What Does ‘Agree to Disagree’ Mean?

6a010536b2a56b970b0153928906b5970b-800wiThere has been a lot of talk lately about finding ways for United Methodists to coexist together in the same denomination despite deep divisions over how the church should minister to and with GLBTQ persons.  At the 2012 General Conference, Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter famously put forth an amendment to our Social Principles that would have acknowledged that deep disagreement.

Evangelicals at the time had three main concerns with moving forward on the track set out by Hamilton and Slaughter.  First, the language used to describe the disagreement was heavily weighted in favor of the acceptance or affirmation of same-sex behavior.  A more even-handed resolution might have had a greater chance of passing.

Second, we don’t say that we “agree to disagree” about any other issue in the social principles.  Why would we state it for this issue and not for issues like abortion, immigration, or war?

Third, the step of “agreeing to disagree” was in most cases the first step taken by other mainline denominations on the road toward affirming the ordination of practicing homosexuals and same-sex marriage.  Evangelicals were concerned that taking this first step would ultimately lead the UM Church to change its position on the morality of same-sex behavior.

More recently, Hamilton and Slaughter have come out with a proposal for a “local option” that would allow annual conferences and local churches to vote to disregard denominational standards regarding ordination and marriage.  In their proposal, A Way Forward for a United Methodist Church, the stance of the church toward same-sex behavior would remain as it is now, with annual conferences and congregations empowered to vote to disregard that stance.

This May, the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference passed a resolution entitled, “Agree to Disagree on Issues Pertaining to Gender and Sexual Minorities.”  The resolution reflects an evolution in the concept of “agree to disagree” that is important to note.

The resolution defines “agree to disagree” as:

  • “Support[ing] LGBT lay members who marry
  • “Refraining from filing complaints against pastors who perform marriages between gender and sexual minorities”
  • “Refraining from using [the conference’s] resources to investigate or enforce a ban on marriages between gender and sexual minorities, or for church trials, or for otherwise disciplining clergy that perform same-sex marriages
  • “Refraining from using [the conference’s] resources to investigate the gender or sexual orientation of a minister or candidate for ministry
  • “Refraining from using [the conference’s] resources to enforce a ban on the certification of an LGBT candidate for ministry, or the ban on ordination of an LGBT minister
  • “Put forth proposed changes to the Book of Discipline and Social Principles that permit matters concerning LGBT persons to be discerned by individual members, congregations, pastors, bishops, committees and conferences through Biblical obedience with the aid of the Holy Spirit and at the discretion of the individual members, pastors, congregations, bishops, conferences and committees
  • “Put forth proposed changes to the Book of Discipline and Social Principles that permit those that disagree with one another with respect to homosexuality and LGBT persons to remain inside the United Methodist Church connection, which will require, at a minimum, deletion of the excluding language in Social Principle 161F, eliminating the ban on same-sex marriages 341.6 and eliminating the ban on ordination of homosexuals or LGBT persons in ¶304.3 .”

In other words, according to this resolution, “agree to disagree” means to allow every person and entity in The United Methodist Church to make their own decision regarding the acceptability of same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals.  It also means refusing to enforce the current standards on this issue in the Book of Discipline.  And it commits to strip out all language containing the traditional understanding of scriptural teaching on same-sex marriage and behavior from the Book of Discipline.

“Agree to disagree” for this annual conference has come to mean “agree with the progressive viewpoint on GLBTQ ministry.”  There is no accommodation or even acknowledgement in the resolution of the traditional understanding of Scripture and 2,000 years of church teaching, nor of the vast majority of Christian teaching around the world.

If this resolution were to become the stance of the church in the Book of Discipline, it would represent a complete 180 degree switch in the church’s teaching.  One can imagine that, in some annual conferences, tolerance for the traditional viewpoint would carry on for a little while.  But eventually, there would be no more “agree to disagree.”  Clergy and congregations alike would be forced to adopt the new viewpoint affirming the moral rightness of same-sex marriage and same-sex behavior.

See how quickly the concept of “agree to disagree” has evolved from

  1. A simple (though biased) statement that we disagree, to
  2. Leaving the church’s position the same, while allowing conferences and congregations to freely opt out of it, to
  3. Completely changing the church’s position

This is why evangelicals do not trust when some say that agreeing to disagree would allow us to maintain our moral standards.  We believe the fourth step on this evolutionary journey is to compel all United Methodist clergy and congregations to affirm the practice of homosexuality.  That’s why we don’t want to start down this road.  In my view, it would be better to agree to take separate roads right now, rather than walk down the “agree to disagree” road and find later on that we really can’t agree to disagree.

What do you think?

13 thoughts on “What Does ‘Agree to Disagree’ Mean?

  1. Read it….Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8 Then….And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. John 14:16-17 How can we be an united church when you can find one church that says that Jesus’ teaching that same sex marriage is an expression of God’s love; and then you go down the street or to a neighboring town and in another UMC they are teaching that it is a sin. Confusion, unity, what do you call it? I guess there appears to be a different Jesus in those churches. For those of you who still believe that the Holy Spirit is a part of the Trinity; which church has the truth(I assume that since we believe that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever that the same could be said of the Holy Sspirit who is called “truth”)? I believe that if Satan could be nominated for an academy award he would definitely win for having given an effectively portrayal of the Holy Spirit in the lives and ministry of many people.

  2. What Hamilton and Slaughter are proposing used to be called “mugwumping”–your mug on one side of the fence and your “wump” on the other. I believe it is formally called “sitting on the fence”. If they are not for the Biblical teaching of marriage, then they should have the courage to state their beliefs, not “mugwump.” And the fact that they cannot stand for either side makes it plain which side they prefer. It is too bad that they have such a loud voices.

  3. The “agree to disagree” resolution is actually asking the followers of the Bible to cave in to the
    LGBT element. I see no compromise from that group.

  4. Either we believe in Absolute Truth or we don’t. It is time to “shake the dust from our sandals” and quit putting off the Refiner’s fire that needs to burn through the UMC. Separate and move on. We must be the Cephas upon which Christ built His church!

  5. The phrase I use is we have decided to “live in the tension” of our differences. I believe Jesus modeled this by his choice of disciples, Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector. Cleary they heard God differently, yet followed Jesus.

    My understanding of what Slaughter and Hamilton have been working to do is to move us forward back to a focus on our mission: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In “a way forward”, it was an attempt to continue the conversation, to stay at the table, to say there is more that we are together on than, things we are different on. NO reason to split, take our toys and go home.
    grace and peace, Duane

    1. There is no “conversation” going on and there hasn’t been for quite a while. All that I have heard is liberal/progressives wrongly stating that anyone who disagrees with them that God is just fine with two men or women having sex each other is a “homophobe” and does “accept” people like Jesus supposedly did. Personally, anytime that I have had to have a serious conversation about such things as the influence of Western liberalism, the assumptions of biological determinism, or some of the other veiled beliefs in this so-called conversation, the other side gets frustrated, aggravated, and starts spewing off the same old talking points that all of us have over and over. That’s not a conversation.

      And please, enough with your condescending words about taking our toys and going home. I have seen so much childishness from the left and those who claim the “middle” that it’s not funny. It is just simply NOT true that we can do more together. We can do the most when we are following Christ and not pretending that all is well when it is not. We serve a real God and it’s time to get real.

  6. Tom, I disagree with you on this issue but sense you are a thoughtful Christian. How would you resolve this issue in a way that allows for us to lovingly accommodate our views on this issue without the slippery slope concern. I will concede the legitimacy of that concern and I can see your concern with ignoring the Book of Discipline. I certainly support the pastors who have done so in this matter but can see the concerns on the other side.

    Maybe the best defense to the “slippery slope” is treat those on the other like you want to be treated in similar circumstances.

    1. Jay, thanks for the compliment. I’m not sure there is a way to “lovingly accommodate our views on this issue.” It seems to me that our views on this issue are mutually exclusive. If evangelicals were to accept same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals in some parts of the church (based on local option), we would believe that we are in effect condoning or supporting what the Bible says is sinful behavior. For many evangelicals, that makes it a “bottom line issue.” The only proposal I have seen that might come close to accomplishing what you hope for is the two-jurisdictions approach, proposed by Chris Ritter. It would create two new jurisdictions (eliminating the five current ones) that would be based on theology. Each would be responsible for their own Social Principles and ordination standards. It would essentially create two separate churches within one UMC, with some shared mission and administrative functions. The only virtue I can see in this plan, as over against outright separation, is that it allows us to still claim to all be United Methodists. However, as the two jurisdictions would evolve over time, I wonder if they would have less and less in common and eventually end up forming two separate churches. It might be better to simply get it over with now and separate into two churches now.

      As for treating those on the other side like I would want to be treated, I think we have tried very hard to do that. We have bent over backwards as a church to accommodate a dissenting view for over 40 years that has become increasingly abrasive and intolerant of the church’s teaching–to the point of now outright rebellion and disobedience. If the shoe were on the other foot, which may well happen if the church’s position on homosexuality ever changes, I would find it nearly impossible to continue as a United Methodist elder. If I found that I could not in good conscience live within the parameters of the Book of Discipline, I would have to withdraw from the UM Church. My integrity would demand that. It is what I would expect of folks “on the other side.”

  7. If I read you correctly you are not willing to agree to disagree on gay issues but you can on divorce. Is that correct?

    1. Hi, Jay. To be clear, I would have trouble supporting a church that said that all divorce is a gift from God, and that God wants us to be free to be with the partner that we want to be with, regardless of our vows of marriage. I could not agree to disagree on that point. Fortunately, that is not what our church says.

      1. I apologize if my question seemed flippant….It was not meant to be. I am truly perplexed that the church can so easily accommodate divorce that is clearly outside of what Jesus commanded and can so easily talk about schism when it comes to the gay issue.

        1. I am truly perplexed by those who make the argument that “hey, you guys are (allegedly) being easy on divorce, so let’s go ahead and be easy on people engaging homosexual acts.” That’s like saying, “you guys are bad, so let’s all go ahead and be worse.” It’s one of the worst argument I’ve ever heard.

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