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United Methodists edge toward breakup over LGBT policies

United Methodists edge toward breakup over LGBT policies

Associated Press
April 14, 2019

Regular VOL readers will see in these two stories the theological and moral tsunami sweeping over the United Methodist Church with parallels to The Episcopal Church. The break-up of TEC following the consecration of Gene Robinson to the episcopacy in 2003 is a salutary lesson on the effects homoheresy has done to The Episcopal Church resulting in schism and a numerical tail spin that no amount of revival talk by PB Michael Curry can reverse. This is a tragedy. The United Methodist Church will pay dearly for compromising on the ontology of human sexuality and, like TEC, it will split and ultimately die.

NEW YORK -- There's at least one area of agreement among conservative, centrist and liberal leaders in the United Methodist Church: America's largest mainline Protestant denomination is on a path toward likely breakup over differences on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT pastors.

The differences have simmered for years, and came to a head in February at a conference in St. Louis where delegates voted 438-384 for a proposal called the Traditional Plan, which strengthens bans on LGBT-inclusive practices. A majority of U.S.-based delegates opposed that plan and favored LGBT-friendly options, but they were outvoted by U.S. conservatives teamed with most of the delegates from Methodist strongholds in Africa and the Philippines.

Many believe the vote will prompt an exodus from the church by liberal congregations that are already expressing their dissatisfaction over the move.

Some churches have raised rainbow flags in a show of LGBT solidarity. Some pastors have vowed to defy the strict rules and continue to allow gay weddings in Methodist churches. Churches are withholding dues payments to the main office in protest, and the UMC's receipts were down 20 percent in March, according to financial reports posted online.

"It's time for some kind of separation, some kind of amicable divorce," said James Howell, pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, who posted a video assailing the proposal for its "real meanness."

The UMC's nine-member Judicial Council convenes a four-day meeting in Evanston, Illinois, on Tuesday to consider legal challenges to the Traditional Plan. If the plan is upheld, it would take effect for U.S. churches on Jan. 1. If parts of it are struck down, that would likely trigger new debate at the UMC's next general conference in May 2020.

The UMC's largest church -- the 22,000-member Church of the Resurrection with four locations in the Kansas City area -- is among those applying financial pressure. Its lead pastor, Adam Hamilton, says his church is temporarily withholding half of the $2.5 million that it normally would have paid to the UMC's head office at this stage of the year.

"We'll ultimately pay it," Hamilton said. "But we want to show that this is the impact if our churches leave."

Hamilton is among the opponents of the Traditional Plan leading an initiative dubbed UMC-Next that seeks the best path forward for those who share their views. Clergy and activists in the alliance have met in Texas and Georgia, and a bigger meeting is planned for May 20-22 at Hamilton's megachurch.

Hamilton, in a telephone interview, said two main options are under consideration.

Under one scenario, many centrists and liberals would leave en masse to form a new denomination -- a potentially complex endeavor given likely disputes over the dissolution process.

Under the other option, opponents of the Traditional Plan would stay in the UMC and resist from within, insisting on LGBT-inclusive policies and eventually convincing the conservatives that they should be the faction that leaves under what's envisioned as a financially smooth "gracious exit."

"There's a sense that some conservatives have been wanting to leave for a long time," Hamilton said. "They're tired of fighting about it."

Formed in a merger in 1968, the United Methodist Church claims about 12.6 million members worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the United States.

While other mainline Protestant denominations have embraced gay-friendly practices, the UMC still bans them, though acts of defiance by pro-LGBT clergy have multiplied. Many have performed same-sex weddings; others have come out as gay or lesbian from the pulpit.

Enforcement of the bans has been inconsistent; the Traditional Plan aspires to beef up discipline against those engaged in defiance.

Traditional Plan supporter Mark Tooley, who heads a conservative Christian think tank, predicts that the UMC will split into three denominations -- one for centrists, another oriented toward liberal activists and a third representing the global alliance of U.S. conservatives and their allies overseas.

"It's a question of how long it takes for that to unfold -- and of who and how many go into each denomination," Tooley said. "A lot of churches will be irreparably harmed as they divide."

Scott Jones, bishop of the UMC's Houston-based Texas conference, says churchgoers in his region are divided in their views, but a majority supports the Traditional Plan's concepts.

"I have urged all of us to love each other, listen to each other and respect each other, even if we disagree," said Jones, who holds out hope that the UMC's disparate factions can preserve some form of unity.

Ann Craig of Newburgh, New York -- a lesbian activist who has advocated for greater LGBT inclusion in the UMC -- thinks a breakup can be avoided, though she's unsure what lies ahead.

"We expect something new to happen, but what that change should be or will be has not jelled yet," she said. "I don't think we're going to break up -- it's so cumbersome to figure out a way to divorce."

The crisis is being followed closely at Methodist-affiliated theology schools based at universities with LGBT-inclusive policies. There are 13 UMC-connected theology schools around the country.

"There's a lot of turmoil and distress," said Mary Elizabeth Moore, dean of Boston University School of Theology. "We're trying to find a future that will be less destructive than where we are now."


United Methodist Queer Clergy: Gospel Can Affirm Polyamory

April 12, 2019

Media coverage of the recently concluded United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis might give casual readers the impression that the denominational fight is centered upon homosexuality and -- once everyone gets on-board with the "new thing" -- everyone can return to the "real" work of the church.

United Methodists in the LGBT-affirming Reconciling Ministries Network and other allied unofficial caucus groups are careful to police their messaging, but occasionally someone speaks candidly about the next new thing. And that new thing discards the idea of a "committed, monogamous relationship" for "open relationships", "non-monogamy", and "alternative love".

"In my denomination, the prohibitions that we're fighting against are self-avowed practicing homosexuals, the people who want to be discriminatory don't even know the range of things that they should be trying to prohibit," disclosed United Methodist Pastor Austin Adkinson in a June 2018 interview.

A member of the leadership team of the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus, Adkinson was a delegate to General Conference and is a member of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. Even if he holds radical views, he was elected to represent his conference and should not be dismissed as a fringe voice. At the recent General Conference, Adkinson supported the failed One Church Plan. (As an aside, Adkinson also serves on a Westar Institute committee, which readers may recall is behind the Jesus Seminar, a longtime effort to debunk the Gospels' supernatural message about Jesus' divinity and miracles).

Adkinson appeared in June on the podcast Multiamory to discuss "shifting values around sexuality and non-traditional relationships" specifically polyamory and Christianity. He reveals the current debate around human sexuality not as a slippery slope, but as an incremental agenda in a predetermined direction.

"There's nothing in the Bible that's going to say polyamory is good because there's no such phrase for that, but challenges of who we love and who we're supposed to love and really loving everyone is at the center of things through all of Jesus' teachings," Adkinson asserted. "That's what I try to focus on. I'm less of a rigid, 'here are the rules that Christians are supposed to follow,' and more focused on how do we focus on loving the people around us better and seeking justice and caring for making the world more like God intends it to be."

"We have solid academics behind how none of that [scriptural prohibitions against homosexual practice] is a real condemnation of a loving, committed same-sex couple in our current context," Adkinson claimed, referring to such verses as "clobber passages" and "the text of terror."

Adkinson was joined in the podcast by gay Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) youth minister J.D. Mechelke, who offered more support for alternative sexual arrangements. Noting symbolism in the Last Supper and the biblical imagery of the church as the bride of Christ, Mechelke also called attention to an Evangelical praise song:

"There's this very intimate, individualistic relationship that people have with God and it's very erotic sometimes. My favorite example is this old song. It's not old, but '90s, 'In the secret and the quiet place, I want to touch you.' You start to think, 'That's kind of erotic and yet it's evangelical.' It's that we're doing that, which is fine. There are queer theologians that are taking that and saying, 'Maybe we have this erotic thing going on with Jesus.' Also thinking about it, 'This is my body.' You're taking somebody's body in your mouth, and so there's some phalic-."

"It's either erotic or cannibalism," interrupted host Jase Lindgren.

"Who's to say not both?" Adkinson suggested.

Later in the interview, Mechelke offers: "Some would say that the Last Supper, Jesus is proposing to the twelve friends and so it's very gay and very polyamorous."

There is plenty more in the interview, including Mechelke's writings on "creating a kinky doctrine of sin" and "putting the Christian symbolism into different roles, ethics in the BDSM [bondage, discipline/domination, sadism, and masochism] community."

You can listen to the podcast or read it all in entirety here.

Regardless of the merits of Adkinson's appraisal of biblical support for polyamory, he makes one assertion that few in the United Methodist Church will dispute: "a lot of pastors are more concerned about job security than about bringing change."


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