LEAWOOD, Kan. — On the heels of the United Methodist Church’s announcement of a separation plan for anti-LGBTQ congregations, the senior pastor at the largest Methodist congregation in Kansas City said his church will remain part of the denomination “and will no longer treat gay and lesbian people in our congregation as second-class Christians.”
Under terms of the proposal, more traditionalist churches, which have opposed the church’s evolving stance on homosexuality, are expected to break away and form a new deonomiation when church leaders gather for the United Methodist Church General Conference from May 5-15 in Minneapolis.
Church of the Resurrection Senior Pastor Adam Hamilton said the United Methodist Church added prohibitions against ordaining LGBTQ pastors and sam-sex marriage in 1972, but those restrictions would be eliminated from the church’s Book of Discipline under the proposal.
“We don’t want to be a place where children are hurt by the church or made to feel that they are less than ...,” Hamilton said. “Currently, our Book of Discipline says that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. We would be removing that.”
Hamilton’s Leawood-based congregation — which also has campuses in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, as well as Blue Springs, Olathe and Overland Park — has been at the forefront of the movement to be more inclusive of LGBTQ congregants.
“At Church of the Resurrection, really nothing changes for us, except for our Book of Discipline is moving toward not having this harmful language anymore,” Hamilton said.
The deep divide within the United Methodist Church over homosexuality drew international attention at last year’s General Conference in St. Louis.
Member delegates, including a growing bloc of conservative international congregations, not only voted down a proposal last February to remove language that condemns homsuexuality, but what “put in its place was even harsher language,” Hamilton said.
With reconciliation impossible, the decision has been made to split.
If the plan is approved, traditionalists who are breaking off from the United Methodist Church will leave the room to form a new denomination, Hamilton said.
“One group will form a new denomination and they will retain the current language about the practice of homosexuality being incompatible with Christian teaching,” Hamilton said. “The rest of us will continue to be the United Methodist Church without this language anymore.”
Ultimately, regional bodies will vote on whether to remain or leave for the new denomination and local churches then will decide whether to accept the regional body’s decision.
More conservative churches could buck the decision to stay and more progressive congregations could buck a decision to leave.
“That will take about two years to settle all of that,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said he expects 10-25% of U.S. Methodist churches will opt to leave and be part of the new denomination.
While Hamilton said there are “a couple” churches in the Kansas City area that may leave, he expects the majority of U.S. churches opting to leave will be located in the South.
The United Methodist Church also announced that it will earmark $27 million during the next four years to be paid to the new traditionalist denomination.
It pledged an additional $39 million during the next eight years “as an acknowledgment of the historical role of the Methodist movement in systems of systematic racial violence, exploitation and discrimination.”
That money will be used “to strengthen ministries by and for Asian, Black, Hispanic-Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander Communities,” according to Article IV of the proposal.
Hamilton compared the traditionalist stance on homosexuality to the The Bible’s stance on slavery, which includes “over 200 passages” and “assumes that slavery was an acceptable practice.”
Modern Christianity has largely rejected those teachings and Hamilton believes the same should be true regarding homosexuality.
“For many of us, we believe that, when it comes to human sexuality, the handful of verses where it talks about stoning a gay man don’t reflect God’s will and purposes for human beings,” Hamilton said. “Instead, God wills us to be faithful to one another and love one another. When the Biblical authors were speaking about homosexuality, they were really talking about what was going on in their time and their understanding of human sexuality.”
If the United Methodist Church splits in May, it won’t be the first time. The church separated in 1844 over the issue of slavery and local congregations didn’t reunite until 1939.
“It took a long time for them to come back together, but eventually they did,” Hamilton said. “My hope is that the day will come 20, 30, 40 years from now where these two Methodist churches will come back together as one.”