(Photo courtesy Chris Tiedeman)
A pair of Methodists hope to change the United Methodist Church's official position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage via a grassroots campaign.
Christopher Tiedeman, an Indiana pastor and student at United Theological Seminary, and author Joel L. Watts, blogger at http://UnsettledChristianity.com, told The Christian Post about their plan to change the UMC from within.
In an email, the two told CP about their plan, which will be coordinated through a group called the Communion of Concerned United Methodists or "The Communion" for short. "Starting soon, we will begin to write letters to pastors and leaders in other areas of the world and begin the theological argument," wrote Tiedeman and Watts. "This is what Paul did. This is what the Church Fathers did. This is what Wesley did. They put pen to paper in order to individually sway one person, or a group of people, to their cause."
Tiedeman and Watts said that this is a "different route" in contrast to other efforts to change the UMC's policies via resolutions at either the General Conference or regional conference level.
"Unfortunately, resolutions generally have a negative impact. If a resolution is issued by one conference, it pits that conference against another," wrote Tiedeman and Watts.
"Resolutions are rarely filled with the necessary theology needed to combat lingering exclusive language but are only momentary statements springing up from hurt, anger or opportunity – or all three. Nothing good comes from that place."
The Book of Discipline
The United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline states that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching" and defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. The Book of Discipline also bars noncelibate homosexuals from ordination and forbids UMC clergy from officiating same-sex weddings, even in states where it is legal.
While periodically debated, the Book of Discipline's language regarding homosexuality has weathered change efforts, including at the recent General Conference held in Tampa in 2012. There, an "agree to disagree" amendment was introduced by the Rev. Adam Hamilton of Leawood, Kan., and the Rev. Mike Slaughter of Tipp City, Ohio. Soundly rejected, the failed amendment would have replaced the "incompatible" statement with language acknowledging different opinions on homosexual behavior within the UMC.
Tiedeman and Watts told CP that they did not support the "agree to disagree" amendment since they felt it would be akin "to one area of the UMC refusing to perform baptisms, condemning them on Sunday mornings, while another Church performs baptisms."
"We are not congregational, but episcopal. Thus, we need to come to a statement respective of that tradition, but in view of the Gospel," wrote Tiedeman and Watts.
The Need for Growth
For some, the failure of progressive Methodists to get the Book of Discipline amended only spotlighted the shrinking influence of liberals in the UMC.
John Lomperis, director of the United Methodist program at The Institute on Religion and Democracy, told The Christian Post in an earlier interview that UMC liberals are "a shrinking minority."
"Our global denomination is growing overseas, where members are generally orthodox. Non-American delegates are getting close to having a majority at General Conference," said Lomperis.
"Among American United Methodists, the areas that have most enthusiastically embraced the sexual revolution are the most rapidly declining in membership and consequent influence, while our growing churches tend to be biblically faithful."
According to reports from 56 of the UMC's 59 United States regional conferences, the mainline denomination experienced a membership decline of at least 85,000.
By contrast, the United Methodist News Service noted that during the same time period the Burundi and East African conferences gained over 68,000 members.
Tiedeman and Watts told CP that the decline trend could be found with conservative American churches also and that they believed their efforts went beyond theological classifications.
"What if we can argue from a theological conservative position for LGBT inclusion? We believe this is the case. Wouldn't this, then, make us the actual theological conservatives?" wrote Tiedeman and Watts.
"So, The Communion will begin there, to argue not culturally or scientifically, but theologically for LGBT inclusion. It's unconventional, but the faithful Christian life will always be seen as unconventional."