Rev. Adam Hamilton on What’s Next for Methodists After Denomination’s Stance for Traditional Marriage & Sexuality

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas, speaks on Feb. 26, 2019, during the special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, held in St. Louis. Photo by Paul Jeffrey/UMNS

As the United Methodist Church has spent decades debating the place of LGBTQ Christians in its ministries, the Rev. Adam Hamilton has emerged as “the Pied Piper for Methodists in the middle.”

At the global denomination’s General Conference meetings in 2012 and 2016, Hamilton — who pastors the largest United Methodist church in the United States — supported measures that would have allowed United Methodists to disagree with its rulebook, which claims the “practice of homosexuality” is “incompatible” with Christian teaching.

More recently, he backed the so-called One Church Plan, which would have allowed churches and regional bodies known as annual conferences to decide whether to allow LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

In February, that plan — which also had been recommended by the denomination’s Council of Bishops — failed at a special session of the General Conference in St. Louis. Instead, delegates adopted what’s known as the Traditional Plan, which strengthened language in the denomination’s Book of Discipline barring LGBTQ United Methodists from marriage and ministry.

In response, Hamilton convened a meeting of more than 600 United Methodists from every annual conference in the country at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., to discuss what’s next for the second-largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.

“It’s one thing if we could’ve found a way to change the policy but still leave room for people who hold different views. It’s another thing for us to not only not do that but to invoke punishments,” he said.

During the May meeting, known as UMC Next, Hamilton and others adopted four guiding principles, which include a commitment to rejecting the Traditional Plan and resisting its implementation.

Hamilton recently spoke to Religion News Service about UMC Next, how his own beliefs have evolved about what the Bible has to say to LGBTQ Christians and why he believes the United Methodist Church is worth fighting for. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve been very outspoken about your support for greater inclusivity in the United Methodist Church. Why is that?

From the time we started the Church (of the Resurrection) — so this has been 29 years — LGBT persons have come to the church.

I would say 16 or 17 years ago, my own thinking began to shift on how we read Scripture as it relates to gay and lesbian people.

United Methodist bishops and delegates gather to pray at the front of the stage before a key vote on church policies about homosexuality on Feb. 26, 2019, during the special session of the UMC General Conference in St. Louis. RNS photo by Kit Doyle

I was wrestling with the question of the Bible and how you deal with these texts that have God having the Israelites destroy 32 city-states and kill every man, woman and child.  The answer that seemed most compelling to me was recognizing the role of culture and historical context in shaping the biblical authors’ values and retelling of their own history.

And so I’m wrestling with that at the time and really wrestling with what I thought I knew about LGBT persons and how God might look at them. At the time I told people: “This is a safe place for you. I’m not going to beat up on you from the pulpit. We want you here, but I believe that God’s will is that you be celibate if you can’t change.”

I was preaching a sermon right before General Conference in 2004 related to gay and lesbian people and the Methodist Church’s position on homosexuality, and I invited congregation members to share their stories. I received 200 or 300 emails, and I remember it was 1 in the morning and I’m reading them, working on my sermon and just weeping in my living room, thinking what I have always believed does not capture how I think God looks at these people whose stories I’m reading.

That led to a sermon that I preached then and that if you read it today, you wouldn’t think was really dramatic, saying that I don’t know that what I have believed about gay and lesbian people and homosexuality is accurate or right and that we are going to be a place that welcomes everybody.

Fast forward to this year’s General Conference … what nobody really anticipated was that the Traditional Plan would pass. I wasn’t certain the One Church Plan would pass, but I certainly did not anticipate the Traditional Plan passing.

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Source: Religion News Service