Criticism for 'local option' idea on homosexuality

June 16, 2014

United Methodist News Service

A group of United Methodist clergy, theologians and laity is pushing back against the idea of letting churches and annual conferences choose to depart from current church law regarding homosexuality. The group says in an open letter that the "local option" idea, pushed by the Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter and others under the title "A Way Forward," would "only extend, localize and exacerbate the acrimonious debate."

An Open Letter to Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter

By Rob Renfroe -

Dear Adam and Mike,

We appreciate your attempt to present a proposal that “is a better way forward than the current impasse or the division of The United Methodist Church” over the issue of biblical interpretation related to homosexuality. We especially appreciate that you have identified with us that the current situation in The United Methodist Church is untenable, with the growing refusal of parts of the church to live within our covenant of support and accountability.  But with all due respect, your proposal will only extend, localize and exacerbate the acrimonious debate over the issue by forcing every congregation and annual conference to continue arguing about it for years to come. Your solution would pit many pastors against laity in local churches, friends against friends in our congregations, members against members at every annual conference, and bishops against pastors in the appointive process, all without any assurance that it will really resolve the issue.

Adam and Mike, what you propose is a fundamental shift of The United Methodist Church’s connectional polity to a congregational model, and this is being proposed in order to solve one issue.  We are a United Methodist Church.  Your plan would remove our UM DNA and replace it with a form of church government that Methodists have always thought lacking.  This plan would add major complications to our system of itinerancy as bishops seek to match pastors willing to perform same-sex unions with supportive congregations. Bishops would be called upon to referee disputes between pastors advocating for a liberalizing view of homosexuality and congregations that support our present teachings. Clergy ordained in one annual conference of the church may no longer be acceptable for ministry in other conferences. Our connection to one another would be undermined by significant variations in teaching and practice, as well as constant continuing conflict. We believe our polity is a sound one; it is not the source of our present crisis. Rather, there are two sources for the crisis in which we find ourselves: progressives who willfully disregard the teachings of our church, and bishops who enable their disobedience by refusing to hold them accountable to our polity. We believe United Methodist doctrine, polity and practice are sound and enduring, and we see no reason to change them simply because others are unwilling to live by them.

This plan would also do great harm to the vast majority of our local churches that adhere to United Methodism’s teachings on this matter. Presently, we can say to members who are dismayed and frustrated with clergy who violate the Discipline and bishops who do not enforce it, that our church has compassionate, biblical statements on sexuality, and that we are working for unity around them. However, under this new proposal, traditionalist clergy would have to tell our members that the UM Church does condone the practice of homosexuality, despite what our official stance says.  At that point, many of our members would leave because they would believe that the church had left them.  A two-minded approach would result in an increased decline in memberships and a concomitant reduction in support and enthusiasm for our God-given mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Furthermore, our brothers and sisters in many of the central conferences, representing almost half of the denomination, have told us how a change in our present position would be devastating to their witness.  A first-world solution to our division would be harmful to United Methodists in other parts of the world, many of whom live in an environment hostile to Christianity.  Hearing that United Methodism condones same-sex marriage and ordains practicing homosexuals would only increase the adversity under which many of them labor and potentially expose them to harm.

In addition, this new proposal to allow annual conferences “to determine whether they will or will not ordain self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” would create years of bitter infighting in our annual conferences. Where progressives are in the minority, they would continue, on an annual basis, to bring petitions calling for the full inclusion of openly gay pastors and the approval of same-sex marriage. Far from getting us around or through the current impasse, this plan would exacerbate it and make it the central focus of many annual conferences for decades to come, diverting time and resources from the church’s main mission and ministry.

This new policy is asking us, and millions like us, to approve a practice we deem contrary to Scripture and the teachings of the Church Universal.  We believe that sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage are sin.  Fundamentally, this matter is over the interpretation of Scripture. We simply cannot abandon the Bible’s teachings on the practice of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. We believe that marriage between one man and one woman is a foundational institution, ordained of God and good for the well being of all people. We cannot forsake our sincere beliefs on this matter in order to keep the church united. Your proposal would put us, who believe that same sex relations are sinful, in the position of having to deny our consciences. This new policy is simply asking us to do something we cannot do.

Finally, what guarantee can we be given that this compromise would end the battles we have fought at General Conference?  What assurance can you give that those who want to change our position would be satisfied with a church that in their minds allows its pastors and congregations to deny justice to homosexual persons?  Justice would require them to continue the fight.  And we would continue to be divided, only more so than ever.

Adam and Mike, we appreciate and share your love for the church and your desire to keep it united. And therefore, we remain open to proposals that would keep us united, but not at the cost of condoning a practice that we believe is contrary to Scripture and the teachings of the Church Universal. Your plan, unfortunately, will not keep us united. In fact, it will only prolong the debate and continue to divert us from fulfilling our shared mission. We hope you will rethink your proposal.


Dr. William J. Abraham

Rev. Rob Renfroe

Rev. Chuck Savage II

Rev. Greg Stover

Ch, Col W. Scott Adams

Rev. Christopher Akers

Rodney Akers

Rev. J. Scott Allred

Dr. Bill T. Arnold

Rev. Randall Bain

Rev. Larry R. Baird

Rev. Thomas R. Barnard

Kiah Beville

Jan Beville

Julie Boucher

Rev. Dr. Bill Bouknight

Dr. Christopher T. Bounds

Rev. Keith Boyette

Rev. John A. Bright

Douglas B. Child, Sr.

Dr. Kenneth J. Collins

Rev. Robert Collins, Jr.

Rev Beth Ann Cook

Rev. Julia D. Crim

Marcelle Crow

Rev. Dr. Steve Dodson

John Dowell

Rev. DeWayne A. Duncan

Dr. Maxie Dunnam

Rev. Walter B. Fenton

Rev. Dr. Scott Field

Rev. David V. Ford

Rev. Dan Fuller

Nan W. Gorton

Rev. Jim Govatos

Rev. Michael Grant

Jim Green

Dr. Wes Griffin

Rod Groom

Rev. Randy Hageman

Rev. Barry Hallman

Rev. Chester H. Harris

Rev. Norwood N. “Woody” Hingle III, Ph.D.

Rev. Edward H. Johnson

Pamela K. Johnson

Douglas Jones

Chet Klinger

Rev. Charles Kyker

Rev. Thomas A. Lambrecht

Rev. Charlie Langford

Dr. Jim Leggett

Rev. Kenneth Levingston

Rev. Garry Livermon

John Lomperis

Dr. Joe MacLaren

Dr. Randy Mickler

Rev. John Miles

Rev. Richard A. Nussel

Robert E. “Bud” Orcutt, Jr.

Rev. Ray Owens, Jr.

Rev. John A. Plummer D. Min.

Rev Tim Prather

Rev. Wesley Putnam

Rev. Glen Raley

Rev. Chris Ritter

Rev.  Dr. Ed Robb

Rev. Burt Robinson

Rev. Garry Ruff

Rev. Jerry D. Ruff

Dr. Stephen A. Seamands

Dr. John Seth

Dr. Branson Sheets

Rev. Ralph E. Sigler

W. David Stewart

Rev. Clélie Stone

Rev. Henry R. Stone

Dr. Timothy C. Tennent

Rev.  H. O. Tom Thomas, Ph. D.

Dr. Richard Thompson

Mark Tooley

Rev. Dr. J. David Trawick

Rev. Guy Weatherly

Dr. Steve Wende

Rev. Jamie Westlake

Rev. Bill L. Wiggs

Rev. R. Kent Wise

Dr. Ben Witherington, III

Rev. Jason Woolever

Rev. Paul Yoder.