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Liberal Methodism Bites Back!

Palliative liberalism from an influential megachurch pastor
Liberal Methodism Bites Back!

Adam Hamilton leads a Kansas Methodist megachurch. He’s progressive on LGBT issues … and he’s pissed off about what the United Methodist General Conference did last week. Here Pastor Hamilton sounds off. Excerpt:

The legislation passed hurt the LGBTQ community including their family and friends.  I’ll give one example of dozens of people I’ve spoken to.  Yesterday I called one of our most committed members.  He has perfect worship attendance, is generous, a servant leader and an incredible witness for Christ.  He regularly uses his influence to bear witness to his faith and for our church.  I called because I’d heard he wasn’t sure he could continue to be a part of Resurrection.  He loves our church, but he felt deeply hurt by the United Methodist Church this week.  As we spoke, he began to weep. He told me what it was like to be in fifth grade and hear his church, at the time, describe gay and lesbian people as an abomination.  Several years later he listened, as he was coming to grips with his sexuality, as his pastor made clear gay and lesbian people were in danger of hell-fire.  He left church for years.  But in his 50s he found Christ once again at Resurrection.  He found a community who loved and welcomed him and his husband.  The pain he experienced from the passing of the Traditional Plan was deep.

I will not treat my gay and lesbian people as second class.  I will not quietly accept the way backwards as an acceptable way for us to live together as United Methodists. [Emphasis his — RD]

If the intention of the leadership of the WCA was to ignite many of the centrists in the church they’ve successfully done this.  I can’t even keep up with the tweets, direct messages, texts and e-mail I’ve received in the last few days from pastors and laity across the US saying they are ready to leave.  These are pastors who never imagined leaving the church – committed United Methodists.  I’m hearing people who have never withheld their apportionments talking about whether they can, in good conscience, continue in mission partnerships with churches, annual conferences and others who lent support to the Traditional Plan.  They are asking, Why would we support partners that have voted to push us out of the church? [Emphasis his — RD]

Read it all. 

Here’s what I don’t get about the reaction liberal Christians have to things like this: Do they actually think that theological conservatives enjoy hurting LGBT church members? I think they must. What’s so telling is that they seem to believe that moral and theological truth is to be determined by whether or not someone felt hurt. They seem to believe that what is true = what makes a certain subset of the church feel good.

If this were someone complaining that a doctor’s treatment for a broken bone was bad because it caused pain to the patient, we would say, “Yes, it does cause pain, but the pain is temporary, and necessary for healing.” The same is true in the spiritual world. In this sense, Christianity is “therapeutic” because it leads to the spiritual restoration of the individual broken by the effects of the Fall. We Orthodox Christians are on the verge of beginning Great Lent, a time of serious asceticism, all for the sake of deepening our repentance. A church that does not make a place for asceticism in some form — that is, of suffering as part of spiritual refinement and rebirth, following the model of Christ on the cross — is not a serious church.

I think it is not true to those who believe in Christianity as palliative liberalism — that is, in Christianity as a method to take away pain and discomfort, as opposed to using it for deep transformation and regeneration. The two sides in the Methodist dispute cannot reach agreement because, I suspect, they don’t agree on what Christianity is — nor do they agree on what man is.

This is why, “You hurt them!” makes no sense to theological conservatives. No one wants to hurt anybody, but the truth of the Gospel doesn’t stand or fall based on who feels put out by its demands.

And it also makes no sense to act as if the losers in the vote were the victimized ones (“Why would we support partners that have voted to push us out of the church?”). Liberals voted to remove themselves from the United Methodist Church by defying the rules of the polity.

Teenage girl: “I’m going to stay out till 2 a.m., and you’re not going to stop me!”

Dad: “If you don’t come home at midnight, Mom and I will not let you in the door. These are the rules, young lady. It’s your choice.”

Teenage girl, 2 a.m., yelling on the front steps: “Why did you lock me out of the house?! You’re so MEAN!”

Finally, to assert that the Methodists have embraced “the way backwards” is, obviously, to affirm a belief in Progress. What is progress to church liberals is decadence to church conservatives. Had the vote gone the other way, a conservative Methodist pastor might have plausibly said, “I will not follow these liberal churches over the waterfall to destruction.” And he would have been right to have done so. Similarly, given the theological priors of Adam Hamilton, I don’t know how he can stay in the United Methodist Church.

The differences are irreconcilable.

One last thing: the progressives here really don’t appear to think that the conservatives have learned from watching how their counterparts were treated in other Mainline Protestant churches. The church left always starts by asking for “tolerance” and “dialogue,” but once they get the upper hand, conservative congregations and pastors learn that the time of tolerance is over. Ask Bishop William Love of the Episcopal Church’s Albany diocese how that works.


UPDATE: Reader Zapollo comments:

You know, speaking of self-denial: Why is it so difficult for liberals to draw an analogy between traditional Christian teachings on sexual morality and various other types of asceticism?

Consider veganism. Vegans consciously deprive themselves of something which provides many others with great enjoyment. They do so for a variety of reasons, but nearly all of them do so because they believe that certain things should come before the satisfaction of mere physical desire.

Okay, you might say, but a lot of vegans are motivated by concern about cruelty to animals. Something like gay marriage doesn’t involve cruelty to humans (although certain Christian bakers and florists might disagree). Fine — but what about other voluntary restrictions of diet? What about someone who dispenses with all processed sugar? Or what about someone who gives up their car in favor of a bicycle — not just for environmental reasons, but for reasons of health?

My point is that liberals don’t seem to have any trouble with the basic principle that a person might try to avoid satisfying certain physical desires in service to some larger goal. It is only on the matter of sex that they conclude any limits to human will or desire are outrageous and cannot be tolerated. Why?

I mean, I’m actually pretty tolerant about sexuality — for most of my life, I was considered pretty far-left among my peers, when it came to stuff like gay or transgender rights. But I have never had any trouble drawing these analogies with Christian sexual ethics — that it’s no different in principle from any other form of asceticism. Why does the left today seem incapable of thinking the same way?

One possibility is that they are wrongly conflating social cruelty towards sexual minorities with orthodox Christian teaching. But I’d like to give them more credit than that. The best answer I can come up with is that they see sexuality as being somehow more fundamental to humans than other physical needs. More fundamental than food or shelter, apparently — something like breathing or digestion. Commanding a gay person not to have sex, in this view, is like commanding a person not to poop, or to hold their breath until they die. Actually, I think the analogy most of them would use is race — it’s like asking a black person to change their skin color.

If this is the case, Rod’s right — they really do have a completely different understanding of what constitutes “man.”



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