I attend the largest United Methodist Church in the nation, the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. On March 3, Senior Pastor Adam Hamilton returned from the United Methodists’ General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri to report the results to the congregation. Hamilton advocated a policy allowing local discretion for pastors to officiate gay marriages and to allow local conferences to ordain gay clergy.
Hamilton has described to us how his personal beliefs evolved from opposing same-sex marriage and gay clergy to accepting those ideas. In making his case to the congregation, he has pointed to the fact that the church has had to evolve on a number of issues, even as reflected within the Bible itself.
We Don’t Ban Shellfish Any More, After All
For instance, early Christians of Jewish origin believed that new Christians must observe the law of Moses on such matters as circumcision and diet. Deuteronomy 23:12-13 appears to prohibit indoor plumbing. Somehow we have made peace with going to the bathroom with a flush toilet.
Hamilton also pointed out that the congregation includes a large population of single and divorced members who may not strictly observe teachings prohibiting sex outside of marriage. He has also cited how our society has come to reject the practices of polygamy and slavery in spite of the Bible’s apparent tolerance of both.
Hamilton supported something called the “One Church Plan,” which, as he described it to us, would have allowed local counsels to set church doctrine consistent with local laws and customs. So, for example, in the United States where same-sex marriage is recognized by the Supreme Court as a right, local churches could, if they chose, officiate same-sex weddings. In Africa, where homosexuality is often outlawed, local churches would be free to align their practices with local custom and law.
The missionary success of the Methodist Church abroad yielded a substantial voting block of international delegates from new Methodist churches around the world. Delegates from Africa combined with the minority in America to push for a unified church doctrine in which all pastors would be required to comply with the traditionalist approach. This is how the One Church Plan was defeated.
I’ve never been approached by an LGBTQ activist. I’m not sure I would know where to find one if I needed instruction in the meaning of the LGBTQ initials and acceptable pronouns to use to address the appropriate orientations. Thus, I find myself in respectful disagreement with Glenn Stanton in his recent article in The Federalist on the One Church Plan and the vote in the conference.
He appears to believe that the One Church Plan came to us through activists advancing the LGBTQ agenda. I don’t think that’s accurate. I agree with it, not because I’m a woke activist, but because our church and Methodism generally has always been more of a “shall” church, not a “shalt not” church.
Focus on People on the Margins
I’m not gay but I also don’t go to church to listen to pastors tell other people they’re going to hell. I come to church to learn how I can do a better job loving my neighbor and honoring God. Aren’t we all? And anyone who wants to take that first step towards redemption should be allowed to do that.
Hamilton has two degrees in theology and is one of the most widely published theologians in the world. Our church has always shied away from taking hard moral stance on controversial issues. Some may feel that’s not a legitimate approach to the Bible. But Hamilton’s focus has always been to bring the nominally religious and the non-religious to God. From my point of view, there is a conservative case to be made for letting local churches deal with this explosive issue so we can move past this topic and not get bogged down in identity politics.
The Methodist church almost died in America. Hamilton has done something extraordinary in reviving it and leading tens of thousands of people to God who would otherwise not be there. It means fewer suicides, divorces, and drug addicts, and more people praying and reading the Bible.
It’s not that we sit around talking about social and political issues all the time––we don’t. The Methodists don’t, to my knowledge, have an official position on abortion, gun control, the death penalty, the Russia collusion hoax, Medicare for All, or Elizabeth Warren’s Indian ancestry. That’s my point. Those issues can take over and crowd out everything else. It’s not perfect and maybe Hamilton makes it too easy to be a Christian. But it’s better than letting the denomination die off, which is what was happening.
The United Methodist Church has open communion. The doors are open to anyone who wants to start the journey towards salvation. A convicted murderer can still take communion and get married in the church. Sinners who do the most unspeakable things on Saturday nights are welcomed on Sunday morning without reservation.
Ignore the Sin, Love the Sinner
If Hamilton marries two women or two men, that has no effect on my relationship with God. There are churches where the pastors will list the ways sinners will barbecue in the hereafter to the schadenfreude delight of the congregation. That’s not how it works in our church. We learn about the value of service, forgiveness, and holding ourselves accountable to the command to love our neighbors. That means loving our gay neighbors too.
The overwhelming majority of our church in Kansas City probably agrees with Hamilton. I know this because he’s made no secret of his position and those who disagreed left years ago to find different churches.
I’m not a social justice warrior, I don’t trade in identity politics, and I’m not woke. Far from it. One hundred percent of what I come to church to learn has nothing to do with this debate. It seems to me that the One Church Plan allows local churches and individual pastors to deal with this issue in the manner that least disrupts the message of Christ. Now it’s all anyone is talking about.
It’s a shame. I liked it better when church was about Jesus, not politics.