New Movement Aims to Unite Methodists Amid Growing Split Over LGBT Debate

(Photo: Facebook/United Methodist General Conference)Delegates pray before a plenary session at the United Methodist Church's 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon.

A group of United Methodist Church clergy and laity have launched a movement meant to stress unity for a mainline denomination divided by the debate over LGBT issues.

The Uniting Methodists movement was launched last week and features several UMC clergy and lay leadership who want the UMC to allow local church bodies to determine their position on LGBT issues.

"We call for disciplinary changes so that clergy are neither compelled to officiate at same-sex weddings, nor prohibited from doing so," the new group says on its website.

"We call for disciplinary changes so that annual conferences are neither compelled to ordain LGBTQ persons, nor prohibited from doing so."

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The group also states that their differences on same-sex marriage and ordination "stem from differences over biblical interpretation, not biblical authority."

One of the supporters of the movement is the Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of the largest United Methodist congregation in the United States, the Kansas-based Church of the Resurrection.

In the past, Hamilton has championed efforts to allow individual churches within the UMC to determine whether they will adhere to a traditional understanding of sexual ethics.

Over the past several years, the UMC has been embroiled in internal controversy over whether to change its current position against homosexuality and gay marriage.

Debate over the issue has become contentious enough that at the 2016 General Conference, the Church approved the creation of a Commission for a Way Forward to address the matter.

"The Commission on a Way Forward was proposed by the Council of Bishops and approved by the 2016 General Conference to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church," stated the Commission on the UMC's website.

The creation of the Uniting Methodists group has drawn criticism from both theological liberals and theological conservatives within the denomination.

The pro-LGBT group Reconciling Ministries Network released a statement on Monday, expressing "great concern" over its launching.

"The foundational statement of the UMM is another example of fellow United Methodists advocating for changes 'about us, without us' and once again asserts the false notion that a unity of substance can be achieved while discriminatory policies remain in place," stated RMN.

"The proposal joins a long tradition of prioritizing a surface level kind of unity over the well-being of LGBTQ people, particularly those most vulnerable in the South, and fails to embrace an unprecedented opportunity to set our church on a new course toward justice, reconciliation, and health."

The evangelical Good News Magazine was also critical of the Uniting Methodists group, as well as the concept of centrism undergirding the movement.

"For example, the centrist caucus would have us believe the UM Church could function as a healthy and vibrant denomination where two ministers, in the same community, teach diametrically opposite things about marriage and sexual intimacy," stated GNM.

"Practically speaking, particularly for bishops and district superintendents who have to appoint pastors to local churches, it's a train wreck in the making. But even more importantly, their exotic plan of accommodation will solve little or nothing."

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