The debate surrounding “A Way Forward” from Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter

The Rev. Adam Hamilton (left) and the Rev. Mike Slaughter address the 2012 General Conference.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton (left) and the Rev. Mike Slaughter (right) address the 2012 General Conference.

A healthy denomination-wide discussion has recently emerged about the future of The United Methodist Church. Spurred on by a document entitled “Regarding United Methodism’s Future,” the Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter responded with a controversial “local option” plan called “A Way Forward for a United Methodist Church” that has been endorsed my more than 2,000 signatories.

“Under this plan the current position of the Discipline would become the position of each local church, but a local congregation, at the request of the senior pastor and with a supermajority vote of the members of the congregation and only after a process of prayer, study and discernment, could determine their own position,” proposes the document. “Churches could vote to adopt a more inclusive policy allowing for homosexuals to be married in their churches and welcoming gay and lesbian clergy.”

“Regarding ordination, in keeping with the current provisions in the Book of Discipline empowering Boards of Ordained Ministry to review candidates for ordination, we suggest that annual conferences be permitted to determine whether they will or will not ordain self-avowed, practicing homosexuals while allowing local churches to determine if they would or would not be willing to receive gay and lesbian clergy,” propose Hamilton and Slaughter.


Dr. Abraham

Dr. Abraham

In addition to a long list of endorsees, the congregational plan has also garnered a long list of critics. The Revs. Greg Stover, Rob Renfroe, Charles Savage, and Dr. Billy Abraham issued an Open Letter to Hamilton and Slaughter regarding their plan. “Your proposal will only extend, localize and exacerbate the acrimonious debate over the issue by forcing every congregation and annual conference to continue arguing about it for years to come,” they wrote to Hamilton and Slaughter. “Your solution would pit many pastors against laity in local churches, friends against friends in our congregations, members against members at every annual conference, and bishops against pastors in the appointive process, all without any assurance that it will really resolve the issue.”

On behalf of those who endorsed “A Way Forward,” Hamilton responded back to the writers of the Open Letter HERE.

“A Way Forward” has also garnered spirited critiques from thoughtful analysts.

Dr. Watson

Dr. Watson

Dr. David Watson: “It seems unlikely that the adoption of this proposal would stop or even mitigate debate on the marriage and ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexual people at the General Conference,” Watson writes. “Remember: protesters shut down the 2012 General Conference for two hours at a cost of around $180,000 because of decisions the General Conference made regarding self-avowed, practicing homosexual people. This type of action implies that, regardless of any other business that may need to take place, the practice of disruption is warranted by the overwhelming importance of the protesters’ agenda.” Watson is the academic dean at United Theological Seminary.

The Rev. O'Reilly

The Rev. O’Reilly

The Rev. Matt O’Reilly: “But is this proposal really a compromise? I fear that it is not. If General Conference permitted those Annual Conferences that choose to ordain practicing homosexuals to do so, then that would amount to General Conference giving its blessing to the practice of homosexuality,” O’Reilly writes. “Allowing the decision to be made locally does not amount to a neutral position on the part of the General Conference. If this proposal were implemented, it means that The United Methodist Church would affirm the compatibility of homosexual practice with Christian teaching, even if it did not require all Annual Conferences to ordain practicing homosexuals and local churches to bless homosexual unions.” O’Reilly is a United Methodist pastor in Alabama and an adjunct professor at Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary.

Dr. Tennent

Dr. Tennent

Dr. Timothy Tennent: “One of the great virtues of our Methodist system is that we have removed many of our struggles from the life of the church and allowed District Superintendents, Jurisdictional and General Conferences, and the Judicial Council to adjudicate our grievances and to help mediate ‘holy conferencing,'” Tennent writes. “This legislation will change that. If adopted, expect more conflict and division, not less. The basic reason is that there is no ‘middle ground’ between a group which is convinced that this is a question of behavior and a group which sees it as a civil right based on ontology.” Tennent is the president of Asbury Theological Seminary and he has issued a seven-part response to “A Way Forward” (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

• From the left, Dr. Dorothee Benz, chair of the progressive Methodists in New Directions (MIND), has also issued a stinging critique of “A Way Forward.” “The current Hamilton-Slaughter proposal fails in its attempt to offer a neutral structural solution for resolving our differences,” Benz writes. “It proposes to let local churches decide whether they will treat gay and straight parishioners equally if the pastor requests it and a supermajority of the congregation agrees. This is a stacked deck if ever there was one.”


  1. So what????? says

    So what? I hear your critiques of the way forward, but please, go beyond your frustration. What suggestions would you have? The way forward folk are open so give your ideas. We need you to do this. Simply critiquing without suggestion of a way forward is nothing more than a temper tantrum. You must provide an alternative solution. For the sake of the church, please offer an alternative. We need you.

    • The only answer is to maintain the Discipline of the Church. Your statement implies we cannot maintain the stance dictated by Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. The way forward is for clergy who have vowed to uphold that Discipline to fulfill those vows. If for some reason one is no longer able to do that, there are avenues to surrender orders or transfer to a denomination that has chosen to follow the world instead of Scripture.

      • Thank you Karen, for stating it so clearly! That’s all they have needed to do for the past 30 years. The most recent edition of Interpreter reads like a Unitarian Universalist rag. I’m about fed up with it all. If the Council of Bishops can’t even uphold the Discipline OR the scripture, why are we paying them? We might as well go find a Bible-honoring denomination and support their pastors and build their churches. I’m already looking, expecting to leave by September. Sad, very very sad. Saddest for those who are being convinced that it’s “justice” and “love” to approve of what God himself has not ordained.

    • @ So What????
      Did you read Dr. Tennent’s proposal? He offered one on part 7 of his response. Other’s have offered suggestions and proposal’s. Karen’s above seems the most straight forward.

  2. It seems to me that the question left unanswered in the above perspectives is one of Scriptural authority. Do we as Methodists adhere to the General Conference as the soul source of authority, or, is it the Scripture to which we pledge our allegiance? Granted, interpretations of Scripture may vary, but the historic, and as far as I’m concerned, the correct interpretation of the Scriptural view on the issue of homosexuality makes no allowance for gay marriage or any other LGBT lifestyle approval. In this I am buttressed by Robert Gagnon’s signal text, The Bible and Homosexual Practice. If then, the Scripture does not approve of it, why are we willing to entertain an idea that allows the practice to continue? Will we also allow thieves to continue to hold offices in positions of finance? Will we also allow child molesters to watch over our nurseries? Will we also make room for transgender persons to preach in the National Cathedral? When does sin cease to be sin? When will our conference leaders take a stand against this Hydra of sins to come in order to seek the holiness of heart and life promulgated by Wesley and those who sought the sanctification of one’s lifestyle and character? Are we or are we not a people who adhere to the moral absolutes of Scripture?

  3. Sam Deibler says

    In the unresolvable dueling Scriptural and political citations could we be missing the forest of truth due to the doctrinal trees? Nowhere have I seen any serious engagement with the possibility that, in the developing cultural openness to acknowledging committed homosexual relationships, the Holy Spirit may be speaking a truth to us that we could not bear until now. Doesn’t John 16:12ff. invite us to go deeper into a discussion of what the Holy Spirit may be declaring about what love means to a generation that may only now be ready to hear?

    • H Stuckey says

      If the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one and the Holy

      If the Holy Spirit ,the Father, and the Son are One{the Trinity} you can be sure the Spirit will never speak against the teachings of Jesus when He defines marriage in Matt:19 and Mark:10. . If we cannot believe Jesus here can we believe Him when He says feed the poor or I am One with the Father John 10:30 or when Jesus claims to be the only way to the Father John 14:6.

  4. The denomination is faced with three choices:
    1. Continue in the status quo, which means that the fights, the disobedience, the disruptive demonstrations, the petitions to General Conference, and so forth will continue.
    2. Maintain the integrity of belief and practice through schism. This means that the two major parties of the denomination will each lead a part of the membership to a formal organization that embodies that party’s vision of the church. Such a move will allow each group to have a certain degree of control over belief and practice within its new organization without major opposition.
    3. Sacrifice integrity of belief and practice for a semblance of unity. This means that the denomination will be a loose coalition of churches that share an organizational structure. The notion of control of belief and practice would be abandoned and everyone will “do what is right in his own eyes.”
    Obviously utter and complete integrity in a denomination of millions of people this side of eternity is not going to happen. Nevertheless, I believe that, when one joins oneself to a church, non-denominational or denominational, one has an expectation that there is going to be a consistent maintenance of doctrine and practice throughout that church. Otherwise, one is thrown into a state of anxiety. For example, when a new pastor is appointed, what can I expect? If I go to another city and enter a church of my denomination, what can I expect? What can I expect of spokesmen and women for my denomination. One could go on. The fact is that Hamilton’s proposal is one that will destroy any semblance of integrity in this denomination. I cannot see how that can be praised as a good thing. Yet, it has been billed as an answer to schism. I think that the leading lights of the conservatives need to recognize that this is a critical time in the history of Methodism and that they need prayerfully to unify themselves, promote communication, and bring this denomination to a point of decision.

    • Dave Hopper says

      Well said, sir.

      It seems to me that before we can have the discussion on the issue of homosexuality, the UMC must first decide and establish whether it believes that the Bible is true, the inspired Word of God, the final authority on right and wrong in the Christian faith.

      What does the Bible say about homosexuality? And does the UMC believe that this is correct or not? Many are willing to stand in the pulpit and announce a policy of inclusion for everyone, which feels great, but they are unwilling to stand in the same pulpit and announce that, “Even though the Bible says this, we have decided it is wrong and we are going to do this instead.”

      The church is going to take a stance on homosexuality. But, to take a stance, you must have something on which to stand, and I am curious, what exactly do we stand on?

  5. Chris Terrill says

    Does anyone have a citation for the “90% of the United Methodist laity surveyed several weeks ago, … do not believe the church should divide over this issue” mentioned by Adam Hamilton in his response of 6/13? My hunch is that many, if not most, laity are not engaged on this issue.

    • Struggling with the rest... says

      ResearchNow looks like the survey organization. There is an article I read about it in the Central Texas Conference website.

      I am not sure whether most congregations are engaged on the issue, but I belong to one that is. I would think that any congregation that has taken the step of becoming a Reconciling Congregation has engaged and declared their feelings; unfortunately, it wouldn’t necessarily follow that non-Reconciling congregations have done so.

  6. Is there not a reason that the Book of Discipline is called the DISCIPLINE?

  7. William Kaster says

    Splitting the UMC would precipitate an unnecessary conflict in the church. It is based on a false dichotomy. The church is made up of members across the entire theological spectrum. On the issues surrounding homosexuality, a few filks are at the conservative end of that spectrum, and a few sit on the progressive end. Many members fall all along the broad middle. Not everyone with either a strong conservative or progressive perspective wants to split the church. Although they hold very strong opinions about these matters and will not likely change or soften those opinions, they are not necessarily anxious to split the church. They are willing to remain in the church and continue he discussion. Only a small minority of strongly conservative or progressive folks want to split the church over these issues. It is not logical for these few people to claim that everyone who thinks like them wants to split the church. It is even less logical to accept from these folks any proposal or plan to split the church. Let the overwhelming majority of folks in the broad middle of the theological sprectrum bid the few at the ends of the spectrum their blessings and prayers, along with a regretful goodbye.

    • Lawrence Kreh says

      I think there have been too many “regretful good-byes” from the church already.
      A denomination with no clarity of doctrine or belief is a denomination in name only with the only unifying characteristic being is DIS-unity (“diversity”) and the inability to be definitive in purpose or guidance for its members or society. I believe that if there is schism the two denominations would be free to affirm things that are important with a renewed sense of unity and purpose and even its own conviction of “truth.” From my perspective as a conservative it would free up those with a solid biblical interpretation to become renewed, revitalized, and effective in reaching outside the walls of the church rather than constantly arguing within.

  8. I heard Mr. Hamilton speak and he told of the “New Morality”. But there is no “New Morality”! J Vernon McGee reminds us that liberal preachers have no documentation. He said “ask them for it, because they don’t have any!” To interpret the bible as you wish is so dangerous. Not only to yourself, but those who you influence. Some in our clergy mock God and promote evil like the Prophets of Baal. But God will not be mocked! Either we remove them or God will punish them in his own good time. They substitute their own twisted interpretation for God’s Truth in his Word. By removing them they will have a chance to turn back to God, if they so choose.

    “A worthless witness mocks at justice, and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity.” Proverbs 19:28

    “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous, but terror to evildoers.” Proverbs 21:13

    “As righteousness leads to life, so he who pursues evil pursues it to his own death.” Proverbs 11:19

    “Whoever misleads the upright into an evil way will fall into his own pit, but the blameless will have a goodly inheritance. Proverbs 28:10

    “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7

    “A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart”. Proverbs 18:2

    “Anyone who hears my teachings and does not obey them is like a foolish person who built a house on sand.” … and the flood waters came. Matthew 7:26

  9. Den Slattery says

    I find it interesting that Adam Hamilton uses culture to interpret the Bible. He believes the gay issue is not a moral issue but a cultural one. I get the feeling that he thinks God has changed His mind now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of gay marriage. Does God change His mind like that?

    And who made Adam Hamilton the one in charge of the Bible to decide which verses are okay for today and which ones need to go? Based on his philosophy–how can we trust any of it? Our view of the Bible is at the heart of this debate.

    Furthermore, if the “Third Way” passes at General Conference many people will leave the UMC, including me.

  10. Den Slattery says

    Just because Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter have big churches doesn’t mean they speak for everyone who claims to be a Methodist. To believe that would mean they are more arrogant than any of us thought and are in need of repentance. Nor does it mean that they speak for God.

    Consider these verses from Isaiah 55:8-10
    “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose; and shall succeed in the thing for which I send it.”

  11. Den, do you believe it was wrong for the Methodist Church to condemn slavery, or to say that women may be called to any position to which a man may be called? Many would say scripture did and does support slavery (even Paul tells slaves to obey their masters), and scripture does not permit women to teach or to be in a position of higher authority than a man.

    I think these questions are analogous to what is faced today.


  1. […] in the months leading up to General Conference. You can read a summary of those critiques here and here. The “local option” failed to get enough support at General Conference to be a […]

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