Monica Hoel, Director of Alumni Affairs and Advancement at Emory & Henry College, interviewed Don Hanshew about the challenges facing The United Methodist Church. This interview led to the following blog post:
Rev. Don Hanshew encourages us to take the long view.
Don is a 1996 Emory & Henry grad who is serving as part of a communications team for UMC Next Holston – a group of centrist and progressive United Methodists who met in Kansas in May, 2019. The meeting in Kansas happened in response to the United Methodist General Conference vote that occurred in St. Louis, Missouri, in February, 2019. A narrow vote amended the United Methodist Book of Discipline in such a way that punishment would be imposed on UM ministers who were in openly gay relationships or on those who performed gay marriage ceremonies.
UMC Next is a “movement” of sorts that openly rejects this decision (known as the Traditional Plan) endorsed at General Conference, and seeks to find a way forward for the church that will resist “oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, and abilities.”
According to Don, the discussion is much more broad than just the discussion of human sexuality. “It is really about finding a way for the United Methodist Church to be welcoming to everyone.”
Much of the tension on how to interpret this issue is cultural experience and Biblical interpretation. The vote at the worldwide conference was largely swayed in a conservative direction by the delegates from African and Eastern European nations. Conversely, Don speaks of spending time with United Methodists in Germany where they quickly and openly reject any language that makes their church seem exclusive of anyone for any reason. “The Germans are a beautiful mix of conservatives and progressives, but history has taught the Germans painful lessons of connecting punishment to those who interpret scripture differently.”
With much talk and concern about the United Methodist Church “splitting” over this debate, Don encourages us to consider a longer look at the history of Methodism – a congregation that has parted in the past, but has found its way back as a unified voice in pursuit of a Wesleyan tradition.
And he is careful not to add to the rhetoric that creates division. He says this is “really about how we interpret the scripture. And over time, scripture is interpreted differently depending on culture and context. There are theologically coherent Christians who look at the scriptures and think Christianity doesn’t support homosexuality – and equally theologically coherent Christians who think the scriptures do not condemn homosexuality. Our challenge is to find a way to grow together in our understanding of a loving God that wants a deep relationship with each of us.”
Don is senior pastor at Dublin United Methodist Church, and he likes to recall the history of this congregation: perhaps the only United Methodist Church in the Holston Conference that was a traditionally an all-white congregation that merged with a traditionally all black congregation. And he expresses gratitude for being in this particular place during a time when the church is looking at a complicated but important conversation. “This is a church with a heart for finding a way forward.”