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An open letter to liberal or progressive friends

By A.W. Martin*

As many of you know, I am a long-time member of the Methodist Federation for Social Action and the Reconciling Ministries Network. Like you, I am not ashamed to identify myself as a liberal on both theological and social issues, and I like to think I am correct in calling myself “progressive.”

For the last five or six General Conferences of our denomination, I have belonged to a local church committee that prepared petitions to send to the conference. Many of these proposals were about full inclusiveness in our Church and the end of discrimination against LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) persons. Along with numerous losing efforts, there were a few small successes — most notably, perhaps, the requirement that aspiring deacons and elders promise to be in ministry to persons without regard to sexual orientation.

For the 2012 General Conference I hoped, as I know you did, that the effort to remove from the Social Principles the language that the so-called practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching would get out of committee. Although I did not really expect that such a change would be approved by the conference as a whole, I did hope that a resolution or two on inclusiveness that my local church had submitted might actually pass. But, as you know, the legislative committee kept the language that we consider so hateful, and various resolutions died in committee.

Again, as we all know, the ray of hope that Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter presented on the floor of the conference was extinguished. Their irenic proposal lost — it would have replaced the incompatibility words in the Social Principles with a statement that “we can commit to disagree with compassion, grace, and love, while continuing to seek to understand the concerns of the other.”

If a General Conference cannot approve something like the Hamilton-Slaughter amendment, then it appears to me that there is little if any hope that any time in the forseeable future we shall see a change of our denominational stance against full inclusiveness.

Ironically, our loss of hope about full inclusiveness is, in part, because of a radical change that is also a sign of great hope: The rapid globalization of our Church, as represented especially by its growth in Africa. Where this change will lead our denomination is uncertain, but the vision for the Church submitted by a Liberian leader in 2008 may give us a clue. We are undoubtedly disturbed by its espousal of fundamentalist doctrine, but we can only rejoice in its prophetic call “on behalf of our impoverished brothers and sisters worldwide” for steps like “economic development, trade and property rights, electrification, industrialization, irrigation, transportation, basic health care and improved agricultural development.” And, we can affirm much of its “missional priority” list; its first two items, for example, are “Fighting deadly diseases. . .while also ensuring clean water for all” and “Protecting the air, water and land while improving the standard of living for the world’s poor” (petition 81562, 2008 General Conference; petition 20921, 2012 General Conference).

As we desire the best for our Church, we liberals who ardently wish for full inclusion for LGBTQ persons have, I believe, two obvious choices.

One is to stay within the denomination and continue to make our witness, hoping against hope that in another generation or two or three our views will triumph. Those of us who decide to follow this course may want to compare ourselves to the African American Methodists in the early 19th century who declined opportunities to become part of the African American Episcopal or the African American Episcopal Church Zion churches. It is difficult, I believe, to underestimate the importance of such a continuing witness.

The other choice, of course, is to leave the denomination. Individual departures occur, as we know all too well, after each General Conference. We all know long-time, loyal United Methodists who have finally reached the breaking point and have sadly withdrawn, either to leave organized religion behind altogether or to find another, more inclusive denomination. There are two ways, however, that departure can occur in a well-planned, organized way that allows inclusive congregations to stay together, and, one hopes, to thrive.

The first path is already mapped out in the Book of Discipline: A local congregation can request a transfer to “another evangelical denomination,” and its annual conference can direct that this occur if the resident bishop, majorities of the district superintendents and of the district board of church location and building, and the receiving denomination agree (Paragraph 2547.2). This provision has been in place for as long as the United Methodist Church has existed, and the term “evangelical” almost certainly is a synonym for “Protestant.”

The second way was outlined in a petition that went to the 2012 General Conference but lost in committee. Since originating in a strong, conservative congregation in Mississippi, it has begun to receive support from major conservative leaders in our denomination. It allows a congregation that views itself to be “in irreconcilable conflict for reasons of conscience” with the denominational stance “on the practice of homosexuality and the blessing of homosexual unions” to withdraw and “retain full rights to its property and funds.” Such a decision would have to be made by a substantial majority of “professing members present and voting at a duly called church conference” (Petition 20538). Congregations that take this step would of course be free to negotiate affiliation with another denomination.

Friends, at this stage in our denomination’s history, it will do the Church and our LGBTQ-friendly congregations little good to continue the struggle as it is now playing out. There is still an important witness for many of us, including LGBTQ persons for whom there is no other church they want to call home, to make within the denomination. But others, like the Methodists who formed the AME and AMEZ churches, can no longer abide the repeated slamming of doors.

In many situations, moving on, I believe, is highly preferable to prospective scenarios that include donnybrooks every four years, numerous church trials, breakdown of respect for Church law, and even the specter of formal division. In such cases, working to facilitate transfer to another denomination or to enable disaffiliation will advance full inclusiveness, potentially strengthen a receiving denomination in many geographic areas, and permit The United Methodist Church to get on with doing some of the things that it does so well.

My liberal brothers and sisters, some of our conservative friends have extended their hands to help us depart in an amicable way. Some of us may decline the offer even as we shake their hands. For others of us, it is time, as we also shake their hands, to express our thanks, accept their help, move out, and move on.

*Martin is an emeritus professor of religion at Oklahoma City University and a retired elder in the Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church. He was baptized and confirmed in The Methodist Episcopal Church South; was ordained in The Methodist Church, and retired in The United Methodist Church. He traces his Methodist roots back to the 1830s.

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  1. Mike Childs

    There is a growing consensus that a fair division of the UMC is better for both sides and for the cause of Christ. We have two different world views, theologies, and views of Scripture. We no more belong in the same Church than a Calvinist and a Wesleyan, indeed less so. It is a terrible witness for Christ to spend another 40 years fighting over the same issues. I don’t care which side goes, but for Christ’s sake and the world’s sake, one of us should have the integrity to go.

  2. Rev Bill Berry

    To Rev. A.W. Martin :
    I do not know which translation of the Bible you use, but please read the following words of Christ Jesus :

    Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

    Matthew 15:10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication*, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

    Matthew 19 : 4 [Jesus] answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

    Luke 16:14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15 So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God. 16 “The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.”

    I pray for your eternal soul and the poor students you have taught in the past, for with your self-applied “Progressive” label, you have probably directed them to go through the wide gate, the easy path, which Bunyan long ago pictured so accurately as the Path to Damnation.

    As the Discipline points out so clearly, and is included, even by common usage if not in black and white, the buildings, grounds and properties belonging to the United Methodist Church belong to the General Church, an NOT the particular members of a particular congregation at a particular time.

    By the way, I was baptized as a Methodist in 1952 in a Methodist Church in Massachusetts that was founded in 1784, several months BEFORE the Christmas Conference at the church in Lovely Lane, and my family had been members of that congregation since the day it BECAME Methodist. In fact, they were members of the same church when it was an Anglican congregation going back to the 1650′s. Later, after my immediate family had moved to a new area, I joined a United Evangelical Brethren Congregation by confession of faith in third grade, thus becoming a member of BOTH halves of the church which emerged out of the 1968 merger creating the United Methodist Church. I am now an Elder of the Western North Carolina Conference of the UMC, and while I will continue to pray that you recover your faith in Christ, I would be very GLAD to see all those who want to force us to accept the LGBTQI initiative as gospel depart for other, perhaps in their misguided sight, “greener” pastures.

  3. Brenda

    I appreciate Prof. A.W. Martin’s enlightening post as to what is going on, but I would not be departing amicably if I ever were to depart. Nor would I advocate amicable departures by liberals. That is not a helping hand but a shove out the door like the vicious Baptists did to their liberals before the hatemongers took over their denomination 30+ years ago. This country wasn’t as mean before the “conservative” (i.e. fundamentalists) Baptists were unleashed to wreak their havoc on all in their paths, including invading politics without proper IRS censures. (I wonder how much of what has gone right-wing and wrong in the Methodist Church IS fundamentalist Baptists who came over for the better health care and retirement benefits. Has anyone analyzed that?) If I (as what can hopefully be defined as a liberal/progressive person) ever leave the United Methodist Church it won’t be by taking advice from the hatemongering fundamentalists. I do believe in fighting their malevolent meannesses in every realm. I would rather see the entire (beloved) United Methodist Church (which most of my ancestors were in since the 1840s or before) close down altogether than cede everything to the hatemongerers that call themselves “conservative” & say hateful things about liberals. Watching our U.S. president, Mr. Obama, (who is nothing remotely near a liberal) be endlessly polite to those who lied about him without cease while THEY falsely were pretending to be “Christians” taught me it is time to speak up constantly against this hatemongering in the name of Christ. I am a happily married heterosexual and want to say it is down right WEIRD for people to say that a homosexual having a happy & monogamous relationship affects anyone else’s marriage. Monogamous relationships help stop the spread of disease and help people use their talents for good in the world. I would like to see the homosexual couples in my community and the world free to marry and be officially couples without harassment.

    I also see no good out of adding African churches if they are of the mean-spirited literalist ilk.

    Don’t forget that the South had to be deal with once before — and for meanness to others that time too. Don’t forget that. Don’t let them try to steal our church property this round too.

  4. Lyle Miller

    I am sorry that Brenda believes being Conservative is someone who engages in hate mongering. She brings Mr. Obama into her agrument which has nothing to do with the discussion of whether or not Scripture supports the Homosexual life style. I served in the Army for 3 years and my tour of duty took me to France where on several occassions buddies of mine as well as myself were approached and asked if we wanted tghe services of homosexual men. So when people try to tell me that they do not solicite straight folks to join their ranks, I say that it not true. Then there is the issue of the gay and lesbian community groups making inroads into the educational classrooms of the very young, teaching them the rudiments of the homosexual lifestyle. Why? Why if they believe that they have not choice in the matter do they feel they have to teach very young children how to be like them? This is not hate mongering, it’s telling the truth as it should be.

    1. Brenda

      Lyle Miller missed my point of putting the word “Conservative” in parentheses. No, not all “Conservatives” are hatemongers but Lyle Miller’s definition of it most emphatically is & the ones in this thread have all been. All of this anti-liberal hatemongering IS hatemongering and it is UN-Christian by any honest appraisal.. These ludicrous false allegations about homosexuals in the schools (from Lyle Miller) are part of the right-wing assault on public schools and any institution you don’t have your snout in. (That kind of thing IS where your name has come up before, isn’t it?)

      Just because YOU, Lyle Miller, gave off the sexual vibes to someone (who you did not specify) that you would be interested in some kind of homosexual prostitution in France doesn’t mean all homosexuals are out soliciting everybody. Most homosexuals don’t want your body I am sure, Lyle Miller. One thing stands out interestingly to me about those of you who are so hate-filled toward homosexuals and that is you think they want your bodies. I’d bet the family farm that no one much is after your particular body, certainly not the homosexuals who are active in the United Methodist Church & just want to live monogamous lives with their soul mates like those of us who are happy heteros do with our soul mates. There is something weird about the obsession of you so-called “conservative” UN-Christian pseudo-Christians with the sex lives of the homosexuals. If, in the end, there were to be something wrong with their practices that is between them and God, their choice, no one appointed you his arbiter, or theirs. I think the surprise to you, Lyle Miller, will be that you are going to be the one in trouble with God. “God is Love” seems a concept you are bereft of.

      The Obama point I made was important. Your constant lies about Pres. Obama (who as I say is not liberal enough to be defined as liberal) gets right to the heart of and my point about the hatefilled, hatemongeriing UN-Christian behavior that I see in this thread from ALL of you who want liberals to leave the United Methodist Church. If you would talk about NON-liberals like the president and paint him as socialists (Jesus pretty clearly was socialist if you want to go literalist just bye-the-bye) but I think your heads would explode, Lyle Miller et al, if you actually met Jesus.

      Plenty of us are NOT socialists but if you want to go down that road of literalism discussion you are going to have to explain why you aren’t a socialist like Jesus was in literal interpretations.

      It seems to me this effort for right-wing, hatemonger churches to steal the properties of the United Methodist Church is because the one scripture you “conservatives” believe in is the line from Matthew: “Wine maketh merry, but money answereth all things.” Money does not answer all things as you may one day find out but in the meantime that is where literalism will get you.

      Tom Schomaker covered the subject raised in this open letter succinctly & more politely when he said he would not give up his beloved UMC to Neanderthals. I agree with him that we are called not to give it up to you Neanderthals, Lyle Miller, and YOU need to think on your obsession with others’ sex lives & your violation of the commandment against lying (in your lies above about our president and some of our politicians in D.C.). I also recall nowhere in the Bible (again if you want to go the uneducated literal route) that says you are supposed to be in other people’s business in that way.

      Those of us who are liberals who love the United Methodist Church and want it to continue to exist should fight this fight every four years and more, but whatever liberals do it should not be leave others to be the prey of cruel impostors pretending their hatemongering is Christian behavior.

  5. Becky Gaynor

    I did realize we were in trouble as a denomination… But, Whoa!! Reading this open letter and the responses has absolutely astounded me… Am I to be dubbed a Hatemonger for upholding Biblical truths??? For telling people truth, instead of what they want to hear??? No! The true hatemonger would be the one who would lead people astray, all in the name of a self-seeking “twisted righteousness” through forced acceptance of sexual sin all in the “name of the love Christ gives”… Do not twist His love for humanity for your self-serving acceptance… God can deliver mankind from any sin…Yes we are to love everyone, but lying is not loving… It is not our denominations place to define marriage, God did that. Do you not realize that if “we” as United Methodist change our Book of Discipline wording as accepting of the homosexual life-style, it still will not change what our Lord and Savior intended for His creation, sexual purity is between a husband and a wife. He calls us to honor Him with our whole self. He is God… We are not…We do not need to apologize or water down what He has mandated. He loves us and has outlined what right living is…He died for us… We owe Him our very lives. We owe Him our obedience. How dare we question the sovereignty of God. I love my Lord and Savior too much to twist His words in order to satisfy the sexual desires of myself or anyone else. Do not ask me as a Christian, or as a United Methodist to embrace such heresy. You would make the love of Christ out to be about sexuality. I say He is much bigger than that, and our “conversations” questioning the very essence of God’s creation of male and female and sexual sin is unrighteous (Not Correct). Please, please at the very least read Romans 1:16-32 and stop this unrighteous “conversation”… It is killing our church… How about we share the love of Christ through loving people into a right relationship with Him ??? Not lying to one another in order make everyone feel good about themselves. Is He really asking too much of His children in expecting obedience to His Word? A right relationship with Christ gives peace and overcomes all the evil this world would hurl at us… Upholding Biblical truths is not hating… Lying to a world that is dying is !!!

    While I’m at it… I remember hearing and seeing our mission statement on a TV commercial many many years ago of Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors… It was a beautiful commercial and at first, my thought was how wonderful and “progressive” it was… And then I began to think… Uhhh…. Open mind ??? Wait a minute, are we called to have open minds or are called to have the mind of Christ… Having the mind of Christ is neither open nor closed… It is Christ’s… It is perfect and though we will never attain perfection here on earth we are called to strive for it… Knowing and being obedient to the Word is the only way to knowing the mind of Christ… I encourage all of us who call ourselves Methodist to search out the mind of Christ… It is not a coincidence that our denomination has been in decline for as many years… We must strive for obedience… That is love…

    I call upon my fellow United Methodist brethren to have Open Hearts, the Mind of Christ, and Open Doors… I agree the doors must be open… but, the truth must be spoken as all enter… the doors must be open to all those who seek Christ as He is… Not, how some would make Him out to be… Only God is good… His Word is unchanging…

    1. Tom Lambrecht

      Well said, Becky!

      1. Doyle

        Becky, I have been blessed by what you have written here! You are fighting the good fight, and I will use some of your tactics, “the mind of Christ” I like that! I am encouraged that you have an open mind and that we also read the same Book! keep up the good work!

        1. Becky Gaynor

          Thank you. I pray that we turn daily to Christ for guidance, that we as a church confess our sin, and seek God’s will. Beyond a shadow of a doubt He loves us, no matter what we do. But, beyond a shadow of doubt He calls for our obedience and love according to His Word :) We are living in scary times when fellow Christians are calling for our acceptance of immorality and the redefinition of Biblical principles in the name of “love”… Followed by accusations of hatred just because we are convicted by the Spirit to hold true to the scriptures… Whoa Baby !! Christ have mercy on us…

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