Author's details

Name: UMJeremy
Date registered: March 3, 2012

Latest posts

  1. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Only days remaining for Worldwide Nature of #UMC Survey — August 27, 2014
  2. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: #UMC resources about #Ferguson for churches — August 22, 2014
  3. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Straight Ally? No problem. White Ally? Uh… — August 21, 2014
  4. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: How many Resurrections are in your Sunday Worship? [Class Lesson] — August 20, 2014
  5. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Exit Young Clergy, Stage Left — August 19, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Holding the #UMC Hostage 01 – The Setting — 5 comments
  2. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Time is Ticking on #UMC Tipping Point — 2 comments
  3. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Restricting Marriage is a Justice Issue — 2 comments
  4. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: About that UMReporter Article…[response] – A Methodist Church United for our Daughters — 2 comments
  5. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Is the #UMC the Rebellion…or the Empire? – Unity in Diversity…or Unity over Diversity? The choice is yours. — 2 comments

Author's posts listings

Aug 27 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Only days remaining for Worldwide Nature of #UMC Survey

Original post at


I believe one of the most critical (and far-reaching) points of conversation for United Methodists is the worldwide nature of the church.

The United Methodist Church is different from other denominations (not unique, but very different) because it has a global democratic polity. This differentiates us from most Protestants who have America-only democratic polity, and the Roman Catholic church which has a global but not democratic polity (ie. the Pope makes most of the decisions and chooses the decision-makers). While it’s not a proportional representative polity, it’s the best we got.

This unique place in Christendom comes with great joys and some great challenges.

US-dominated polity for a worldwide church…

Rev. Jim Parsons, a clergy member in Western North Carolina, articulates why he recently found this to be an important topic to talk about in an epic post (quotes formatted for readability – he’s the only conversation partner for this post)

The UMC is truly a global denomination that is trying to figure out how to order, run, and grow that denomination in a global society. Our current Book of Discipline is centered on how to run the UMC in the US.

  • The polity of District Superintendents and the local churches are focused how we do things in America…
  • The Trust Clause is essential [to] the UMC in America because the denomination holds the deeds to all property and makes us, or forces us to be connected. Yet not all countries allow a denomination to ‘own’ property. So how does a UM Church exist in a European country that doesn’t allow it to own property?
  • Clergy educational requirements are another example. How can we hold other clergy to the same educational requirements as we do for US clergy when they may not have access to that type of education? Do we stop ordaining people in Africa or parts of Asia because they don’t hold a Bachelor’s degree and Masters of Divinity because the nearest place to get that type of education is a continent away?

These are quick illustrations of the problem that is uniquely United Methodist.

In short, in our big book of polity is a ton of stuff that really only applies to the U.S.-based church. We spend days and millions of apportionment dollars at General Conference to vote on issues that only affect less than 56% of Methodism.

There’s got to be a better–and more equitable–way.

A Two-In-One Discipline?

What are the proposed solutions? Jim recounts one approach of two books of Discipline: a worldwide applicable one (Global Book of Discipline) and one that articulates policies for a particular region voted by that particular region (Books of Discipline).

The point of a Global Discipline would mean that the essentials of what makes a UM church can be held up around the world. Yet how the local churches/regions then are ruled, governed and so forth are left up to those areas.  The idea of a Global Discipline would free up local churches in the central conference to figure out how to be the best UMC in their part of the world.

One of the primary forces of dissension to this plan comes from Traditionalists who are willing to have an unjust polity if it gets them what they want: continued rejection of LGBT persons. Here’s Jim one last time:

One concern our table had (during our discussions) is that this would seem like a ploy from the liberal movements to get rid of the African vote at General Conference and push more inclusive stance on homosexuality within the America’s UMC. This cannot be further from the truth. The idea of a Global Discipline has come from the central conference, those churches outside the US. They want more freedom to in order to organize their local churches with what makes sense for their part of the world…

But the bottom line is…

The bottom line is we are attempting to do something that is not currently nor ever been done before. We are bridging, building, and growing a global denomination run by democratic polity.

We are unique and we should take pride in this fact.

We should also recognize that if we want to succeed at this task, then it will take changes to our sacred Book of Discipline.

In short, this is an important topic, and I’m glad the UMC is asking for more feedback about it.

Fill out the Survey…like today!

One of the ways to give feedback into this process is to fill out a Worldwide Nature of the Church survey by August 31st. The survey has been out since May but I only recently noted it because up until now, I thought it was only for delegates to General Conference. However, I’ve got the official word that anyone can fill it out: just don’t check that box!

After the demographic questions on the first page, page 2 is the main topics. While they don’t ask about a two-book of Discipline, they do ask about having a conference over only the USA. They ask: “Where shall the UMC in the US “confer” on US-related matters for greater effectiveness in the mission of the church?”

  1. As at present on the worldwide level of the general conference?
  2. In establishing a central conference for the US (as other regions in the world)?
  3. In establishing a new structure, e.g. a joint meeting of all US jurisdictional conferences?

Anyway, the questions are accessible, it’s only 13 questions, and they have something for everyone Methodist.

Take a few minutes, give some feedback (whether you agree or disagree with Jim above) and give the Connectional Table more data to consider for their November meeting in Oklahoma City (which is actually a joint meeting with the Council of Bishops as well).


Thoughts? Respond in the comments!

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Aug 22 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: #UMC resources about #Ferguson for churches

Original post at


There’s several official resources out that offer some content and starters for clergy and congregations who are choosing to preach or teach or organize on an upcoming Sunday on the topic of Ferguson and the killing of Mike Brown.

Together, these should be helpful for a congregation willing to engage the topic, and I appreciate our United Methodist agencies being relevant to the issues at hand.

Naming the Reality?

That said, I gotta say that there’s a distinct chasm between the two documents specifically about Ferguson from the GBOD and the GCORR.

  • The GBOD document mentions race only once, plus mentioning the composition of the police department and targeting of minorities. We’ll call that 3 mentions of racial issues, while mentioning acts of vengeance (looting and violence) an equal number of times.
  • The GCORR document mentions race nine times, plus many more mentions and articulations are in the linked documents (especially Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey’s at UM Insight).

I’ll let you decide which one is speaking more about the hard truths of the situation.

I believe preachers are called to name the reality and to build a narrative that links reality, Scripture, and the hearers’ own narratives.

While the preaching document is more about bringing up topics for preachers to consider, the bulk of the article hinges on the people’s response to injustice instead of naming the reality of the greater unjust system or systemic racism. Preaching about hospitality is an act of justice, yes, but dancing around that the hearer likely benefits from a racist society isn’t helping seeking justice, in my opinion.

As the preaching document concludes:

How do we advocate for all involved and support just resolution and not supporting acts of vengeance, while at the same time not abandoning God’s call upon us to care for the lost and the least?

I think we’ll do better advocacy and lack of abandonment by starting with the systemic inequality rather than starting with how the people have responded to it. Charitably, though, for any preacher, holding in tension both justice and mercy is a tricky one, isn’t it?

Other resources?

Like we said on Thursday, we cannot ignore the topic, no matter our social justice cred in other areas. If you have any other specifically United Methodist resources to share, please leave them in the comments and I’ll update this post as appropriate.

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Aug 21 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Straight Ally? No problem. White Ally? Uh…

Original post at


While thousands protested and marched since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9th, I was blogging about church unity, worship theology, and young clergy issues.

While in the past 10 days three unarmed black men have been killed by police, I was on vacation.

While an AME Pastor Lamkin was offering support for protestors and was shot with a rubber bullet, I was tweeting complaints about how long it took for an airport shuttle to pick me up from that vacation (a whole 38 minutes, people!).

I am the embodiment of a hard-hitting article on OnFaith with the subtitle:

As white Christians debate who’s going to hell, the black community is already there, and nobody seems to give a damn.

Yup. That’s me.

And yet whenever there’s an LGBT issue in the United Methodist Church or in society, it’s all I can tweet, blog, and update about. I dominate the social media sphere, engage the critics in long twitter streams, champion the leaders and the prophets, and use my bully pulpit to cut through LGBT issues and faith with ease and dexterity.

I don’t get it.

I’m a straight, white male.

Why is it easier as a straight ally to write on LGBTQ issues, but harder as a white ally to write about racism?

Just Sit it Out?

Perhaps I don’t need to answer the question. People are speaking out.

  • Bishop Minerva Carcaño is the President of the General Commission on Religion and Race and she wrote a letter. She’s infinitely more qualified than I am to write about Ferguson.
  • My African-American friends have been writing blogs or reposting links.
  • Even my friend Kenneth Pruitt–who has been tearing it up on Twitter and Facebook–is more qualified as a white dude who lives in St. Louis.

Maybe we all have our roles to play and this one isn’t mine. I can just sit it out, sharpen my words for when the LGBT questions come up again, and come roaring in on my pet issue like a lion on fire.

What value is it for white people who are ethnically and geographically removed to speak up about Ferguson when it seems like everyone else has better things to say?

Everyone’s Voice =  Every One’s Voice

One of the deans at Boston University School of Theology–my alma mater–is Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey. She’s currently in Ferguson videotaping encounters with police and protestors (check out the videos on the RMNetwork feed). I asked her about my predicament and here’s what she said.

“Many black people are stunned at what is going on in Ferguson and don’t have words, so I appreciate the reticence of white allies to speak up. However, all our voices are needed at this time in Ferguson. Now is not the time for segregated vocal pockets.”

- Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey

When I don’t speak up, I help turn the response into a pocket and not a whole garment of the human experience crying out for justice. Imagine if these issues were just seen as “their” issues:

  • What if only African-Americans in a town speak up about police brutality…
  • What if only Hispanic-Americans in a border town speak up about children being imprisoned…
  • What if only Arab-Americans speak up about being profiled by the TSA…
  • What if only homeless people speak up about inhospitable spikes on park benches

To stand in solidarity only on our pet issues makes the entire seeking of justice more narrow.

Towards A Unity of Diversity

Indeed, the truth is that cross-cultural and multi-ethnic approaches have yielded better results to combat systemic discrimination.

Deepa Iyer writes at The Nation:

Coalitions such as Communities United for Police Reform in New York City provide hopeful examples of how organizing black, brown and interfaith communities can lead to legislative victories that maintain public safety, civil rights and police accountability.

Police brutality is just one symptom of this country’s larger structural racism, which segregates our schools and cities, increases the poverty and unemployment rates for people of color, has psychological consequences for families and young people, and decreases our life expectancy. African-Americans disproportionately bear the brunt of this structural racism, but it affects many immigrants and other minorities as well.

In order to transform our communities, all people of color must find common cause in each other’s movements.

Allies need to speak up, whether it is about LGBT, racism, sexism, or other forms of oppression. Unless we stand together and support one another, no matter how strong our engagement of our -ism, discrimination will be only be overcome with allies across borders, perspectives, and places. The structure–what Walter Wink called the powers and the principalities–can only be overcome by unity across diversity, not a diversity of disparate voices speaking out against their own oppressive pockets.

Niemöller was wrong

In closing, people know the quote from Martin Niemöller regarding the Holocaust, right?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

That’s stupid.

It makes seeking justice into a self-serving enterprise: that I should support my brother in his struggle against discrimination because one day it might come for me.

That’s not what we are called to do.

We are called to seek justice because that’s what Jesus would do. It may never have any benefit for us personally: we seek justice for the other because that’s the right thing to do. Anything that we gain is wholly secondary.  On my website, “Justice” is categorized under “Theology” because I believe we seek justice out of what we believe about God, the Divine, the “More” of the universe…not out of self-serving ends.

Indeed, it’s not what we get–it’s what we’ve already gotten that matters. People like me should also do these things because white men have already benefitted from the discriminatory systems. As Rudy Rasmus and Dottie Escobar-Frank articulate in Jesus Insurgency:

Structural racism is a form of hegemony that normalizes and legitimizes historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal dynamics by routinely giving advantages to whites, while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. (page 79)

Sorry Niemöller, it has nothing to do with me and my future injustices. It has to do with the past injustices that I’ve benefitted from and continue to benefit from with or without my knowledge. My past, present, and future is bound up in the struggle against discrimination in all its forms.


This entire post has been about me and my excuses and my thought processes. Yes, I’m aware. My hope is that in focusing on me that it has also been focusing on you and your reticence to speak up.

If you share the above concerns, I invite you to speak up, to make a case, to share that post, to tweet that link, to have the conversation, to talk to your neighbors, and start making other people’s injustice into your injustice. By standing together, no one will stand alone.


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Aug 20 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: How many Resurrections are in your Sunday Worship? [Class Lesson]

Original post at

In seminary, one of the classes that stuck with me was a theology class after Easter in 2004. The professor had visited a local church’s Easter service the day prior and posted that church’s order of worship on the projector. We were then to read the hymns, liturgies, and scriptures to discern “what type of resurrection was being depicted?” I remember being struck by how many understandings of the Resurrection were in a single worship service.

Ten years later, I recreated this class, thanks to my classmate Rev. David Nicol in New England Annual Conference who shared his copy of the class notes that day. This past Sunday, I taught an adapted version at my local church. The following is the taught lesson. Feel free to copy or teach it yourself.

It has three components:

  1. A case study of a traditional Order of Worship that has multiple depictions of the Resurrection in its worship music.
  2. A list of six understandings or depictions of the Resurrection (feel free to use more/less/different ones based on your context)
  3. Guiding questions and possible takeaways

Thanks for reading and I hope this is helpful to both worship planners and laity in the pew.

1 – Case Study

Instructions: Look up the text for the italicized hymns and respond to the question “What does the Resurrection look like in this verse?”

Note: This outline includes the page numbers for the United Methodist Hymnal and links to hymns not in the UM Hymnal

An Actual Order of Worship from an Easter service

  • Prelude
  • Call To Worship – Rejoice the Lord is King (UMH 715 – read as text, not sung as hymn)
  • Hymn – Christ the Lord is Risen Today (UMH 302)
  • Opening Prayer / Silent Prayer / Lord’s Prayer
  • Time for Children “The Resurrection and the Butterfly”
  • Anthem – Requiem: Sixth Movement – Johannes Brahms (link - sixth section)
  • Scripture – Luke 24:1-12
  • Sermon “What does Jesus’ Resurrection Mean?”
  • Hymn – Thine Be The Glory (UMH 308)
  • Prayer
  • Offertory – Hallelujah Chorus – G.F. Handel (link)
  • Doxology
  • Hymn – Alleluia! Alleluia! Hearts to Heaven (link)
  • Benediction
  • Postlude

2 – Six Types of Resurrection

Instructions: Categorize your responses in the following six categories. Please note that a singly hymn likely has multiple categories.

  1. Is the resurrection Literal?
    God actually raised Jesus from the dead. Bodily resurrection.
  2. Is the resurrection Mythological?
    Is there a clash of powers? A defeating of death, a bursting of the gates of Hell?
  3. Is the resurrection Spiritual?
    Is resurrection everyday? Signs of new life just like what happened to us when we find new friends, and unplanned opportunities.
  4. Is the resurrection Metaphorical?
    Is resurrection depicted in way where it is understood metaphorically or a simile? Uses “like” or “as”?
  5. Is the resurrection Demythologized?
    Resurrection is likened to a natural process (metamorphosis of the caterpillar to the butterfly)?
  6. Is the resurrection Eschatological?
    Does it refer to the end times or the Second Coming? ie. Revelation 11:15: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah and he will reign forever and ever.”

For example, I saw in the closing hymn Alleluia! Alleluia! Hearts to Heaven (link) depictions of resurrection as literal in the first stanza, mythological in the second stanza, and metaphorical in the third stanza. I would then put check marks in those categories for that hymn.

After scoring the hymns, here’s our final numbers (your interpretation or numbers may differ):


In short, in six hymns, a scripture, and a children’s sermon, there are at least six different understandings of the Resurrection–and many have multiple understandings within a single hymn!

3 – Guiding Questions & Thoughts


  1. Is it okay for a worship service to have more than one depiction of the Resurrection or is multiple contradicting depictions okay?
  2. For many folks, they sing the hymns because they’ve “always been sung.” For an increasingly post-Christian world, is that a viable practice?
  3. Are hymns merely “preparing hearts” for the scripture and sermon and prayers through emotion? Or are they stand-alone intellectual engagements with theology that should have every bit as consideration as the rest of the service? In short, do you care what you sing?


  1. For many people in my class, the tune and the singability of the hymn was more important than the theology. For Charles Wesley and other hymn-writers, the tune was the way to get people to sing their faith and learn theology (especially for people who cannot read or write). How odd it is that we have flipped from care for the words to care for the tune!
  2. For conservative congregations that hold to a literal/mythological resurrection, it is easy to find hymns and music that support that depiction. For progressive congregations that have more varied understandings in the pews, it is harder to find hymns and music that are spiritual/metaphorical. Little wonder conservatives have a tighter crafted worship service with narrower depictions of the Resurrection: it’s easier to do in the hymnody!
  3. One request was really interesting: could we put short introductions to the hymns in the worship bulletins? That way we could better frame the hymn about to be sung with “For a Thousand Tongues to Sing was written in the 1780s by Charles Wesley to celebrate his conversion to Christianity.” or some words about the historical context to better frame the hymn’s language. A possible logistic nightmare, but could be helpful for a teaching congregation.


Thoughts? Thanks for reading.

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Aug 19 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Exit Young Clergy, Stage Left

Original post at


Today is my 35th birthday and I believe that means I have officially left the bracket of “young clergy” in the United Methodist Church, and I’m unsure what category I am in now.

There are many ways how the UMC calculates “young clergy.” To some conferences, it is 30 and under (which would mean about the first five years of ordained ministry). To Hamilton/Slaughter’s “Young Clergy Institute” it is under 35. To other conferences, “younger clergy” refers to the youngest segment of clergy–in some conferences, it goes up to 44 years old! So by some standards, I still have some time left.

But realistically, I entered ordained ministry when I was 26, and I’m in my 9th year of serving churches as their pastor. I had my first church job after my freshmen year of college, so I’ve worked in churches for 15 years now as intern, secretary, youth minister, children’s minister, associate minister, and solo pastor. While I definitely feel young (sometimes just in comparison!), I have sufficient experience to be at the edge of this demographic, if that’s where the pension-counters want to put me.

More importantly, though, the march of time means that I am no longer a definite “member” of the group that we write passionately about at Hacking Christianity: young clergy. While I will continue to write about young clergy issues, I will be doing so as someone at the top of that age bracket or juuuuuuust over the edge: in short, more armchair than practitioner.

As a farewell to this age bracket, here’s some of the articles that we’ve written over the years that I think continue to have relevance today.

Top Eight Posts on Young Clergy

(arbitrarily selected from the past four years)

here-there-be-dragons#1 – Here, there be Dragons for Young Clergy. My absolute favorite post regarding young clergy: this is my personal list of how to navigate being a progressive young adult seeking ordination in a more conservative United Methodist area. How to engage controversial topics and navigate troubled waters. (link)


computer-coding-cat#2 – Code your ministry until you can Program it. The difference between coders and programmers is helpful analogy to describe clergy at the early years of their ministries. While there are a number of visionary pastors who likely were programmers at the onset, the reality is that I think many pastors are coders who become programmers, not the other way around. (link)


young-clergy-exodus#3 – Young Clergy Exodus in the UMC. After four of my young clergy friends left ministry the same week, I felt it was important to give a place for young clergy to write about their stories. I still have the data and am going to publish some results in the future, but this began the conversation–and the comments are incredible. (link)


brain-drain#4 – Church Metrics = Young Clergy Brain Drain. An examination of one of the very real roadblocks to young clergy isn’t mentors, education, serpentine ordination processes, or ageism. It’s church metrics, which I believe can become a hazard to identification, support, and retention of young clergy. (link)



flickr.spincity#5 – Over Age 45? Texas Doesn’t Want You in Ordained Ministry. This was a monster of a post (over 100 comments) and it doesn’t seem to be about young clergy since it focuses on 45yo’s and up. But ageism is ageism, regardless of which end of the spectrum it is on. The followup posts are here and here. (link)


tsunami-warning#6 – The “Other” Death Tsunami in the UMC. A young clergy looking at a plan in Oklahoma to remove a huge number of full-time ministry appointments would likely ask “Why Go To Seminary?” There would be little support to get a seminary education and become a full Elder until later in life. A cautionary tale against de-incentivizing theological education for young clergy. (link)


Numbers And Finance#7 – Oklahoma Young Clergy Results on LGBT and Schism. A survey of young clergy in Oklahoma showed them to be out-of-step with their demographic…why is that? Some quantitative and qualitative reflections, including considerations of the cultural context of Oklahoma. (link)



lonesome#8 – Stop worrying about 18-30yos. Several successful churches talk about not focusing on the 18-30yos because they aren’t going to be solid churchy people at that stage in their life, while others see the “ROI” on outreach to young adults as more missional. (link)



Thanks for walking these formative years of being a young clergy with me. Don’t worry: if the Spirit is with me, I’ll have at least 30 years ahead of me to annoy or inspire you with online writings. I hope you look forward to the not quite young, not old, just plain ol’ clergy perspective in the years to come.

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Aug 18 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Conservatives Seeing Viability in “A Way Forward”

Original post at

dinosaur-flamingoProfessor Dr. William J. Abraham is one of the primary intellectual forces behind the conservative reform and renewal movement in the United Methodist Church. He recently gave a speech to the Schismatic 100 who were discussing how to take their $12 million dollars in apportionment money and property with them and leave the church (they ended up just writing a letter).

During the speech, he had an interesting “behind closed doors” perception of the Hamilton/Slaughter “A Way Forward” that we’ve covered extensively at HackingChristianity. While I don’t find the critiques convincing, they do confirm the collective conservative freak-out over the proposal and the authentic fear they have over its passage. Progressives would be wise to consider what “the other side” sees in the conversation.

Here’s the section about the Hamilton/Slaughter proposal (derisively called “the local option”). The first segment outlines the charitable appeal of the Proposal; the second segment gives some criticism. I removed one segment that was more speech-material than content, but you can see it in context in the full document at the schismatic’s most recent website.


William J. Abraham (speech excerpt to the Schismatic 100)

I have been told by folk more astute than I am that the proposed local option does not have a chance of passing. I am not so sure of this. So let me dwell on it for the moment. I do not know the numbers involved; in fact we will not know the numbers until all the delegates are elected next year. So let me work with impressions.

First, Adam Hamilton is as determined as he is effective. We can be sure that he will articulate and press his case with the skill that has earned him a just reputation as one of the most significant leaders and communicators within United Methodism.

Second, he already has built a remarkable network of experienced ecclesiastical politicians to carry his case across the church at large. The coalition has depth and it has diversity and it has the drive to win.

Third, the arguments in play are on target. On the one hand, they go right to the heart of the conservative case by claiming that scripture permits same-sex marriage; once this is granted the consequent decisions for the life of the church with respect to ordination and other matters are obvious. On the other hand, they offer a way forward that on the surface appeals to our sense of tolerance and fairness. These are extremely important developments.

  1. In the first instance, these developments display a breach in the evangelical wing of United Methodism that reflects developments in the wider evangelical community. Small though the numbers may be, there is now a high-profile version of progressive evangelicalism that will be attractive to those who have only marginally been convinced of the conservative position on sexuality and who are genuinely tired of being treated as second-class citizens.
  2. In the second instance, the attraction of the local option to those who see themselves as centrists is palpable, at least in my part of the world. They have long gone along with the majority because they never really had a leader of national proportions and because they were essentially driven by fear of the church splitting. They now think that there is a way through that fits their aggressively centrist profile and identity. It gives them a voice over against the purported extremists on either side of them; it rattles the conservatives and evangelicals from whom they instinctively recoil; and it holds in check the progressives from engaging in further disruptive actions.

In all, it promises peace in the church for the foreseeable future. For those with grander ambitions it tells the world that United Methodists have solved the most difficult problem facing the church in the current generation.


I will not go into a full scale overview of the problems in the local option but suffice it to say the following. The local option is absolutely not a third way. It is a variation within the progressive agenda, which is one reason why progressives with some exceptions will back it. It is not accidental that it is proposed by those who have gone revisionist on gay marriage. The crucial point is that it legitimizes gay marriage. It will be extremely difficult to get this precise point across to the church as a whole. The local option presented as a third way beyond extremes conceals this from a host of people who do not want to face head-on what is involved. What is crucially at stake is that the local option legitimizes the progressive agenda officially within the highest courts of The United Methodist Church.

Much as I do not like to put the matter this way we have to face the fact that the vote at the end of the day will be about gay marriage and gay ordination. Of course, we know that much else is in play in and around this. We have our own way of stating what is at stake: the rejection of divine revelation and the teaching of scripture, the rejection of thousands of years of secular and ecclesial wisdom, the accommodation to a changing cultural scene, the loss of any serious notion of truth in postmodernity, the surrender to years of aggressive bullying and intimidation, the inevitable fragmentation of our tradition, and so on. We will not be voting on these directly. We will be voting in whether homosexual practice can be legitimate ecclesial teaching and practice for us as a church. I think we should be clean and clear about this.


Three take-aways for me:

  1. The speech acknowledges the key draw of the Hamilton/Slaughter proposal for the Methodist Middle: it stops the bleeding. It offers a way to refute the extreme conservatives and progressives. Far from being a third way, it’s an appeal to the pragmatics in both camps to work together and stay together.
  2. There’s a difference between permission and promotion. As we examined in “A Conservative Proposal with a Progressive Soul,” allowing individual congregations and regional conferences to make that decision affects only their area and doesn’t affect the other areas that do not want to change their stances.
  3. The final paragraph’s slippery slope argument of “LGBT inclusion leads to all these terrible things” was faulty in 20th century votes on women’s ordination and it’s equally faulty now.


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