TERRY MATTINGLY: Are United Methodist liberals still afraid to act? |
As one of the founders of the United Methodist Centrist Movement, the Reverend Doug Damron spent years hiding his rejection of his church’s rule that “the practice of homosexuality is inconsistent with Christian teaching.”
Centrists used a “perfectly delicious” theological platform defined by words such as “unity”, “peace” and “moderate”, he said during a guest sermon last year at the historic Broad Street United Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio. After decades of fighting over sex, many hoped that “traditionalists” and “progressives” could keep “United” attached to “Methodist.”
The goal was a “compromise,” Damron said, a “soft word” that hid a “status quo of oppression.” But there was “an institution to protect,” and many clergy were afraid to be honest. Thus, they did not openly attack the denomination’s Book of Discipline.
“By nature, I’m a rule follower,” he said. “I knew that such a challenge might have cost me my letters of nobility.”
Now is the time to show some candor and courage, Damron said. When United Methodists finally split, conservatives will build a church defined “by whom they will exclude today and whom they will exclude tomorrow.” The question is whether progressives will act on their convictions.
“It’s time to speak into existence, as led by the Spirit, a church that fully welcomes, includes, affirms not only God’s beloved gays and lesbians, but a host of others who have found the church door closed,” he said. noted. This would include embracing and ordering “trans people, bi people, kinky people, poly people, fluid people, and the like.”
The United Methodist clock has kept ticking this summer, even as the realities of COVID-19 have delayed — yet again — votes on the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” brokered by left-wing activists and of right. The General Conference will not convene until August this year because the UMC establishment has refused to take action in the virtual forums.
Once the protocol is approved, the Conservatives plan to create the Methodist World Church, merging their large minority of the UMC’s 31,000 U.S. congregations into a structure built around the burgeoning churches of Africa and Asia. This new denomination will retain the teachings of the Book of Discipline on marriage and sex.
The Protocol’s preamble noted that “centrists” still hope to preach compromise after this divorce, while asserting that doctrines can be modernized. Thus, “the post-separation United Methodist Church will strive to create a regional conference structure … adaptable to regional contexts” while removing any “restrictive language related to LGBTQ people.”
Meanwhile, across social media, podcasts and Zoom conferences, voices from the doctrinal left have said it’s time to move beyond debates about committed same-sex relationships. Some say it’s time to affirm those, including sexually active clergy candidates, cohabiting in heterosexual or same-sex relationships or living in “poly” — short for “polyamorous” — unions of three or more.
A denomination – the Liberation Methodist Connexion, or LMX – has already formed, rejecting what it believes to be the “powers, principalities and privileges” that plague Methodism, such as “colonialism, white supremacy, economic injustices , patriarchy, sexism, clericalism, ableism, ageism, transphobia and heteronormativity. LMX is committed to all people “living their God-given identity,” including “gender expressions and sexual identity” as well as “monogamous and non-monogamous” relationships.
Last summer, the leaders of Love Prevails – another liberal network – announced their departure from UMC in a letter stating: “We once thought that the church’s proclamations of clemency were simply understand as bad hypocrisy. We mistakenly assumed that the UMC would welcome gay people, if only for institutional preservation. We didn’t realize that the church would rather destroy itself than become fully inclusive.
The truth is that many clergy are still afraid to be honest, said the Reverend Austin Adkinson of the Pacific Northwest Conference, a leader of the UMC’s Queer Clergy Caucus. In a 2018 “Multiamory” podcast that is still quoted, Adkinson said, “I try to find ways to be able to say, without pulling the rug out from under some people, that it doesn’t matter who you sleep with, but how you take care of these people. …
“I think a lot of more progressive clergy would have similar thoughts, but don’t really have the guts to step up and step up to the plate in defense of something that’s going to rock the boat. Change is slow, and change in the church is slower.