By Thomas Lambrecht-
The new group “Uniting Methodists” is in the process of forming to (in their words) give voice to the “broad center” of The United Methodist Church. A recent information session about the group was held at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, led by the Revs. Adam Hamilton, Tom Berlin, and Olu Brown. “We can’t keep doing what we’re doing,” Hamilton is reported to have said. “Who’s going to speak up for that broad, middle in the center?”
It’s a good question. For the last 40 years, the “broad, middle” of global United Methodism was, of course, expressed by the General Conference. The Uniting Methodists position is that there is a “middle ground” that would allow same-sex marriage and ordination in the church, but not require it. This would effectively allow individual pastors to make their own decision about doing weddings and individual annual conferences to decide whether or not to ordain practicing homosexuals. Their hope is to keep much of the church united around this “Third Way” or “local option” approach.
There can be no discussion about the broad center of the church without actively engaging our brothers and sisters in Africa, and other locations outside North America. We are an unmistakably global church connected by a common covenant with 45 percent of United Methodists living outside the U.S. Those members are by and large conservative, and many would not be able to live in a denomination that allows same-sex marriage and ordination. When a caucus groups says it wants to construct a solution for the “80 percent of United Methodists in the middle,” they are excluding the voices of nearly half of the church.
Uniting Methodists portrays itself as a “centrist” group that welcomes people of both progressive and conservative theological perspectives and would allow the practices of both perspectives to coincide without hindrance. There is a group within The UM Church that would respond to such a voice. Given the heavily progressive leanings of the group’s leaders and interested persons, however, that may not be a fully accurate portrayal. The attempt to hold together mutually contradictory theologies may only result in an uneasy truce that invites a return to conflict in the not-too-distant future.
In the final analysis, the church will need to decide: do we perform same-sex weddings or not? Do we ordain practicing homosexuals or not? Will we welcome gay bishops or not? There is not a lot of middle ground in those decisions.
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.