A change last week in the United Methodist Church’s policy on same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ issues was the focus of a March 2 town hall meeting. The session was moderated by two ministers of Kansas City’s United Methodist Church of the Resurrection at the church’s downtown campus.
The United Methodist Church has maintained the sacred worth of homosexual individuals since 1972, but the denomination’s rule book says the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with the Bible. Therefore, United Methodist clergy members have been restricted from performing same-sex marriages, hosting them within Methodist buildings, or being self-professed homosexuals.
At a special General Conference in St. Louis from Feb. 23-26, conservative United Methodist delegates prevailed, voting to further restrict the rules. Although a change was expected coming into this event, the results of the vote surprised many church members.
Many attendees at the town hall meeting felt hurt. Many were angry. Many wanted to know how the Church of the Resurrection would respond.
“I am not saying people who call Church of the Resurrection their home must believe in gay marriage,” said the Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor. “What I am saying is that you have to love people. If you cannot do that, then the Church of the Resurrection isn’t a good place for you.”
Hamilton moderated the meeting with the Rev. Scott Chrostek, pastor of the church’s downtown campus.
After providing a history of the United Methodists’ views on homosexuality and other LGBTQ matters, Hamilton talked about his own perspective. He said that it took him about 10 years of “wrestling” with the Bible to get to his inclusive belief.
“There are over 200 Bible verses that talk about slavery,” he said. “No one now will tell you that slavery is OK. Yet, there are still people who maintain a literal interpretation of the Bible. They adhere to a ‘God said it … I believe it … that settles it’ mentality. I am not here to persuade you to believe in same-sex marriage. I am here to persuade you to know that it is more complicated.”
Hamilton said that the Church of the Resurrection is about accepting people where they are in their spiritual journey. At the General Conference, he said, “I was fighting to protect both conservatives and progressives to have a place in the church.”
The plan that Hamilton advocated was called the One Church Plan, which would have allowed congregations to decide their own policies on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy members. That plan did not pass.
Instead, 53 percent of the delegates voted for the Traditional Plan, which not only reaffirmed restrictions on United Methodist clergy, but also established penalties for violating the rules.
“This is just not OK,” Hamilton said. “To God, all are welcome.”
The restrictions for clergy would have changed Pennsylvania-based United Methodist minister Frank Schaefer’s situation. He was defrocked and subsequently reinstated after officiating at his gay son’s wedding ceremony. The documentary An Act of Love, which was shown during the 2016 Out Here Now Film Festival in Kansas City, Mo., focuses on Schaefer and his journey. Schaefer correctly predicted the outcome of the conference’s vote on his blog (franklynschaefer.com), where he also discusses his expectation of a split in the denomination.
Hamilton, too, was looking forward. “Where do we go from here?” he asked. “This event – this vote – has ignited a lot of people. I have instructed my staff to begin examining the places where our funding goes to ensure they are institutions that support inclusivity. We are going to put pressure on the system.”
Hamilton wants Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, which has four campuses and is the largest United Methodist congregation in the world, to continue to follow the rules until it becomes clear that inclusive change will not happen. This will most likely be at the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis.
“Just because something happens does not mean it is the will of God. The Bible is full of instances in which things have happened that shouldn’t have happened. These events have become turning points for people. I see this as a turning point for the United Methodist Church.”