In February, a global conference of Methodists voted to keep its traditional marriage stance. This included disallowing the ordination of openly gay clergy and not officiating same-sex weddings.
While the international Methodists voted to affirm traditional marriage, most American Methodists and clergy hold to progressive views on LGBT issues.
This week, 600 Methodists met at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas for the UMC Next Conference. Many people who attended the conference have promised resistance tactics to the official stance of the UMC.
At a press conference, UMC pastor Ginger E. Gaines-Cirel said “For some of us, resisting the Traditional Plan means violating the Book of Discipline. For some persons in their context, it might not”
Adam Hamilton is the pastor of the church who hosted this week’s conference. Hamilton said, “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.”
There does seem to be strong agreement from those who attended the conference that they wish to stay within the United Methodist Church.
The conference ended with affirming four affirmations.
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.
From the time the United Methodist Church voted to affirm traditional marriage, I wondered if the new policies would be something that the denomination could enforce, given its vocal opposition from American Methodists.
When pastors say things like “for some of us resisting the traditional plan, means violating the Book of Discipline,” that is Methodists openly saying they are going to defy the rules of their denomination.
More importantly, they’re openly defying the Word of God. Methodists have never officially affirmed gay marriage.
I think that the four affirmations of UMC Next are self-contradictory. They say “We long to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity, anchored in scripture and informed by tradition,” meanwhile they are going against scripture, traditional Christian morality, and the tradition of their own denomination.
It seems to me that bishops within the UMC are going to be especially important in this equation. They’re the ones who are going to need to hold pastors and churches accountable. I realize there are solid, Biblically-based, gospel-preaching Methodist churches in America.
I do believe that a major split within the UMC is inevitable. The denomination is going to continue shrinking in America and Europe while it continues to get larger in the southern hemisphere. Christians in the developing world (while imperfect) do not support gay marriage. A vote won’t change the traditional view of the denomination as the southern hemisphere churches keep the western churches in check.
Defying the rules is going to be sold as if it’s the Biblical and loving thing to do. Methodists will pat themselves on the back and compare themselves to people who have stood up against evils such as slavery and tyranny.
It’s a Divided Methodist Church. I don’t see the divide ever healing within this denomination.
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Josh Benner has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has served churches in Minnesota and Illinois. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in St. Louis.