Every four years, elected delegates from across the world meet at a General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Among the most discussed and debated topics for decades have been issues like the United Methodist Church’s stance on the practice of homosexuality, or its decisions and position regarding abortion.
We invest a lot in those conversations. After all, only the General Conference has the power to speak on behalf of the United Methodist Church.
Now that’s a bizarre statement, isn’t it? The only person/group with the power to speak on behalf of the United Methodist Church is a group that meets for two weeks every four years.
And it’s not working out so well for us, either.
You see, I would expect an organization that invests so much time and energy into its official standards to then enforce those standards. That would include expecting its most visible leaders to support those standards — or at least not to publicly contradict them.
But over the past several years, we’ve seen an increasing disregard for the official positions of the UMC by some of its most prominent agencies and leaders.
So for instance, a recent press release by leaders in the United Methodist Women and our General Board of Church and Society ignored or darn near contradicted the majority of the UMC’s stance on abortion. See my response to that here.
And now, the most prominent of UM pastors, Adam Hamilton, comes out with a statement on homosexual behavior that flat out contradicts our official position. A fellow pastor commented to me that Hamilton’s “entrepreneurial skills are very impressive. As a UM leader, I think he means well, but Scripture is not his primary rule of life and ministry.” You should take a look at Tim Tennent’s well-reasoned response to Hamilton: “Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals.”
Unfortunately, the UMC has all too gladly given Hamilton its biggest platform due to his entrepreneurial skills. (We reward nothing more than worldly success, do we?) He’s using that platform to rather plainly reject our hard-fought statements of belief.
And I get it. These people don’t like our stated positions. So they’re speaking out against them. Is that okay, though? For which positions? And what does it mean that they took a vow to “preach and maintain” our doctrines and “support and maintain” our discipline and polity? Surely it doesn’t mean it’s okay to publicly reject them with no consequence.
These are two examples among dozens (hundreds?) of recent public contradictions and refutations of the UMC position — both in word and deed.
The emperor has no clothes
These people seem to know what our institution has failed to recognize, or wants to pretend isn’t so: the emperor has no clothes.
If only the General Conference speaks on behalf of the UMC, we’ll be waiting 3–1/2 years for an official response to these recent acts of defiance. And do any of us expect them to do anything about it? Do we expect anyone else of note to do anything before then? Do we expect the Council of Bishops to come out and say that the UMW and GBCS press release was a gross distortion of our actual values? Do we expect Adam Hamilton to receive any censure for such a brazen mockery of the UMC’s theological positions?
Or perhaps we should ask it another way: what does one have to do to actually face consequences in this institution? And without any form of accountability, what do any of our “official positions” mean in the first place? They seem a comfortable piece of clothing. A very costly piece of fabric at that — years of preparation and petition-writing and delegate elections, with an expensive two-week conference at its climax.
But surely soon we’ll go ahead and name what we’re all seeing here: these clothes aren’t real. And it’s getting pretty embarrassing to stand around here naked.
Can anyone do anything about this, or have we legislated ourselves into these make-believe clothes?
Another reason we’re seeing such silence from our leaders: they got where they are by not making too many controversial waves. See “The Catch-22 of Change and Bureaucracy”