Panel discusses future of UMC during Leadership Institute

David Burke


The Rev. Adam Hamilton has been to five General Conferences, and any discussion of issues concerning LGBTQ persons —including the ordination of gay or lesbian individuals or whether clergy can perform same-sex marriages — has “sucked the air out of every General Conference I’ve been to.” 

The issues will again be at the forefront of the next General Conference, postponed from 2020 to a tentative time frame in late August and early September 2022, and Hamilton is the lead clergy delegate from the Great Plains Conference. 

Rev. Tom Berlin and Rev. Adam Hamilton discuss the denomination's future. Photos by David Burke

He led a discussion on the future of The United Methodist Church on the second night of the Leadership Institute Sept. 30 at Church of the Resurrection. 

The most recent General Conference, a 2019 called special session in St. Louis, reinforced the Book of Discipline prohibition of gay clergy and same-sex weddings, instituting harsher punishments. 

In a vote of the delegates from around the world, Hamilton said, 65% of the U.S. delegates disagreed with the decision. 

The Rev. Tom Berlin, lead pastor of Floris UMC in Herndon, Virginia, and a member of the Commission on a Way Forward, which advocated for change, said the feeling after the 2019 vote was “this doesn’t feel like much of a win.” 

“Nobody felt comfortable,” Berlin added. 

Berlin also was a member of the team that produced the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation, introduced in early 2020, which would allow feasible exits for churches and conferences wishing to leave the denomination. 

“Some United Methodists believe this is timed out,” Berlin said, but it is in a “bundle of legislation” that is headed for the General Conference session in 2022. 

Berlin credited the Rev. Junius Dotson — a member of the Great Plains clergy delegation, CEO of Discipleship Ministries and former pastor of Wichita Saint Mark UMC — who died last year with inclusion of a $39 million fund through the Protocol for marginalized groups and for Africa University, which Berlin described as reparations from the denomination to its Black members. 

Berlin said he was doubtful a 2022 General Conference would happen, since visas could not be sent to international delegates — many embassies haven’t reopened yet — and many delegates have not had access to or received vaccinations for COVID. 

Hamilton and Berlin were part of a panel of six clergy, whom Hamilton said represented conservative, progressive and centrist opinions. 

Panelists were asked if the denomination would be abandoning its historic tenets if it changed or deleted the language in the Book of Discipline, as opponents have suggested. 

“We live in such a divided world and the church has potential,” said Rev. Stan Copeland, pastor of Lovers Lane UMC near Dallas. “When we fan the flames of falsehood and fear, we hurt the church of Jesus Christ.” 

Rev. Michael Bowie, pastor of St. Luke Community UMC, also near Dallas, said the rumors were fearmongering. 

“No tenets of faith will be changed,” Bowie said. 

The pastors on the panel said no clergy would be forced to perform same-sex weddings. 

Rev. Katie Dawson, pastor of Immanuel UMC in Des Moines, Iowa, said pastors already have the right to refuse weddings for interracial couples, whether one in the couple is divorced, and if they had children out of wedlock, and the decision on same-sex weddings would fall along those lines. 

United Methodists in the live audience and watching online were asked several questions during the night, including what they value most about the denomination. The top five selections were: 

  • Emphasis on God’s grace. 
  • Passionate faith in Jesus lived by serving others. 
  • A wide welcome of all people. 
  • A church for thinking people. 
  • Theology shaped by scripture, with tradition, experience and reason. 

Hamilton also asked a poll question he has conducted several times through the years: Whether the individual considers himself or herself to be progressive or traditional on issues related to LGBTQ persons and whether the person would compromise in their stance. 

Panelists for the discussion were, from left, Revs. Adam Hamilton, Tom Berlin, Jasmin Smothers, Katie Dawson and Michael Bowie.

The 2021 audience was 75% progressive compromise, 13% progressive non-compromise, 13% traditional compromise, and 2% traditional non-compromise. In 2017, the compromise positions together tallied 79% of the poll. 

Hamilton said he himself was an example of a changed mind. As late as 2004, he publicly said he was against same-sex marriages in the UMC. About 800 people left Church of the Resurrection. 

“My views changed because we have hundreds of people who are gay and lesbian in our congregation,” he said. 

Hamilton revealed to the Leadership Institute audience that after the 2019 special session vote, he convened the executive leadership team of Church of the Resurrection with a simple question: “Should we stay, or should we go?” 

Shortly entertaining talk of becoming an independent congregation with no responsibilities to a higher governing power and millions saved in apportionments, Hamilton said he stood his ground for the denomination. 

“I think it has a lot of potential, and I really believe in it,” he recalled telling his team. 

It was through tears, he recalled, telling the team “We can’t go.” 

“Our connectional system isn’t about what’s best for you, it’s about what’s best for us,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of churches (that leave a denomination) in messes, with no accountability and no structure.” 

Berlin said that according to his sources, 15% of United Methodist churches in the United States will leave the denomination, going to the newfound Global Methodist Church or another denomination. 

Hamilton said the denomination should be one where its best years are ahead of it. 

“I believe the United Methodist Church that remains has the power to be an amazing church,” Hamilton said. 

Contact David Burke, content specialist, at

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