Conservative Methodists Respond to Petition Calling on Individual Churches to Determine Stance on Homosexuality

A group of conservative members of the United Methodist Church have signed an open letter to the supporters of a petition calling for the denomination to let individual congregations determine their stance on homosexuality.

At issue is the UMC's official position on homosexuality, which while recognizing the inherent worth of homosexual persons nonetheless declares the practice of homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching."

Posted on the website of the denomination's Good News Magazine last week, the open letter was addressed to Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of The Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, and Mike Slaughter, lead pastor of Ginghamsburg UMC of Tipp City, Ohio.

Hamilton and Slaughter are the top signatories for a petition titled "A Way Forward", that called on the UMC to let individual congregations determine whether or not they believe homosexuality is sinful.

The open letter argued that the two pastors' solution to the UMC's ongoing debate over homosexuality "will only extend, localize and exacerbate the acrimonious debate over the issue by forcing every congregation and annual conference to continue arguing about it for years to come."

"Your solution would pit many pastors against laity in local churches, friends against friends in our congregations, members against members at every annual conference, and bishops against pastors in the appointive process, all without any assurance that it will really resolve the issue," read the open letter in part.

The open letter also stated that the "Way Forward" petition "is asking us, and millions like us, to approve a practice we deem contrary to Scripture and the teachings of the Church Universal."

"We simply cannot abandon the Bible's teachings on the practice of homosexuality and same-sex marriage," continued the letter. "Your proposal would put us, who believe that same sex relations are sinful, in the position of having to deny our consciences. This new policy is simply asking us to do something we cannot do."

The open letter was signed by several individuals, including the Rev. Thomas A. Lambrecht, vice president of Good News Magazine and Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy. The letter came in response to the petition "A Way Forward", which was signed by over 2,000 individuals and was crafted by Hamilton and Slaughter.

"By moving the decision-making regarding homosexuality to the local church, we hope to end the rancor, animosity and endless debate that divide our denomination every four years at General Conference," stated the petition.

"What we propose would allow conservative, centrist and progressive churches to come to their own conclusions regarding this important issue and to focus on how best to minister in their own communities."

The petition also suggests that annual conferences determine "whether they will or will not ordain self-avowed, practicing homosexuals while allowing local churches to determine if they would or would not be willing to receive gay and lesbian clergy."

"In conferences where the ordination of gay and lesbian people was allowed, they would be held to the same standard heterosexual clergy are held to: fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness," stated the petition.

Although the UMC's Book of Discipline labels homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching", a number of individuals within the mainline Protestant denomination have called for a change.

Groups like Reconciling Ministries Network and Methodists in New Directions have called for a more inclusive position on homosexuality for the UMC.

Meanwhile groups like the IRD and Good News have called for the denomination to maintain its position, as well as be more vigilant in enforcing their prohibitions against ordaining noncelibate homosexuals and clergy performing same-sex marriages.

At the 2012 UMC General Conference, Hamilton and Slaughter introduced a resolution to change the language of the Book of Discipline, but it was voted down.

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