports the Traditional Plan, said the denomination needs to have a unified message so parishioners are not confused about what the church says about sexuality.
“To have each church — possibly in the same town — offering a different perspective and practice would surely be confusing to the public that comes to the church looking for guidance,” Hagan said.
The United Methodist Church claims about 12.6 million members worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the United States. The United States church has been hemorrhaging members for decades while the more conservative Third World church has been growing.