This is the third (and possibly final) entry in the series on Adam Hamilton and Michael Slaughter’s A Way Forward, which is a proposal to transform the LGBT debate in the United Methodist Church. Part One focused on its role against the anonymous schismatic 80. Part Two focused on its possibly congregationalist tendencies. And now…Part Three.
A Conservative Proposal…
Contrary to the detractors who call it woefully progressive, I would argue this is a conservative proposal.
In Andrew Sullivan’s The Conservative Soul, he writes:
All conservatism begins with loss...human beings live by a narrative and we get saddened when a familiar character disappears from a soap opera, or an acquaintance moves, or an institution becomes unrecognizable from what it once was. These little griefs are what build a conservative temperament. They interrupt our story; and our story is what makes sense of our lives. So we resist the interruption; and when we resist it, we are conservatives. (Page 10)
The proposal, as written, allows conservatives to retain their story while just changing the chapters a bit. Conservatives lose very little. Conservative pastors would not be forced to do weddings, and conservative churches would be highly unlikely to get openly gay clergy. There is no loss to the local congregation or pastor from this proposal. The only loss they have is the ability to throw charges at the pastor/church down the street that is doing something they don’t like. They might lose their view of the Church as a uniform entity, but that doesn’t affect the majority of pew-sitters who know the reality is that unity in diversity is already the Methodist way.
Over time, however, they would experience loss. Just as more churches every year accept female clergy, more churches every year would sign on to allow same-gender weddings, and more and more annual conferences would allow LGBT clergy. But by then, their sense of loss would have ebbed, as the younger conservatives didn’t really lose that Church at all: they grew up without it as the dominant voice.
In summary, because conservatives lose very little in their congregational life, this proposal allows them to navigate loss and interruption in a far easier way than a radical reorientation.
…With a Progressive Soul.
However, the proposal also has a progressive soul.
If conservatives begin with loss, progressives begin with a sense of justice. To seek a just framework for God, Church, Society, and Family is to be a progressive. To live beyond our Traditional understandings of humanity, God, and Creation in order to effect that more just framework.
To these values, the Hamilton/Slaughter proposal evokes two sense of justice:
- It is more just in that it allows certain areas of Methodism to practice full LGBT inclusion.
- It is less just in that some areas that are not progressive will feel more isolated because their freedom is no longer tied to the areas of the country that have more progressive privilege.
And yet at its core is a sense that our current ecclesiology is not just. It’s not just! It’s unjust. With this at the heart of any proposal, letter, or legislation, then the Progressive should give it more than a passing glance.
Additionally, a core understanding of progressivism is that we slowly evolve into a humanity that more reflects the image of God than we began with–and in reflecting that God, we more embody some elements of Scripture and less embody other elements (hence evolving understandings on women’s ordination and LGBT inclusion, for example). However, the reality is that we embrace progressivism at different rates on some aspects of the human condition, based on our geographic location, family of origin, media, educational slant, and many other factors. These differences are evident across United Methodism. I’ve pastored churches in three jurisdictions, and American Methodism is already radically diverse–let alone Global Methodism.
What this proposal does is give authority and connectional accountability to the churches and conferences that have progressed more rapidly than others on the issue of LGBT inclusion. It allows them to be in ministry with their context and forces areas who are not progressive to have the conversation.
While to many “justice deferred is justice denied,” (which is valid), are we not also denying justice to the ones who could make their churches more just now rather than waiting for 51% of the body to come around later?
In summary, because this proposal assumes that the UMC is currently unjust, it is a progressive vision that seeks an incremental way towards a more just church than the one we created 42 years ago.
A Call for a Pragmatic, Missional Church
In short, this Proposal is an appeal to pragmatic conservatives who know they’ve lost the culture war and pragmatic progressives who feel the church is not ready yet for revolutionary change in its polity. If those two groups can unite around an incremental change like this to “stop the bleeding” then they could get bandaged up and see what’s ahead.
All too often the Church is a tail light in its surrounding culture. Women would get full voting abilities in America a full 36 years before they received the same consideration in the Methodist Church. Segregation was outlawed in 1954, 14 years before the Central Jurisdiction would be abolished in the Methodist Church. Will we do the same in United Methodism regarding LGBT inclusion? As marriage equality sweeps across the land to a majority of Americans in 11 short years, how long will we be unable to fully celebrate this equality?
- To Hamilton/Slaughter, it depends on whether conservatives can live with the bare minimum of loss and whether progressives can shed the “justice for all or justice for none” approach.
- To us at Hacking Christianity? We’ve got 23 months and there will be many more proposals, some of which will take this Proposal as a baseline and change it. We’ll be reserving endorsement until we get closer to GC16 (who knows…we may just write our own…)
Until then: let the games begin on creative ways to live together in a unity rather than separating into two ghettoized factions like the Powers and Principalities want us to. We are better together, and something tells me, God is not through with a United Methodist Church, if we keep more good ideas like this coming.