Editorial: The Titanic Sails at Midnight



At its most recent meeting, the Connectional Table (CT) voted 26 to 10 to recommend radically changing global United Methodism’s position on marriage and sexuality (see “Dramatic Changes Proposed,” page 30). The Connectional Table — a leadership council for the UM Church — will be sending its recommendation to the 2016 General Conference. Termed a “Third Way,” the proposal is similar to “A Way Forward” authored by the Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter.

Both plans would allow each individual annual conference to determine if it will ordain practicing homosexuals as pastors. And both plans would allow UM pastors to marry gay couples. The Hamilton-Slaughter plan allows individual congregations to determine if pastors will be permitted to perform gay services on their premises. The CT plan leaves the decision completely to the pastor’s discretion. The authors of these two proposals see them as attempts to create a compromise that will allow United Methodists to navigate our differences regarding marriage and sexuality and keep the denomination together. Unfortunately, both plans are terribly ill-conceived and will result in the opposite of what their authors intended. Below are some of the problems inherent with the plans.

1. Neither plan is a compromise. In a compromise both parties receive some benefit. Both of these plans provide progressives with (a) the ability to ratify their positions wherever they presently have sufficient votes and (b) the promise that they can continue to bring these issues to every annual conference until they win. What do traditionalists “get” out of this compromise? Nothing except the knowledge that (a) they will have compromised their principles and (b) the certainty that they will be forced to debate this issue every year at their annual conferences. A “compromise” that provides no benefit to one side is no compromise.

2. Both plans would make many pastoral appointments difficult if not impossible. One bishop told me that there are only three churches in his episcopal area that would accept a pastor who has performed a same-sex wedding. But he has many pastors who would perform such services. As soon as they do, he said, these pastors would become virtually unappointable. Another bishop, not a conservative, told me that allowing individual pastors to determine if they will perform gay marriages would be “a nightmare” in terms of making appointments.

3. Both plans would bring the heightened tension of General Conference into our annual conferences and into our local churches. If you have been to General Conference, you know the tension created when the delegates address marriage and sexuality issues. It is an emotional and sometimes hurtful experience for some of the delegates and observers. Thankfully, it happens only once every four years.

However, both plans would bring this divisive experience into our annual conferences every year. In addition, it would pit pastors and laypersons against each other. They will then be expected to work together on various boards and committees throughout the year.

Furthermore, issues of sexuality will become the all consuming issue at many annual conferences for years to come — not evangelism or discipleship or helping the poor. These controversial issues will drain the spiritual energy out of many of our annual conferences until traditionalists finally determine that they have much better things to do with their time and resources.

Even worse, once church members realize they can lobby to have their local congregation marry gay couples, parents of gay children will want their sons and daughters to be married in the church they grew up in. Traditional lay members will be forced to choose between voting against their principles or voting against their friends who want their children to be married in their local church.  I cannot imagine how hurtful and painful this will be both for traditional members and for parents of gay children. Bringing this eventuality into our congregations will be disastrous.

4. Both plans will cause many of our traditional members to leave our congregations and the UM Church. For many traditional members their position regarding marriage and sexuality is directly related to their view of the inspiration and authority of the Bible. If we change our position, many traditional members will believe that the UM Church has denied the Word of God and will feel compelled to leave the church. In fact, many pastors will feel forced to leave the denomination and will do all they can to take their congregations with them.

Any plan that asks traditional Christians to deny what the Bible teaches is not a plan to keep the church together — it is a plan that will divide the church. If General Conference adopts either of these plans, the UM Church will split — and not amicably. There will be incredible animosity and potential lawsuits. The Episcopal Church has tried 91 such cases and it has cost that denomination between $40 and $60 million. Both of these proposed UM plans will guarantee that the same costly litigation will take place among United Methodists.

5. Even if traditionalists accepted either plan, it would not end the battles regarding marriage and sexuality. Progressives have been forthright in stating that they cannot compromise on “marriage equality.” They see it as a civil right, a matter of justice. Some progressives have been even more critical of these plans than conservatives because they believe that the plans seek to keep the denomination together by denying justice to gay persons. Both of these plans ask traditionalists to agree to a “compromise” that will not solve the issue, stop the debates, or put an end to the progressive agenda to change the UM position on sexuality. These plans simply move the starting point for the next debate closer to what progressives desire and further from the traditionalist position.

6. Our African brothers and sisters would be disenfranchised. United Methodists in Africa have told us that changing our position will be disastrous for their witness. It will grant the moral high ground to Islam when it comes to sexuality in the eyes of Africans. Our brothers and sisters have asked us not to put them in this position. Even if traditional Christians in the United States could live with either of these plans, the Africans will not be able to.

7. Both plans require a change in our UM polity. We United Methodists have long enjoyed the sense of unity that our Wesleyan polity has provided. We are not individual congregations; we are a connectional denomination held together by our doctrine, our discipline, and our Wesleyan heritage. These proposed plans are huge steps toward a congregational model of polity that we have always found unappealing.

8. Both plans give homosexuality a preferred status in comparison to other issues that divide us. Although United Methodists disagree on a number of issues, we do not begin any of our positions with statements such as “we are of divided mind,” “we are seeking more light,” or “we agree to disagree.” Nor do we allow individual pastors or congregations to determine their own positions. For example, we do not allow freedom of conscience regarding infant baptism or women in ministry — both of which I support but both of which have less clear biblical support than does the present UM position on marriage and sexuality.

We should determine what we believe the Scriptures teach, engage in holy conferencing and then, asking God’s wisdom, vote for the position we believe is most faithful. And in fact we have done just that for more than 40 years, but one side persists in raising the issue over and over again, despite the damage it is doing to the witness and the membership of the UM Church.

The fact that so many are willing to propose such ill-conceived plans tells us the hour is getting late for the UM Church. The plans proposed by the Connectional Table and Hamilton and Slaughter are a way forward — but only in the sense that the Titanic was making its way forward as it approached the iceberg that sank it. It may be midnight for the UM Church, but we do not have to set sail with either plan.

There must be a better way forward — and there is. We can accept all people and affirm the truth of God’s Word. We can be people of compassion and conviction. We can care deeply about our confused culture without conforming to it. We can have our hearts broken for the sexually broken without compromising what the Scriptures teach.

When grace and truth were incarnated in our Lord Jesus, he saved the world and transformed lives. And if his way becomes our way forward, God can again use the UM Church to transform broken lives, heal wounded souls and save those who are drowning in a sea of confusion and sin.

Rob Renfroe is president and publisher of Good News.



  1. William T says

    You speak the stark truth. You describe these proposals with pin point accuracy. In fact, you are being most generous in your assessment. It would be much worse, which you probably know. One obviously does not pour gas on a burning flame to douse it. If General Conference should adopt such, it would be tantamount to suicide.

  2. Robert Schmutz says

    If the Church stands not on the Word of God, She stands not at all. Unfortunately, I believe it is already too late for the UMC. I believe that the only real option at this point is to abandon ship and build a new one.

  3. Bob East says

    Agree with your position. However, to be perfectly objective about the future of UM, we are on seemingly a non-reversible downward death spiral, disjointed bickering group. Would I be a member of a more liberal UM church somewhere in the Pacific NW or NE U.S., or even one in our area? No. Is there a place for the reconciling viewpoint, Yes; given the state of the church, cultural we live in and societal need of the good news of Christ. Yes….we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God.

  4. Thanks for the article. The way out of this seems so simple. We need to remain faithful to Scripture and the BoD. However I know that the desires of many are for the world to change the Church instead of bringing the LORD’s transformation to the world through HIS people called the Church. It just makes sense that the more we become like the world the lest likely we will be like CHRIST therefore we will not be the Church any longer!

  5. A logical, factual discourse.

    If you can make Scripture endorse gay “marriage” you can make it endorse just about anything. In other words, what’s at stake here is the adherence to Christianity vs the de facto construction of a new religion.

    Unfortunately, so many of our liberal brothers and sisters are ruled by emotion, especially on this issue. It is time for an amiable split, before “amiable” can no longer be a part of it.

    • Jane Bonner says

      When I read the Life of Jesus, I just don’t see the person who would bless sex between two people who by nature are not fit for it. When he refers man and wife, he makes no mention of same sex unionis. Remember the “one flesh” issue is pretty basic. I think there is only one way out. We need to confront our bishops and remove those who will not subscribe to biblical teaching. They are the power base which keeps this ball rolling. If we had solid leadership, we could have standards. As long as we have progressives in the College, we will have division in the pews. I doubt that folks have the passion for this reform and so we are doomed to be bullied by homosexual advocacy and will slowly bleed members until there is not enough money left to pay the bills.

  6. David Harstin says

    “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.” John Wesley’s words are more relevant now than ever. Rob Renfroe’s article brings to light this fact: the UMC is already two denominations.

  7. Avani Christian says

    I agree with you. As a Methodist Bishop’s daughter I have witness the appointments with prayers and invoking Holy Spirit in decision by the cabinet. I have witness cabinet praying for one month for the pastors and their appointments. These plans will exclude the words that have always been powerful, Calling, set apart, itinerant. It would now like choosing who can go and serve and them pray from that list. This plan would not work at all.

  8. Ian McDonald says

    David Harstin reminds us of the prophetic words of John Wesley. Unfortunately I feel we have reached this point and the UMC will soon be just another “mainline” denomination that preaches a straw gospel that will offer a false hope and ultimately lead many down the road to perdition.

    After looking at some of the proposals for General Conference on separating from the connection it seems that at least someone is looking realistically at the future.

  9. Lawrence Kreh says

    The editorial is on target.
    My issue with the UMC is broader than homosexuality and the political debate in the UMC undermines our witness and disenfranchised the gospel.
    I do not like divisions but unless there is a startling change we will continue to be a denomination with no clarity, constancy, joy or witness. Unfortunately most readers here will stay in the political UMC political fight anyway instead of having an exit strategy as PCUSA and Anglican congregations have by departing to more orthodox denominations in their own traditions
    Conservatives in the UMC are just ad guilty as “progressives” in undermining orthodoxy.and witness to a eorld starving for hope. Some of us even “love the fight” within..

  10. Nancy Anderson says

    I always enjoy Annual Conference and have come home with a renewed mind and filled with the Spirit to go on another year with JOY. (Jesus Others Yourself) This year, not so much!

    Our theme was ‘We are better together’!? We are neither better nor together!! If we keep promoting sin we will perish.

  11. Joe Mireur says

    denomination: a religious organization whose congregations are united in their adherence to it’s beliefs and practices.
    We already seem to have many who would change, rather adhere to, our beliefs and practices. It seems to me these folks don’t really want to be Methodists, but rather something else. Let them stand up for their beliefs and start their own new denomination.
    I am particularly repulsed by the idea of abandoning our brothers in Africa, causing them to believe we have abandoned the Bible and tacitly allowing them to believe Islam has the high ground morally.

    • William T says

      I have often wondered about these same things. Exactly why have the progressives hung on over these many years and not gone on to form a denomination of their own or moved to an existing denomination that reflects their beliefs, beliefs mostly grounded in the modern secular liberal movement. I’ve wondered that if they believe they can persuade an entire denomination to accept their beliefs and Biblical “interpretations”, and abandon its very time tested doctrine and established beliefs that this would, in their logic and reasoning, also persuade God to acquiescence , or to finally bring the church, after 2000 erroneous years, in proper alignment with the true intentions of God? Do they believe they’re the generation that is finally going to get it right. Or, are there other things at work that’s driving their movement? No doubt they’re driven and motivated to achieve their objective, an objective that , in my opinion, is the anthetisis of God.

      • William Allen says

        You are so right. The Bible lays it out to what is wanted by God. I think the best thing is let the ones that want this go their own way.

    • Yes, that is my idea for the solution. If you don’t want to follow our rules, leave and start your own denomination.

  12. I support the work of the Connectional table as a graceful way forward.

  13. Larry Meese says

    Progressives’ goal, in religion just as in politics, is to divide and conquer … never to compromise, never to get along with or allow anyone with whom they disagree to prevail. Anyone who believes that compromise with progressives, no matter how “fair” a plan may be, will be allowed by the progressives to remain in place without their continual future challenges to Traditionalists and the progressives demand to get exactly what they want. Progressives will continue to push and pressure and make everyone’s lives miserable until the UMC finally falls into a death spiral of chaos. Traditionalists must stand solidly together, without compromise to our Convictions as to the Bibles teachings. Traditionalists must take this challenge as a direct threat to the future of the UMC, and even the Bible itself. Does the UMC really wish to break apart for a minority of individuals who are seeking to destroy our denomination as well as the entire African Conference? Let the progressives leave and form their own semi-sort of-what ever todays attitudes on things are-church.

  14. John W. Sowell says

    Lead, follow, or become irrelevant. ….cave to a twisted few? Satan must be laughing. I need leadership and guidance…..shall I seek it elsewhere?

  15. Dave Ogden says

    I disagree with this article. It requires us to be locked in the past, assuming that the way things were done 4000 years ago is still appropriate. The difficulty is that the conservative interpretation of the Bible is not correct in my opinion. They, like most of us, interpret the Bible to suit our opinions. The Old Testament is cited to support the unnaturalness of homosexuality, while ignoring the many other laws in the Old Testament that we do not follow. Why are you so strong against homosexuality when Jesus never mentioned it. Why are you not against heterosexual divorce, given that Jesus appears to disagree with it. I despair that people cite our brothers in Africa, how we must support them. There are countries in Africa where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. Clearly we must be careful in interpreting the positions of individuals who come from those traditions.

    • I agree that discerning what laws are moral laws such as the 10 Commandments and what laws are ceremonial or no longer applicable is difficult. But the words of Jesus in Mathew 19 are part of the new covenant. Jesus speaking thousands of years later says “As it was in the beginning…: Plus read Mark 5:18 which is also quoting Jesus.. See also Mathew 24:35 and Isaiah 40:8. Yes we have departed from Jesus’ teaching on divorce to our great detriment. But who glorifies and sanctifies divorce? You are correct that we should oppose harsh treatment of homosexuals, or hate in any form in Africa and everywhere but does that position require redefining marriage against the laws of the Bible and ordaining practicing homosexuals? Yes Jesus healed on the Sabbath to the mockery of the Pharisees, but did he change the Sabbath law? Did he contradict himself in the other passages I have quoted?

    • In addition to the Old Testament “regulations” on sexuality, there’s also Romans 1. Even if I would concede that many of the Old Testament practices are ignored or reinterpreted (for instance polyester and fabric blends are quite prevalent in churches), I don’t know what to do with Romans 1. I have friends who have decided they are gay (and in my case every single one of them was a decision because they were all in a heterosexual marriage at one time). I would love to be able to tell them they are right. But Jesus clearly tells me if I encourage someone to sin it is better that a millstone be hung around my neck.

      I grieve this whole issue that the progressives find it necessary to destroy the denomination for the sake of their stance. If I was in such stark disagreement with the polity of the United Methodist Church I would just leave, even if that meant gathering all of those who share my convictions and start something new. The fact is should the polity of the church change, I will be forced to do just that. I can not aline myself with those who blatantly ignore the Word of God and encourage others to live in sin. I will stick around to try to help preserve what I believe to be a doctrine that most closely represents a Biblical view. But when that doctrine changes to fit the world, I will no longer be able to stand with it.

      My heart breaks for my brothers and sisters whom I believe are being led in a lie. Many are being told because I don’t agree, I don’t love . . . my tears flow for them. I saw one of my friend’s posts on Facebook following the Supreme Court decision. He was trying to defend his lifestyle scripturally. I can see the lies he has been fed. In fact, the holes in his theories were so blatant that it was probably embarrassing to progressives who know scripture.

      • Lynn, I’m with you. Sad as it is, I will stay and stand firm until “they” change my BoD, at which time I will leave.

  16. Debbie Autry says

    The fact that the United Methodist Church would even consider changing it’s position on homosexuals and “gay” marriage breaks my heart. If our church doesn’t stand on the Word of God what does it stand for?

  17. Paul Thomasson says

    Have enough of the 996 General Conference Delegates been selected that we can predict how 2016’s vote will go?
    Also, what are the basic numbers? How many delegates will be from Africa? How many from the USA? How many from South America? How many from Europe? How many from various parts of Asia? Every continent will have voters on both sides of the issue, but some continents are more divided than others.
    Finally, what will be numbers look like in 2020 and 2024? If current trends continue there will be fewer and fewer on one side and more and more on the other. I wonder if the UMC will wind up doing a 180 twice.

    • There will actually only be 864 delegates to General Conference in 2016. Walter Fenton on this site wrote and article about disappearing general conference delegates that talks about this.

      It can be found at https://goodnewsmag.org/2015/04/disappearing-general-conference-delegates/

      Also at the UMC web site there is an article from 2013 which gives the breakdown.
      Here is the article and in it you can click on the breakdown to get the full numbers.

      While, I tried to look at some sits from each conference to see if there might be some way to prediction already. It’s very hard (if not impossible) to really get a handle (especially on the petitions of the “third way and “A Way forward”.

      For even if you assumed Africa and Philippians (310 votes) at 100% opposed (which is probably not a likely assumption we should have). it would leave 122 votes needed from other conferences to reach 50%. Who knows with the so called ‘middle ground petitions” how it might be received.

      For reference though Hamilton/ Slaughter proposal in 2012 failed I believe by about a 60 to 40 percent ratio.

      • Correction:
        The substitute motion by Hamilton. Slaughter on one site was reported to be defeated by a 53/47 ratio, (I believe the original motion by the GBOCS was defeated by the 60/40 ratio)
        Also typos of “sites” not “sits” and “predict the vote” not “prediction”. :

  18. Pete Crawford says

    I so much appreciate The Good News magazine and find it as a lighthouse in a stormy world of religious uncertainties and relativism.
    Rob Renfrew not only watches the gates carefully, he analyzes the situation with amazing clarity. To compare the present UMC to the titanic is unfortunately too true. I am so disappointed at Mike Slaughter and Adam Hamilton as well as a lot of the bishops. If this is progressivism, what in God,s be are we becoming?

  19. Roy Evans says

    I enjoyed reading the article and all the discussions. The arguements about “Traditionalist” vs “Progressive” leaves out some important historical points such as prior to 1972 the BoD did not have proscriptions regarding sexuality. In the total history of the Weslyan approach to theology this is a relatively new area of concern. But then our disagreements over Slavery, which split the denomination for several generations, were based upon Biblical interpretations on both sides. Similarly we argued over womens place within the church for over 100 years. Rather than sling mud and epithats about sin, depravity , and Satan we need to take a breathe and realize that in the grand scheme of God prayerful reflection, concern for our neighbors, and love of humanity will alow us to move forward in time and help us to realize God’s plans.

  20. David Goudie says

    I was hoping someone might be able to answer a couple questions I have…

    1) I thought I heard that the “Third Way petition” or maybe it was “The Way Forward Petition”, that one of them did not need each Annual Conference to vote to approve? (and maybe the other did?). Just wondering which one needed to be approved by all the conferences, or if a simple majority would cause it to be in effect? And if one does and the other doesn’t need annual conference approval why is that?

    2) I have not heard much talk about the ‘jurisdictional solution proposal’ recently, I was wondering if Good News has taken any stance (in favor or against) that petition? Personally I think the ‘Third Way’ or “The Way Forward’ petitions would be disastrous, while I’m not fully sure yet what my view is on the jurisdictional solution petition … (but if pressed I certainly would prefer it over the Third way or the Way Forward).

    • David Goudie says

      Just to clarify question one, because I can see that it might be misunderstood.

      I was wondering that IF “The third Way Petition” or “The Way Forward petition” passed at General Conference in 2016… then would either one of them afterwards (in 2017) have to be also voted upon by each Annual conference in order to pass? For I was remembering that if you change the Constitution in the Book of Discipline it has a more stagnant requirement to be passed by a majority of each of the Annual conferences? So I don’t know it that applies to either of these petitions?

      • David Goudie says

        “Stringent” not “Stagnant”

      • Thank you for your question, David. Neither “A Way Forward” nor “A Third Way” require any amendments to the Constitution of the church. As such, they can be enacted purely by a 50% vote at General Conference with no votes by annual conferences.

        • David Goudie says

          Thanks Tom,
          That’s what I was figuring after reading again the restrictive rules in the BOD, but I was not certain, so thanks for the clarification.
          Related to the second question, I am figuring though that the “Jurisdictional- solution petition” would require an amendment to the Constitution, because it changes the makeup of the Jurisdictional Conference, (paragraph 9 Article II). Right? Which if correct, I think would make that petition almost impossible to pass and might be why its not talked about much these days (again, generally I’m not sure what I feel about the Jurisdictional solution petition, but I know the other two, which have seemingly an easier route to pass, I know I hope do not pass.)

          • You are correct, David. The Jurisdictional Solution (any of the four or five iterations of it) would require constitutional amendments. The difficulty of passing it is one reason it has not been talked about. The other reason is that no progressive or moderate leaders have gotten behind the plan. Without broad support across the theological spectrum, the JS does not stand a chance.

  21. It is vile to call it “Holy Conferencing” when 50%+1 gets to crow “We won!” Further, when a bishop ordains a self-avowed practicing…. they are teaching something by their actions. That’s Doctrine. Don’t tell me this is just an administrative change. Every time an ordained elder performs a same-sex “marriage”, they are teaching. That’s Doctrine.

  22. Wesley UMC is the shot across our bow; if this passes, the thousand shots to follow would almost certainly sink our ship!


  1. […] Originally published at https://goodnewsmag.org/2015/06/editorial-the-titanic-sails-at-midnight/ […]

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