Uniting Methodists seek 'broad, middle in the center'
As issues regarding human sexuality threaten to split United Methodists, the first public meeting of a new group is seeking to bolster the center of the denomination.
Eighteen days after its website debuted, about 1,000 people listened to and participated in the Uniting Methodists discussion Sept. 29 at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.
Most of the group were participants in the church’s Leadership Institute, which drew 1,800 clergy and laity from across the country. The Rev. Adam Hamilton, the church’s senior pastor and one of the Uniting Methodists founders, said the post-institute discussion was to gauge opinions on LGBTQ issues. Those on the far left and far right of the issue have threatened to leave the denomination if actions were taken against their beliefs.
“We felt like there was a huge number in between,” Hamilton said.
Speaking with Hamilton were the Rev. Tom Berlin, lead pastor of the Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia, and a member of the Bishop’s Commission on a Way Forward; and the Rev. Olu Brown, pastor of Impact United Methodist Church in Atlanta.
Berlin illustrated four divisions of the current United Methodists with sugar packets: one half progressive, the other traditional, with each extreme of the divisions as “non-compatibilists,” unwilling to continue in the denomination if the ultimate decision went against their beliefs.
Through anonymous voting to a website, 830 participants gave opinions on where their beliefs and their church’s beliefs fall.
The survey of clergy’s personal views were: 9 percent progressive/non-compatibilists; 56 percent progressive compatibilists; 27 percent traditional compatibilists; and 8 percent traditional non-compatibilists.
The laity survey showed: 18 percent progressive/non-compatibilists; 50 percent progressive compatibilists; 23 percent traditional compatibilists; and 9 percent traditional non-compatibilists.
Asked for the opinions of their church:
Clergy responded 4 percent progressive/non-compatibilists; 30 percent progressive compatibilists; 52 percent traditional compatibilists; and 14 percent traditional non-compatibilists.
Laity said 3 percent progressive/non-compatibilists; 41 percent progressive compatibilists; 41 percent traditional compatibilists; and 14 percent traditional non-compatibilists.
Hamilton said the results fell in line with previous respondents who have taken the survey.
“We can’t keep doing what we’re doing,” Hamilton said. “Who’s going to speak up for that broad, middle in the center?”
Berlin showed figures that contend that the number of United Methodists could drop to 959,000 by 2050, if current trends continue.
“We’re going to have a financial crisis in the United Methodist Church,” Berlin said.
Brown, whose church will host a Uniting Methodists Conference in November, compared the LGBTQ exclusion to the racial segregation that took place from 1939 to 1968 with predecessors of the United Methodist denomination, where the central jurisdiction was used to promote segregation.
“Are we having another reflection of the central jurisdiction?” he asked.
Berlin said three possible scenarios lie ahead for the denomination: One, a controlled division of the factions of the church; second, unity with those with different beliefs on the issues; and third, do nothing, where he says the fraction of the church will continue.
“It’ll be like a bad divorce,” Berlin said.
Hamilton said that Uniting Methodists wants to keep the denomination together, without having to exclude any of those with differing views.
“If we’re not going to find a way to live together, which of these groups are you going to tell to leave the church?” he asked. “There are a number of us saying, ‘We want to find a better way.’”
In its first few weeks of operation, the Uniting Methodists website has had several thousand clergy and pastors sign up in support.
Among those is the Rev. David Livingston, pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Lenexa, Kansas, who said he was encouraged by what he heard from the Uniting Methodists leaders.
“I was honestly surprised at how many were in the traditionalist-compatibilist grouping,” Livingston said. “If that’s an accurate reflection of where we are overall, then I think there’s a reasonable chance that something can be accomplished.”