Over the past six weeks more than 80 pastors and theologians have been involved in conversations about the future of The United Methodist Church. These pastors represent all five jurisdictions and more than 30 annual conferences, and many serve as lead pastors of some of the largest congregations in United Methodism. After several consultations via conference call and email, these leading pastors and theologians are issuing the following statement as a progress report on their deliberations.
We have come together because of the crisis besetting our beloved United Methodist Church.
- It is a crisis of covenant, where numerous pastors have violated or have announced their willingness to violate our Book of Discipline.
- It is a crisis of organizational discipline, where pastors in many of our annual conferences now know they may be disobedient to the will of General Conference without meaningful consequences; in fact, some know they may be disobedient to the Discipline and receive their bishop’s blessing.
- It is a crisis regarding the inspiration and the authority of the Scriptures, where some believe that, rightly understood, the Bible is the infallible word of God, and where others believe that significant parts of the Scriptures do not provide an accurate understanding of God’s heart and mind and may be discarded as uninspired and in error.
- It is a crisis of discipleship, where there are dramatic differences in how personal and social holiness is lived out and taught.
It is time to recognize that traditionalists and progressives are pursuing divergent paths as we try to follow Christ and be faithful to what we understand to be the Gospel. Though there are deeper issues that divide us, our differences, unfortunately, have now come to the fore around the subjects of marriage and human sexuality.
Traditionalists are convinced that God’s will is for sexual relations to be enjoyed exclusively within the bounds of heterosexual marriage. Progressives believe sexual relations within a covenanted relationship, heterosexual or homosexual, are pleasing to God and should be affirmed by the church.
While traditionalists affirm the sacred worth of all persons and believe United Methodists’ hearts, minds and doors must remain open to all people, they also believe the Scriptures are clear in prohibiting same-sex relations. Adopting any other view would require their being unfaithful to the Bible as the ultimate authority for determining spiritual and moral truth.
Progressives cannot change their minds because they hold that the teachings of Scripture are compatible with their views. They believe the full inclusion of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, in all areas of the church, is a matter of God’s love and justice. Giving up their attempts to change the church’s present policy would require them to violate their consciences and deny the wideness they find in God’s grace.
We need to recognize the reality that we – laity, clergy and even the Council of Bishops – are divided and will remain divided.
Talk of a “middle-way” or of “agreeing to disagree” is comforting and sounds Christ-like. However, such language only denies the reality we need to admit. Neither side will find “agreeing to disagree” acceptable.
Progressives will not be satisfied with a denomination where openly gay clergy and same-sex marriage are affirmed in some congregations but not in others. They will continue to work until all UM pastors are expected to preside at same sex weddings and practicing homosexual persons are fully accepted for ordained ministry. Justice would demand no less.
Traditionalists will be unable to live with and support a denomination that allows same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing gay clergy. They believe these actions are incompatible with what Scripture reveals to be God’s will.
Are we not at a point where we can acknowledge, after years of dialogue and debate, the depth of our differences and together, progressives and traditionalists, give each other the freedom to pursue our understanding of God’s will? Can we not learn from the pain that other mainline denominations have experienced and find a way forward that honors Wesley’s rule that we do no harm? A way where there are no winners and losers, but simply brothers and sisters who part ways amicably, able to wish each other well?
While we are willing to consider many options, we wonder if it is not time for persons of good faith, representing the spectrum of theological positions within The United Methodist Church, to begin discussing ways to create a “win-win” scenario for the mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of everyone involved? In the manner that Paul and Barnabas chose to part amicably (Acts 15:39-41), can we not work for a way of parting that honors the sincerity of those with whom we differ and no longer brings pain to persons made in the image of God?
We look forward to partnering with others of good will as we pray, seek God and try to discern his guidance.
To read the press release from the Revs. Maxie Dunnam, Charles Savage, Larry Baird, and Tom Harrison that accompanies this statement, click HERE.
To read the earlier press release from the Revs. Maxie Dunnam, Tom Harrison, Steve Wood, and Charles Kyker, click HERE.