by Chris Ritter
When confronted by posts with which I viscerally disagree I usually only mumble something to myself and move on. This is what I did with a recent post that suggested that the UMC “sold its soul” when it named “making disciples of Jesus Christ” as the mission of the church. I simply paused, took a deep breath, and pretended that I hadn’t seen it.
I was not as successful at ignoring the compelling commentary by Dr. Thomas E. Frank’s in UM Reporter entitled, “Why Excluding People Makes Bad Church Law.” A noted scholar and the son of a United Methodist bishop, Dr. Frank is no obscure voice in the UMC. He literally wrote the textbook on United Methodist polity. His articles have appeared in the gold-standard reference works on American religion. Any list of experts on United Methodism would be incomplete without his name.
Dr. Frank chronicles the messy 44-year battle over language in our Book of Discipline related to homosexuality. As I make my own attempt to state an alternative perspective, it is with the hope that others more qualified than myself will add their voices to this very important discussion. Hearing and responding to one another is important as we move toward General Conference next month in Portland.
I agree with Dr. Frank that what the Book of Discipline says about homosexuality is something of a patchwork. As he says, the language arose from the floor of General Conference and not from official study commissions, boards, and agencies of the church. Like messages written in the heat of battle, our statements on homosexuality are something less than poetry.
General Conference is a body of the people. It is democratically populated with delegates from our annual conferences around the globe. There has been a longstanding division in our denomination between the people in our congregations and the lofty institutions that serve us. Our elites are substantially more progressive than the those who provide their positions. General Conference is one of the places where our ivory towers are answerable to our grassroots.
I imagine Dr. Frank’s somewhat dismissive comments about things that come from “the floor” of General Conference as akin to how one might speak of French fries found on the floor. We are supposed to wrinkle our noses and step away a bit. The plenary session of General Conference, however, is the only group that is authorized to speak for our denomination, and spoken they have. In spite of the concerted, heated, and repeated attempts to alter the language about homosexuality, our statements have been routinely strengthened in response to challenges.
OUR PAINFUL HISTORY
As our fledging denomination worked on drafting a set of Social Principles to be considered by the 1972 General Conference, language was proposed by the high-profile study commission naming homosexuals as people of sacred worth, welcome in the fellowship of the church, and persons whose rights should be protected. This was all well and good. An issue quickly arose, however, about what the statement didn’t say. The lack of moral guidance about sexual activity between two people of the same gender was difficult to miss. The larger statement on human sexuality did affirm, after all, that sex between a man and a woman was only appropriate within the bond of marriage. What about sex between people of the same gender? As the influence of the Sexual Revolution were already being witnessed in our church institutions, some suspected that the statement was intentionally skirting an obvious question.
Charged with reviewing the commission’s recommendations, The Christian Social Concerns Legislative Committee invited testimony from Rev. Gene Leggett, an openly gay clergy who had earlier been removed from ministry in the East Texas Conference. Leggett suggested additional language about homosexuals needing “the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment.” This language was accepted by the committee. Attempts to reference the scriptural witness about homosexuality were, however, rebuffed.
Once on “the floor,” the paragraph on human sexuality proved highly contentious. After two hours of plenary debate, an amendment was suggested by attorney Don Hand from Texas. The committee’s language was retained but a period was changed to a comma and the following words were added at the end: “, though we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” With this amendment, our statement on human sexuality was approved by a clear majority. But, as we know, this was only the beginning. The balance of the 1970’s witnessed a tug of war between our institutions and the voice of General Conference which resulted in a disciplinary ban on church funds going to “gay caucus groups” or being used to “promote the acceptance of homosexuality.”
When new language came to General Conference in 1980 about qualifications for ordained ministry, homosexual relationships were not listed along with marital infidelity as a disqualification for clergy candidates. This was a noticeable as cases related to homosexuality and the clergy were much in church news. When the omission was questioned from the floor, delegates were assured such language was pointless because of our statements elsewhere that “scripture is the primary source” and candidates “are expected to make a complete dedication of themselves to the highest ideals of the Christian life.” One only needed to reference what the Social Principles had to say about marriage and human sexuality. Specific prohibitions were to be avoided, it was said, because they would become endless. “In our covenant, we are called to trust one another.” (Journal of the 1980 General Conference, p. 1091) We came out of General Conference 1980 with this good faith approach. Let’s call this the Golden Era of Trust.
The Golden Era of Trust lasted all of 22 months. At the 1982 session of the Rocky Mountain Conference, someone asked the bishop if it was proper that one of the probationary candidates for ministry was openly gay. In spite of the fact that the moral vision of the church related to human sexuality was not difficult to discern, the bishop ruled that there was no specific language in the Book of Discipline to disqualify a candidate on this basis. The Judicial Council (Decision 513) upheld the bishop, saying that evaluation of candidates is carried out by the Board of Ordained Ministry based on the specific requirements of the Discipline, and “These requirements do not refer to sexual orientation.”
[Discussions about the 1980’s must reference the fear and ignorance around the AIDS crisis. Little did our denomination know at the time that the President of the Council of Bishops in 1982 was living a very promiscuous life with other men in violation of his marriage vows and sometimes with pastors under his episcopal supervision. Bishop Finis Alonzo Crutchfield died of AIDS in 1987 having maintained from the time of his diagnosis that he contracted HIV through casual contact during routine pastoral visitation in hospitals. Although Crutchfield had offered some notable support to the gay community during his episcopal ministry, this lie contributed to the environment of fear in the church. Gene Leggett, mentioned above as adding language to our human sexuality statement, also tragically died from AIDS after years of showing up at ordination services to kneel, gagged with a handkerchief, in protest of his expulsion. There are countless such tragic tales from this era of our story.]
In response to the 1982 Judicial Council decision, nearly a thousand petitions came to General Conference 1984 requesting that the specific language about homosexuality be added to our ministry standards. Thirty of these came endorsed by annual conferences. When the legislative committee failed to recommend the strengthening of the language, a minority report came to the floor. It proposed additions to our chargeable offenses that stated “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” were not to be received as candidates for ministry or ordained.
The language was carefully measured. “Self-avowed” was intended to avoid witch-hunts the likes of which that Jerry Falwell was making infamous. “Practicing” was meant to preclude prejudice in the ordination process against sexual orientation alone. The prohibition was to be about sexual practice (something within ones control) and not about sexual preference (something outside ones control). The minority report was defeated initially but passed during reconsideration.
Fast forward to 1993. The Oregon-Idaho A.C. Clergy Session brought a lesbian probationer off leave of absence after she landed there following a failed attempt by the cabinet to appoint her to a church. When the matter came before the Judicial Council, they ruled that definitions must be provided of “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” to see if it conflicted with the protections around “status” in our constitution. General Conference 1996 provided this definition: “‘Self-avowed practicing homosexual’ is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee on ordained ministry, board of ordained ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual.” Written by a team of lawyers, this was found not to conflict with the constitutional protection of “status.”
In 1997 a case against Rev. Jimmy Creech for officiating at a same sex wedding was dismissed because it was argued the Social Principles forbidding such ceremonies did not have the force of law. This went to the Judicial Council in 1998 and they confirmed that General Conference intended the language to be binding. GC2000 underscored this point by repeating the prohibition in another area of the Discipline. (Creech was later defrocked for another same sex wedding). When, in 2002, an annual conference funded a ministry promoting the acceptance of homosexual practice, GC2004 extended to the annual conferences the earlier prohibition against funding such causes. In 2004, Karen Damman was found “not guilty” because of an exotic interpretation of the word “declare” and a counsel for the church that actually wanted to lose his case (according to his statement following the trial). The language that allowed the acquittal was altered by General Conference 2004 in response.
LANGUAGE AND LOVE
Each quadrennium between general conferences has witnessed fresh attempts to circumvent our disciplinary language. Conflict recently reached a new level when same sex marriage became legal throughout the United States by a Supreme Court ruling. Even prior to this, two whole jurisdictional conferences had voted to act as if the Discipline doesn’t say what it says about sex. The makeup of General Conference becoming somewhat more conservative, all appearances indicate we are now turning the corner toward a new fight over enforcement. I wonder if this is how we want to spend the next forty-four years.
Does our protracted legislative warfare represent church at its best? I agree with Dr. Frank that it does not. I, too, wince a little when I read our book. Both sides are more than a little embarrassed by the other. An unnamed casualty of our intramural conflict is our loss of opportunity to talk meaningfully together about how to minister to the widely varied LGBQT community in light of all that our doctrine has to say about the human condition. There is a tremendous amount of ministry that needs to happen in the very complex and rapidly-changing landscape of Western culture’s sexual melting pot. Precious people are at stake who would benefit from the clear, loving voice of the church. We disagree so much over what to say that we end up talking mostly at each other instead of with each other and to the world we are called to serve.
But the reason our language on homosexuality is so painfully specific is because challenges have necessitated that it be so in order to maintain in our church the 4,000 year old understanding of marriage and human sexuality from our Judeo-Christian tradition. Our official stance is the same view held by the churches representing 95% of Christians worldwide, and a clear majority of United Methodists. Like adding multiple patches on a worn inner tube, the delegates who are the official voice of United Methodism have been repeatedly forced to scramble to maintain the standards by which we have always lived, and without much help from our institutions.
It is puzzling why Dr. Frank refers to our language on homosexuality as “unconstitutional.” When reading through the Discipline, I watch for sections that have a lot of footnotes. This denotes language that has been judicially tested or otherwise ruled upon. Our language on homosexuality is perhaps the most constitutionally verified words in our book. If there is one thing we know, it is that the language, however lacking a poetic and systematic quality, is constitutional. When the Judicial Council has pointed out problems or inconsistencies with the language, changes have been made at the subsequent General Conference to strengthen them. They have now nearly reached the point where the only way around them is open defiance.
Dr. Frank’s main point is a forceful argument about legislative language being used to exclude. The church, he says, is at its worst when it is excluding people and at its best when it is including people. He notes “a native openness” in our Methodist history, exemplified by the words in our General Rules: “do no harm.” I am happy to be part of a generously open-minded denomination that stands in a deep stream of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy. It is when open-mindedness is used as an excuse to wade out of this stream that I have difficulty. It is here that we cease to be Wesleyan in our approach.
We need to use the whole sentence when we quote our General Rules: Do no harm by avoiding evil of every kind. The statement goes on to name sixteen behaviors that should be excluded from the Christian life. We are, at our roots, a movement of warm-hearted, experiential, holiness reformation. The rules conclude:
If there be any among us who observe [not our rules], who habitually break any of them, let it be known unto them who watch over that soul as they who must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season, but then, if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.
Wesley wanted desperately to include people, but not in just anything. He wanted to welcome them into the life of scriptural holiness. To that end, he required his Methodists to give a quarterly account of their serious pursuit of holiness before they were allowed into meetings of the society. Those without a quarterly ticket did not get in the door. Preachers who sought to be in “connexion” with him faced even greater scrutiny with regards to lifestyle. When people were excluded, it was assumed they were excluding themselves due to their own priorities. Any talk about the “native openness” of Methodism should acknowledge that grace and truth were never framed by our founder as opponents.
For all the exclusionary language early American Methodists inherited, they were uniquely effective in their mandate to “reform a nation and spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.” A whole generation of young, fiery, and mostly single adults answered the call to go into the mission field. The average life expectancy of a circuit-riding preacher was a mere thirty-three years. (I strongly suspect that most of these young people to whom we are so indebted remained somewhat sexually unfulfilled in their chosen lifestyle of frontier evangelism). They included all by calling all to complete sanctification. Throughout much of the 19th Century they were establishing, on average, a new church every day. It is ironic that we are regularly closing the churches they started all while celebrating our inclusiveness.
Our current debate is over the continued challenges posed by the Sexual Revolution and whether the Church should, in response, pivot to view sexual desires as something akin to race and gender that are received without qualification as gifts from the Creator. No doubt there are currently plenty of same-sex attracted people among our laity, clergy, and (I presume) our episcopacy. What we disagree on is whether same sex attraction is something a fully devoted follower of Jesus should act upon. Four thousand years of Judeo-Christian teaching says a decided “no.” This is the view ensconced in our Discipline since 1972, the first year we had any statement on human sexuality. Every clergy ordained since has vowed they have studied our rules, found them to be in harmony with scripture, and would uphold and defend them. There are many people throughout our church who have accepted this scriptural teaching in spite of the fact that it means personal sacrifice for them. No one ever seems to talk about them.
When the church first ventured out into the Roman world, it encountered a culture that was accepting of a variety of same-sex physical pairings. As Christianity gained ascendancy, this became decidedly less the case. I have never heard anyone challenge this objective historical fact. The church is now being told we cannot expect to be culturally relevant if we insist upon celibacy in singleness and fidelity in a marriage between a man and woman. The truth is that we will never be able to bless all that falls under the headings of genuine desire and mutual consent.
Anyone who claims you can follow Jesus and be sexually fulfilled at all times is promulgating a lie very much akin to the Prosperity Gospel. Stated simply, personal sexual fulfillment is not a Gospel value. Like all God’s good gifts, sexuality is prone to abuse and idolatry. The call to responsible self-control through celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage requires self-denial for all but leads to deep Gospel freedom.
In spite of claims to the contrary, we are not seeing evidence that those who want to include homosexual practice in the church by widening the definition of marriage are otherwise willing to submit to the standards of celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage. There is strong indication that the entirety of the Christian sexual ethic is being jettisoned to the trash heap right before our eyes.
The clergywoman in Kansas who “came out” to her congregation earlier this year is co-habituating with someone who could, by U.S. law, be her wife. Although she is married in the eyes of neither the church nor the state, her board of ordained ministry refused to suspend her from ministry as requested by her bishop. This is an attack on celibacy in singleness before we even arrive at questions around homosexuality. The Methodist Federation on Social Action recently published a post from an anonymous single clergywoman who expressed thankfulness for access to birth control because she had no intention of being abstinent. Several clergy and seminarians who commented on the article echoed their amens. Anyone who thinks this debate is just about people in committed, life-long relationships is not paying attention. Opening the door to homosexual practice would require an admission on the part of the church that the entire scriptural sexual ethic is untenable. Some are becoming so bold as to say this out loud.
As we prepare for perhaps the most contentious General Conference since 1844, we cannot help but ask what the future holds. Will we reach a “draw” and have four more years of escalation to the ecclesial defiance we have witnessed over the last four? Will we put new measures in place to enforce our rules, triggering the resurgence of clergy trials, which (for the most part) have been placed on hold? As we scan our uncertain horizon, we have the benefit of watching other Mainline denominations who have taken the plunge to become sexually inclusive as a replacement for being sexually disciplined. Not only are their institutions downsizing, they are rapidly becoming older, smaller, more racially homogeneous, and less sustainable. The salt has lost its savor.
Since Dr. Frank ended his commentary by referencing Wesley’s famous “dead sect” statement, I will quote that statement here in its context:
I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out. What was their fundamental doctrine? That the Bible is the whole and sole rule both of Christian faith and practice.
Societal pressures aside, what should the United Methodist Church say about human sexuality if John Wesley was right about scripture being the “whole and sole” rule of the Christian life? Some of us from the grassroots will again be “on the floor” at General Conference maintaining a vision of a hardier, holier United Methodist Church with the fortitude to lift up the cross, not just lay down the welcome mat. We seek to be a church that invites all people to join the path of Christian discipleship. Among many other things, this means joining the passionate ranks of the sexually restrained… “dead unto sin but alive unto God” as Wesley was fond of saying. Being radically counter-cultural, we don’t expect universal applause. But the church has always been most effective when it is least cozy with the empire.
I have proposed several structural solutions to help us manage our differences in the UMC, end this prolonged conflict, and grant freedoms to those who must take another path. I don’t want to see further schism if it can be avoided. If we can find a way to get off this painful quadrennial merry-go-round, we should take it. But I will also be working to retain our current, hard-fought language about human sexuality; not because it is elegant or popular, but because it is true. Truth, however messy and unpopular, still sets free.
I’d like to suggest that the problem we face is NOT another 40 years after just like the last 40 years where a small minority seeks to change or break the rules. The problem is that the Book of Discipline is out of step with the moral thinking of about one-half of the American branch of our great church. Half of us support same sex marriage. Thus the validity of the current prohibitions is not accepted by an unsustainably large part of the church. One cannot enforce a rule that is so widely unsupported (which is why the CUP plan is doomed to fail).
44 years ago only a small percentage of United Methodists and similar small percentage of Americans could affirm homosexuality in any way and most could not envision much less embrace same sex marriage. And while you and Dr Frank have recounted the long and winding trail that has brought us to this point, we cannot ignore the fact that approximately half of the American church in 2016 is in a different place than 95% of the American church in 1972. This half sees the prohibitions as discriminatory and the punishment of pastors as unjust and the whole predicament as damaging to witness and mission.
We can argue over whose interpretation of scripture correctly reveals truth, but doing so will not save us. Alternatively we could come at this differently asking if our different scripturally-based interpretations are items of essential doctrine or if they are matters over which we can agree to disagree. Many of us feel we are at a time, now, where the Holy Spirit is leading us to reconsider whether the traditional teaching on this matter is perhaps flawed and a needless obstacle to the ministry of many UM pastors. Just like former “traditional teaching” (for 4000 years no less!) against women in ministerial authority was reconsidered.
We should not look to the Episcopalians or Presbyterians for some self-defeating and self-fulfilling prophecy. Their history need not be our destiny.
As United Methodists of all stripes face these questions now, so much is different even in the last four years. Public opinion has swung to affirm LGBTQ persons. States like mine and subsequently the US Supreme Court has decided marriage equality is a right guaranteed to all couples. Big business is weighing in to fight reactionary attempts to establish a right-to-discriminate on religious grounds. Young people especially are in support of treating everyone fairly. We risk losing the next generation.
I would hope our conservative leaders, such as yourself, can rethink your position. Not your position on same sex marriage as I would not coerce you to think or do contrary to your conscience. But rethink whether agreement is essential or non-essential. And, please stop citing 2000 or 4000 years of tradition when quite plainly marriage has evolved significantly as a social and religiously blessed institution. Marriage as practiced in the ancient world is not something women of today would accept; it was not workable for gay folks in those times. And, please recognize, contrary to some polemicists on the right, that this only a question of marriage equality and not a deeper sign of theological drift nor loosening of sexual morals. I suppose 20 years ago as this battle really heated up, a casual observer could be forgiven as seeing this as a fight between progressives and traditionalists, but now increasing number of conservative Christians (evangelical and otherwise) are coming to embrace the idea of same sex marriage within the church. Leading evangelical scholars such as David Gushee and James Brownson are pointing the way. So one can retain a high-view of scripture and of its moral authority and still see that same sex marriage is one good path forward for gay Christians.
I was especially sorry to read in your post that you are mixing in same sex marriage with other current controversies. Faithful gay Christians should not be scapegoated by the statements of others. Many faithful gay UMCers just want to get married and continue on their journey towards Christian perfection.
Here’s how I see it: We have a way forward retaining our traditional sexual ethic of “celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage” simply by making it the same standard for gay and straight alike. I believe this will strengthen our position as moral teachers. It will get us out of the self-destructive clergy trials. It will improve our ability to make disciples of Christ in our local mission field which is not “one-size fits all.” And we have a way before us in Portland to do so without explicitly affirming gay marriage. Simply taking out the prohibitions of 1984 and 1996 will then allow pastors and annual conferences to exercise their prerogatives according to their consciences and according to local mission needs. Let’s move forward in unity on the point that no set of pastors shall be coerced in this matter — not from right to left and equally not from left to right.
This 44 year insistence that the straight majority stand in judgement over the gay minority is counter to Christ’s example. Repentance and transformation starts in what we do in our own heart and with our lives rather than our legislative pronouncements against others.
We face a choice, as Rev Dr Steve Harper pointed out, that pits schism vs. unity-for-sake-of-mission. I chose unity within the Body of Christ.
You would have the Church celebrate sin, sir. The sweet souls who experience same sex attraction truly deserve the love of Christ which requires repentance for sin. When you refuse to recognize sexual sin, you have become like the blind guides which continue to lead others into the ditch.
1 Corinthians 7:9
We have had enough online conversation that I have come to both like and respect you, Dave. You are a principled Christian with whom I disagree significantly on a few things but from whom I always learn and am challenged. You do a very good job of advocating for a cause about which you feel deeply. I am not convinced by the arguments offering an alternative reading of the scriptures on human sexuality. I agree that United Methodists are never going to agree. Like you, I am opposed to schism. I hope something like my Jurisdictional Solution can gain traction and get us off the quadrennial merry-to-round that is making us all a bit sea sick. You are right that a culturally tipping point has been reaching in the USA. It seems to me this shift has corresponded tightly with our overall secularization and the Gospel will never be more than a passenger on this bus should we choose to board it. You have influence with Reconciling Ministries and other groups. Let’s push both our sides to the table at GC to work on a comprehensive settlement.
One of the finest statements I have read on this issue. Thank you, Dave.
I agree with 99% of your lengthy statement, except for the mention that celibacy must be adhered to, until marriage. I can assure you, sir, that many young people do not remain celibate until marriage, and many of us who are old, did not either. My husband, of 57 years, and I dated from our senior year in high school until we graduated college, when we married. We were intimate sexually and monogamous for years prior to our marriage. I became a nurse, and my husband an engineer.
Young people today are no different, and are sexually active prior to marriage, especially during their college years when marriage is not financially feasible.
Golden nuggets of wisdom arise from many places…one of the best recent ones is: “Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — “No, you move.” ”
Genesis states clearly the intention of God…’male and female He made them.’ Anything else is anti-God. If anti-God, it is evil. Thus, love the sinner and hate the sin.
Political correctness in the United States was actually created from outside of the United States per documents released after the fall of the Soviet Union and gathered in a Masters Thesis by a student of mine. The three primary targets of the main plan were the American churches, education system, and psychological processes. The plan was instituted in the late 1930’s and is reaching fruition today. It’s funding exceeded that of the Soviet work to obtain a nuclear weapon. The thesis is:
Have Foreign Adversaries Infiltrated the Societal Fabric of America with Socialistic Ideology for the Purpose of Influencing the American Political Structure by Susan Piscator Henley-Putnam University September 15, 2014.
Public opinion is the South bound end of a North bound mule. It is also not the guide post for the Churches. The Bible is.
Well said. Thank you. Glad to be standing “on the floor” with you.
I hope that this issue will be decided in a clear manner so that I can make a clear decision on whether I need to find a new place of worship.
It appears that davenuckols has submitted to the principalities and powers rather than serve the God of the Bible that states homosexual acts as an abomination. We should accept sinners just as Jesus accepted sinners into his ministry. But he never said they can keep on sinning. He said to a sexual sinner “Go, and sin no more”. To the LGBTQ who desire to remain in our denomination, “stay, but sin no more”.
Homosexual acts are sinful and you should ask God to regenerate, renew, and sanctify you that your body be a proper temple for the Holy Spirit. We as faithful Christians will not compromise truth for the sake of being culturally hip with the principalities and powers. Dave and his ilk have chosen to serve strange gods. To him and others I say:
“And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
I have interacted many times with Dave Nuckols and he is someone that I have come to respect in spite of our differences. Let’s make sure we are using a respectful tone when speaking to or about each other. Truth without love is as wrong as love without truth. I have wonderful people in my church who are of a different mind than I am, but I could depend upon them to love me through anything. We should praise all that is praiseworthy. I have folks who identify and gay and/or same sex attracted who have various approaches to dealing with that and we interact based on grace because we all struggle with something. I also have folks with a gay or lesbian son or daughter that want to see them loved by the church and hope they find happiness with another person. I hope that all who agree with my post will strike a winsome tone as we talk about the future together. Let’s all keep up our spiritual formation in light of the revelation of Jesus.
Thank you for the kind words Chris. I believe you have a good Christian heart. I’ve generally found your analysis to be sharper than most, and reading your blog has helped me umderstand our shared predicament. As stated, I have sharp disagreements with this post. But I look forward to serving with you in Portland and pray we find some common cause is keeping our denomination together. I appreciate that is one priority for you.
I struggle some with your restructuring plan, but this was a great post. Well thought out and informative. Thank you so much for giving, what I think, is a pretty objective view of history, unlike what I believe Dr. Frank did.
Thanks for taking time to read and comment. Let’s all be in prayer for our church.
Thank you for this very informative, truth-filled, holiness-driven commentary and word! So many things you’ve written are convicting, and I pray that those who read your admonishing and are influential in the GC floor discussions will take it to heart and allow the Word to permeate their decisions. Bless you!
Thank you for the kind and encouraging comment. Let’s be in diligent prayer that the Holy Spirit will be our guiding force at General Conference.
The Bible is the Bible. Gods word that is what we are taught. Nowhere does it agree with any part of Homosexuality. I feel that UMC is slowly falling into the grips of the Devil himself, by that saying and doing as the people want and ignore what God commands.
davenuckols cited 1 Corinthians 7:9 – “But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” NRSV
The rest of 1 Corinthians 7 (verses 1-40) refers to marriage of husband and wife or celibacy. There is no mention of husband/husband or wife/wife.
In the previous chapter (1 Corinthians 6) : 9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Let me emphasize these points:
Wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God
Wrongdoers includes sodomites
USED to be (wrongdoers)- not continue to be
Wrongdoers were were saved in the name of Jesus
God wants us to love one another, period! We are all sinners. All of the laws that were laid out there by God for us to follow indicate how impossible it is for us to ever be without sin. This attempt by the Pharisees and Sadducees to maintain a holier than thou attitude toward the “sinner” is what Jesus kept reprimanding. It is God who forgives sin. Jesus told us to love each other and not to pass judgement. Why do we continue to think that we can do a better job than God? This is blasphemy!
I also believe that we should have celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage but lets face it; not very many of us were celibate in singleness. Do we disown our children when they inform us that they have become sexually active and we have told them to “go and sin no more.”? I think not! If we threw out everyone who continued to sin, the churches would be empty and there would be no one to minister to those of us in need.
ALL SIN is appalling to God. Why in the world would you even consider singling out homosexuality. We as a Christian church strive to live out the teachings of Jesus and His last commandment was to “love one another as I have loved you.” His love was unconditional, as is the love of God the Father in Heaven. Fulfilling this commandment should be our ultimate quest.
His love is unconditional- an unconditional gift- the love we give back is to be like Christ and to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. Not just our heart. To Love with Truth and Grace in the full knowledge of God’s will not our own selfish will or desires. To follow God’s ways not the world’s ways. God defines sexual immorality not our current culture. God’s creation design includes marriage of a man and a woman. As Methodists we have entered into a Covenant relationship with our world wide brothers and sisters. We not only commit ourselves to God’s ways as found in Scripture but to our Doctrine, Discipline and Rules as Methodists. If one does not agree then find a different Christian Denomination and be happy. As Methodists we have in our denomination decided and agreed with scripture (with complete and consistent exegesis) to teach and preach to love the sinner but also teach what sin is according to God’s ways. So we still teach that adultery is sin, sex before marriage is a sin, lust ( pornography), prostitution, drunkenness, robbery, false witness, covetousness, same sex attraction/acts; are sins against God’s Will and plan for humankind. Like all sins they need to be turned away from with God’s help. ( and the Church) Instead we are turning away from scripture and toward a selfish world view, forcing change in Bible interpretation with poor application of exegesis to make it work. Our Methodist Doctrine and Biblical understanding welcomes and loves all persons no matter there status, orientation or sinful past or sinful present condition. But we do not deny or hide from teaching and preaching what are God’s ways and God’s thoughts on morality and that includes sexual morality versus sexual immorality. We as Methodists are a Covenant Society not a social club, not a civic organization, nor a civic society. We make an oath and reaffirm that oath at Annual conferences and in our churches during Baptisms and Confirmations that as a church we will uphold our Methodist teachings. If anyone disagrees and cannot make that promise (covenant) that is not only to your Methodist brothers and sisters but is before God and the Holy Spirit, then do not make that a false promise before God. Find a denomination and a church that meets your need. I only can pray that upon further study and prayer you will come to realize that the Methodists have been loving but also truthful to God’s word.
I respectfully disagree, Sandy, submitting that our ultimate quest, as laid out by Christ, should instead be fulfillment of the Great Commission from Matthew 28:16-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you . . . ” And I would further submit that “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” also includes educating followers of Christ with regard to the truth of the unchanging moral law of God, which, unlike the ceremonial/worship/dietary laws or the civil laws imposed upon theocratic Israel, were not supplanted in the New Testament by Christ’s arrival but were instead reinforced therein. Part of that transcendent moral law is God’s ordained design for marriage and human sexuality, as outlined in Genesis 2:24 and reinforced by Jesus Himself in Matthew 19:4-6: only heterosexual relations, between one man and one woman, and within the bounds of marriage, are consistently sanctioned throughout the Holy Scriptures. No other arrangement is provided for as being approved by God. And in fact, when homosexual conduct is mentioned, it is never presented in a favorable light; it is instead condemned as an “abomination” (Leviticus 18:22), a harbinger of a depraved society’s downward moral spiral and ultimate doom (Romans 1:18-32), and something that, if defiantly, persistently, and unrepentantly practiced, can lead to the damnation of an individual’s soul in hell (I Corinthians 6:9-11). Who would dare to contradict God’s unequivocal pronouncements in this area, and why?
Surely you are not suggesting that to “live out the teachings of Jesus” means that we are to compromise the moral teachings of God’s Word, that we are somehow obligated, out of Christian love and charity, to affirm and condone behaviors that God plainly forbids and calls sin throughout the Old and the New Testaments? Did not Jesus Himself—the epitome of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness—after forgiving the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11), nonetheless charge her to “go and sin no more”?
Is anyone who speaks out against a particular sin (and especially one that is becoming more societally accepted, legitimized, and even celebrated as a viable “good,” a mere “alternative lifestyle”) automatically guilty of displaying a “holier-than-thou attitude” towards sinners, reminiscent of the Pharisees and Sadducees? How then are we to be “salt” and “light,” the moral agent and illuminating beacon, within our darkened, rotting culture if we are to be muzzled from condemning sin? Does Ephesians 5:11 not call us to “expose evil”?
And finally, “Why in the world would you even consider singling out homosexuality?” you ask. (I could hardly believe you posed this question, given all that’s going on these days in society, and especially within the UM Church, relative to the advancement of the LGBTQIA agenda. But let me speculate upon the answer:) Maybe it’s because homosexual practice is the primary sin—and virtually the only one—that various [LGBTQIA] forces having been asking (and sometimes demanding)—since 1972—that United Methodists redefine as a non-sin, quite contrary to the Word of God, as any number of scriptural citations can attest. Maybe it’s because there are no vociferous political or lobbying groups, in the UM church or worldwide, to advocate for other classes of sinners, such as adulterers, thieves, gossips, or slanderers. Or maybe it’s because very few, if any, other type of sinners have organized to promote themselves and legitimize their cause in “Pride” parades, rallies, and other controversial exhibitions that celebrate something the Bible calls perversion. (And maybe it’s because people of faith in America—particularly wedding vendors—are increasingly being discriminated against, losing their legitimate First Amendment-guaranteed right to live out their faith in all aspects of their lives and businesses, as they are government-forced to participate in gay “weddings,” which they rightly see as a blasphemous counterfeit of God’s ordained design for marriage and human sexuality, intended as a metaphor for Christ, the Bridegroom, uniting with His Church, the Bride.)
Yes, ALL sin is appalling to God. But it’s primarily only sexual sins of the LGBTQIA-advocated variety that are relentlessly rearing their ugly heads within the circles of United Methodism, and have been doing so for the past 44 years. And that’s what this problem is ALL about.
May God’s will be done, for the sake of the UM Church, all Christendom, and all people everywhere. Amen.
I wholeheartedly agree with you and merrillbender concerning Sandy’s comments. I recently emailed one of our assistant pastors (our congregation, being large, is probably on the left of this issue) your exact thoughts, ending my correspondence with my opinion that this current age is a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.
Your long tome, marbled with religious jargon, mentions the “44 years” that the UMC has deemed that being LBGTQA is “sinful.” Oh, my, does this suppose that “no one was LBGTQA prior to 44 years ago. People have been LBGTQA for centuries and will continue to be so. They are your doctors, nurses, cleric, waitstaff, lawyers, maybe your children, grand children or nieces and nephews. They are people with whom you interact, and you may never know their sexual orientation. It should make no difference.
Most main line Protestant Churches accept our LBGTAQ sisters and brothers into full inclusion. Only the Southern Baptist and recently, as 44 years is rather recent, the UMC, a church that has become more and more conservative and regressive over the past few years.
I am reminded of a some different words to an old hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers.” They are as follows:
Like a mighty tortoise moves the Church of God
Brothers we are treading where we’ve always trod.
We are not united, not one body we
Some lack hope and some lack love and all lack charity.
We are marching backward as we did before
With the cross of Jesus, hidden behind the door.
With more annual conferences brave enough to defy the ridiculous rulings against our LBGTQA sisters and brothers, who are born to be as they are, the UMC will continue to lose members. The former members may not be LBGTQA but have loved ones and friends who are in openly LBGTQA.
A view from the pew: Love the balanced article. The UMC lost the ability to convey a strong and grace-filled message about who God is and who we are a long time ago. I know, because I finally had to distance myself from all things church to find it in the Heidelberg Catechism and three very modern books about it. I experienced the relevancy and power of the clearly told story of God’s creation, our sin and rebelliousness and God’s amazing plan to redeem all told in a concise, easy to understand way. I was left wondering where this knowledge has been all my life. I was very disappointed that I could not find anything comparable in the Wesleyan/Methodist camp.
I currently have no problem with a discussion on sexuality, but it has become contentious because everybody is approaching it from different perspectives. And the fact that a certain group of radical liberal/progressives are dead set on forcing their understandings on everybody else is what keeps this issue at the boiling point. My understanding of personal freedom is that mine ends where the next person’s begins so I do not begrudge them their views. But when they insist they are right and everybody else is an idiot, things get complicated. I feel that this particular group is a culmination of the sexual revolution and the Civil Rights movement from the 1960’s; at the time the church was very quiet about the first and was very vocal and active in the second. And the stance that this is the way of culture does not fly because then the church no longer has anything to offer.
Check the web site of First Presbyterian Church, Portland. In the staff bio section it introduces 2 of their ministry staff with words about how one lives with her partner and how another lives with her boyfriend. To be clear, the ‘Love your Neighbor’ lobby at General Conference is not advocating promiscuous sex for anyone. It is interesting what happens, however, when a church (4 years ago the mainline Presbyterian church adopted the positions we are being asked to embrace) bends the knee to culture for its moral direction, how unintended consequences play out.
Skypilot, situations, such as you mention when referring to the 1st Presbyterian Church of Portland, have been going on for years. Finally people feel free to be open about their relationships. As an 80 year old former UMC member, now attending a UCC Church, I can tell you that situations of which you speak are not “new on the horizon,” they have always been there.
My prayer is that we bend our knee to God and find words to structure our church that are respectful and loving. Somewhere there has to be a meeting place between Chris and Dave who have written outstanding positions for the center left and center right. May the Holy Spirit continue to move and encourage us more to love as we run this race of life and faith together. I look forward to what you two and others hammer out together in this work of faith and love of God and neighbor.
Excellent article. I still disagree with your various proposals to hold things together, but am humbled by your command of recent history and your ability to be both grace and truth. I’m wondering if you have ever considered Bp Tim Whitaker’s take here: https://www.flumc.org/newsdetail/928412
I believe that we dishonor scripture when we adopt the naturalistic assumptions and accept pagan categories such as “sexual identity,” “homosexual,” “heterosexual,” and “gender” (when the word “sex” is the correct word. There is no place in a Christian anthropology for such terms.
I would love to know you thoughts on Bp. Whitaker’s Article.
Thanks once again for explaining why our language is so convoluted. The comparison with the prosperity gospel is absolutely gold!!!!!
Thanks for aa great read