There 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
- A simple (though biased) statement that we disagree, to
- Leaving the church’s position the same, while allowing conferences and congregations to freely opt out of it, to
- 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?