PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) The nation’s second-largest Protestant group decided to postpone deciding on a crucial issue facing its faithful: what kind of music can be played during worship. Instead, the 12 million-member church will spend two to four years studying whether guitars and organs can coexist.
Delegates to the United Methodist quadrennial General Conference were deeply divided on whether the tension arising from the hymnody-versus-Hillsong divide would eventually rip the denomination apart. Tears, prayers and protests filled the Oregon Convention Center for 10 days as rumors of schism spread.
Ultimately the delegates voted 428-405 yesterday to not make any final decision and instead form a special commission to study human instrumentation.
Prominent moderate Adam Hamilton led the charge toward compromise, pleading with his fellow leaders: “The vast majority of us want unity. We open with praise and worship on Sunday, but usually include a hymn or two for the old-timers. Though we can’t appreciate music alike, can’t we love alike?”
Evangelical Methodists, who would prefer to sing Chris Tomlin and nothing else every Sunday, said this issue spoke to a much deeper theological divide in global Methodism. “This is about preserving the tradition of overly emotive worship,” one delegate from Texas argued during the charged floor debate. “If you want liturgical worship, why not just become an Episcopalian? They’re happy to have all the self-avowed, practicing alb-wearers.”
The Love Your Hymnal coalition (LYHC) voiced cautious optimism for the approved plan. “We hope the commission comes back with a recommendation of inclusivity and contextual music choices. In many contexts, the Newsboys just don’t match our contemporary realities anymore.”
This issue of acceptable forms of song-leading will continue to roil the United Methodist Church as this special commission meets in the coming years. As leaders continue to debate, Methodists in local communities will continue to reach for their hymnals and lower their praise worship projection screens in the midst of this tension.