I Need Some Help!

I need some help from my United Methodist brothers and sisters as we move toward the called General Conference in February 2019.  I am honestly struggling to understand some of the various positions as we move forward. A few months back I was having an email conversation with one of the prominent leaders of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA).  I thought we were having a good conversation until I asked a particular question and the conversation abruptly ended from his side.

I believe I understand that the WCA’s interpretation of scripture regards homosexuality as a sin. If that is true, why do they not oppose other sexual sins mentioned in the New Testament? For example, Matthew 5:31-32, [Jesus said] “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  I may have missed it, but I haven’t heard any conversation against divorce and remarriage from the WCA.

During the conversation I was having with the WCA leader he explained to me that ordaining a homosexual or officiating at a same-sex wedding would mean we were ritualizing and celebrating homosexuality. I asked if by ordaining or officiating a wedding for a divorced person(s) weren’t we be ritualizing and celebrating adultery.  I never received a reply.

What makes homosexuality worse than adultery? If the sin of adultery is allowed for ordination or marriage, what other sins are allowable for ordination and inclusion in the church? Is it okay for an ordained clergy to be egotistical, manipulative, controlling, and greedy?  It seems that homosexuality is not okay even though it only affects the person and their intimate relationships, while a clergy who is egotistical, manipulative, controlling and greedy damages many of the people around him/her.

I understand that for the WCA it isn’t simply an issue with homosexuality, but the authority of scripture is the main issue.  The WCA posted on a recent blog,“Given the current challenges directed to the unique place of the Bible in the church, we affirm that the core of the Christian faith is revealed in Scripture as “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3; NRSV). We look to the Bible therefore as our authority and trustworthy guide, which “is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16; NRSV). Illuminated by tradition, reason, and experience, the revelation of Scripture is the church’s primary and final authority on all matters of faith and practice.” – The Wesleyan Covenant Association’s “Statement on Biblical Authority”

If this is their statement, why do they seem to be ignoring Jesus words?  What about the authority of scripture in relation to Matthew 5:31-32. I am really struggling trying to understand the strong stance against one action that is interpreted as sin while completely ignoring other sins.  Help me see what I am missing.  Thanks for helping me understand.

20 thoughts on “I Need Some Help!

  1. So interesting that I saw you this week and then you post this question. One of the big reasons we ended up moving from the Methodist Church is that Michael came out as gay. Michael is a very spiritual person and we just didn’t feel comfortable worshiping somewhere that didn’t accept him completely. The Episcopal Church does and St Luke’s especially welcomes all.

    I recently read the book
    “Unclobbered” by Colby Martin and found it quite enlightening.

    Thank you for bringing this issue up .

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  2. As with the divorce hypocrisy that you point out, the hypocrisy by those who use Leviticus to condemn homosexuality is even greater. As with Christ’s statement about divorce, we can’t pick and choose those parts of Leviticus we condemn; nor can we simply ignore those parts we find inconvenient. It is all or nothing.

    However, (in my view, which certainly elicits argument in some quarters) at least in regard to the Old Testament, it is nothing. Christ was clear; he came to create a new covenant with mankind – to replace the covenant the Father had made with the Israelites. In doing so the laws of the old covenant (Exodus, Leviticus, etc.) no longer need be followed (we can wear multi-thread clothes, eat pork, not be circumcised, etc.). While a Christian might find homosexuality troubling for other reasons, Leviticus can no longer be used to condemn it.

    Christ was clear. His covenant only had two principles: Love God and Love your neighbor. Given the clear moral of almost all of His parables, love thy neighbor applies to everyone, everywhere, at all times, in all situations. There is no “carve out” for certain kinds of people or beliefs.

    Other arguments against homosexuality rely on Paul’s letters, and it is here that my beliefs likely will raise the strongest objections. It is my view that Paul is not the “law” regarding the appropriate Christian attitude toward the world. The Gospel is the law as it is the more direct statement from God, through Christ, of how He wants His children to live in this world. While Paul is important, his statements are his statements filtered through his experiences in those times and places; and we can point to issues other than homosexuality where Paul’s point of view is no longer followed.

    Further, it is my understanding, that Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality should more correctly be translated as a condemnation of pedophilia (which we all can agree is and should be both unlawful and a sin) and not necessarily a direct condemnation of a loving relationship between two adults. That loving relationship can, I believe, exist within a Christian worldview without conflict or hypocrisy.

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  3. Good thoughts, I have a hard time understanding out tendencies to pick and choose. I think you know my feelings on the main questions but I have not found a list of “sins” that preclude sins.

    Just because I pick and choose acceptable behavior or actions should not allow me to say this is the only acceptable behavior. Who judges who?

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  4. Seems like the WCA would be most interested in following to the letter everything Jesus is recorded as having said about homosexuality, which is, um, oh, wait. Nothing.

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  5. Gary,
    I agree with you on the disconnect between homosexual activity and other sexual sins. It seems clear that we have just chosen to pretend that either Jesus didn’t really mean what he said, or that he wasn’t speaking to 20th and now 21st century life. When I counsel with couples wanting to get married, and one or both of the parties have been married and divorced, I require an examination of what went wrong, and where there is need for repentance and forgiveness. I am often met with incredulous looks, or just total incomprehension. Many cannot imagine why I would suggest that they might have had any responsibility or done anything wrong. Divorce is so normal in our culture and church that it doesn’t occur to many people that sin might have been involved.
    That said, I do see an fundamental difference between the (slow?) slippage of standards regarding divorce and the movement to have the UM Church change its stance on homosexual activity. As far as I can discern, this is the first time that those engaged in what the church has traditionally considered sin actively work to have the church quickly and completely change its understanding. I don’t remember a movement to have the church accept “no-fault” divorce; it just kind of happened. But those who would have us change our stance on homosexual activity have actively and forcefully pushed to have us make that change. I am not sure whether this is a good thing, but it differentiates this movement from others of which I am aware.

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  6. I’m not sure you are missing anything. Sin is sin. It separates us from God. Confession, repentance and acceptance of God’s grace through Jesus Christ is the only solution. We should gently hold one another accountable for all of our sin and encourage confession, repentance and acceptance of grace including and especially our pastors. I think the discussion in the United Methodist Church isn’t really about the sin but rather the lack of repentance. The words “self avowed” and “practicing “ suggests a lack of repentance. A marriage ceremony would also suggest a lack of repentance. As such, a marriage ceremony for a divorcée may also show a lack of repentance, however, Jesus did mention an exception when divorce was for marital unfaithfulness.

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  7. Gary, you make some very good points and have good reason to struggle with your questions. If we are gonna take the bible for the Word of God today, then yes…divorce is an issue that gets ignored and pushed aside as if it is ok. It’s not ok in my book and neither is any sin according to the scriptures. I do not believe when we ministers through hours of counseling stand before God to remarry someone who has been divorced is celebrating their divorce. Ministers are celebrating forgiveness of sin and moving on towards perfection through the grace of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, why in the world would we celebrate homosexuality when the bible is very clear that it is an abomination to the Lord. Why would we want to celebrate any sins whatsoever? I do believe that God loves all people regardless of their sins, but it doesn’t make it right to ordain it or put someone in leadership while knowing what they might be struggling with. Example: If you knew that I was an alcoholic and I was showing up on Sunday morning to preach being drunk..as a District Superintendent, what would be the recourse? If I was having a struggle with pornography and you witnessed me making comments on facebook publicly, what actions might take place from my own District Superintendent? I could easily go on and on with various sins that if they became open to the public that would bring some sort of shame upon me and my church…and in so doing…someone in leadership would call me on the carpet for it. Sin is sin regardless of how culture looks at it. Even when it seems to be acceptable by today’s standards doesn’t mean its acceptable as God’s standards. Everyone regardless of who we are have struggles, weaknesses that we have to deal with and overcome by God’s help. Homosexuality is just one of those weaknesses that many people are struggling with and need God’s help to overcome it.

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    • Musial, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I don’t think divorce is the issue, according to Jesus it is the remarriage that causes people to live in adultery. So when we remarry divorce persons aren’t we celebrating, ritualizing, and condoning adultery? Also, by allowing clergy who are remarried to serve aren’t we condoning adultery among our church leadership. Let me be clear, I’m not opposed to remarrying divorce persons or having them serve as clergy. I have really good friends who are in this situation, and so you do. My original question was about WCA’s strong stance on biblical authority, but they do not seem to be opposed to something Jesus clearing states as adultery. I’m looking for an explanation.

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      • Thanks Mark.

        Gary, I am sorry you perceived my message as you describe and aplogize for the length and the presentation. You present what you seem to describe as a quandary for those who I assume disagree with you on the subject and ask how you can better understand their position by asking them to reconcile the two. I would like to know what role scripture plays for your conclusions.

        Here is my reason. If you have concluded that scripture reveals that homosexual behavior is not a sin, then it would appear to me that Jesus’s words about divorce may still be an issue you have to reconcile with the UMC practices. If so, I am interested as to how you reconcile that. Perhaps as Mark has described? I am also sincerely interested in how you conclude homosexual behavior is not sin, if that is your conclusion. Is it as David Collins stated above?

        Most UMC pastors do not preach these matters from the pulpit, in my experience. As members in the pews, on these tough social issues, we are often left to educate ourselves. Candidly, that sucks. I suspect it is that pastors, like the rest of us, care what people think of us. I am sincerely interested in your conclusions, as I desire to know God more and would prefer not to get this wrong, if possible.

        Thanks.

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      • Mike,

        I did not make a judgment on whether homosexuality is a sin or not. I did not state my position on the issue. People have a way of interpreting what I wrote in ways that support their beliefs. My original post simply asked the question how could the WCA take such a strong stance against homosexuality and not adultery as it is related to remarriage.

        However, I will share with you my understanding of interpreting scripture. First of all, I believe scripture is the living word of God and if living it is dynamic and not static. The scriptures were not written in a vacuum. It was written in a patriarchal society in an Eastern cultural which is far different from ours. It is from that perspective that scripture addresses the issue of divorce and remarriage. Scripture only gives two legitimate reasons for divorce, an unbelieving spouse and unfaithfulness. The unfaithfulness reason was only for the husband if the wife was unfaithful which is a reflection of the patriarchal society. It seems to me in our society the wife has the right to divorce if the husband is unfaithful. There seems to be other legitimate reasons for divorce today, for example, abuse.

        Just as scripture was not written in a vacuum we do not read and interpret scripture in a vacuum. One’s life experiences, everything from family systems to what one’s Sunday school teacher taught, affects how they interpret scripture. I interpret scripture today is much differently than I did when I was twenty-five, because of my life experiences.

        I am very cautious of anyone who say they have the only correct interpretation of scripture. Many people want to interpret scripture to simply enforce rules. I understand scripture primary purpose to revealing the living God to us.

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      • Thanks, Gary. While there are judgmental people of all ilk, I am not sure that people who seek the character of God in scripture sincerely and who disagree with you are attempting to use scripture to enforce their rules. I think they too are attempting to experience God revealed. I also would challenge your perception of the responses you received. I believe the way you worded your blog was a major factor in how it was perceived, not just the filters of the people reading. Finally, I do not doubt that people’s attempts to interpret scripture may change because of their experiences and station in life, but I don’t think the character of God changes. So, when we let our experiences guide our interpretations we run the risk of imposing our responses to those experiences upon the image of God, rather than let the truth in scripture form our understanding. You may have a different interpretation now than when you were a young man, but when that changing interpretation pertains to the character of God, I believe you must have had it wrong or incomplete at some point. Being wary of a person who claimed the sole key to scriptural interpretation is understandable; however, I believe God is and while he seeks us in every temporal point of our lives, he does not conform to us or our experiences, but seeks for us rather to be transformed in Him.

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  8. I’ve been trying to hone in on the issue as a “Biblical” one as well. I’m trying to find some internal logic with nuances at work here. Is the issue about sexual orientation, or is it about sexual behavior? Over the decades, our Discipline has emphasized that we love everyone irrespective of sexual orientation – including the homosexual. But the church law has forbidden homosexual behavior. Okay, there is that logic. However, with regard to the heterosexual orientation, that is obviously “acceptable.” Why isn’t extra-marital, or additional (post-divorce) behavior not unacceptable? It doesn’t follow logic that I can follow. I believe I’m asking the same kind of question, Gary.

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  9. Thanks for this thoughtful piece.

    My actual next door neighbor, David Collins, exactly detailed my understanding in the comment above.

    For many of us, but especially for younger adults, the commandment to love God and love your neighbor in Matthew 22:36-40 must be the heart of this discussion. The illumination of scripture by tradition, reason and experience requires all three, not just tradition. If all of our brothers and sisters are not included in love, the church’s current institutional challenges will grow exponentially.

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  10. Some comments seem to conflate love with approval and hate with disapproval. Is it hate to tell your young children to not run out into a busy street? I think not because your motivation is to protect their temporal physical life. I’d say that show a deep love rather than even a little bit of hate. Why then is wanting to protect a person’s eternal spiritual life which should be infinitely more important? While I agree that in perception and in some, maybe many, cases the rhetoric is motivated by fear or maybe hate, that really doesn’t change the issue at hand – a person created in the image of God’s eternal life. Several have quoted Jesus statement on the most important commandment. In that discourse He also said that all of the law and prophets are built on these two. The law didn’t disappear but rather became more meaningful by understanding the motivation behind the law, which is love. Paul talks about speaking the truth in love. Both love and truth are important and should not be separable. All too often Christians have had truth but lacked love. This approach almost never works. However just as ineffective is agreeing or approving things outside of “truth” believing that is love.

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  11. Both are against the Bible. Therefore they should not be practiced in any church. And you can’t use one to justify the other. So many churches are compromising the Word of God to bring in members when all we have to do is follow the Great Commission to bring in souls for Christ and God will take care of the church. I think that has been forgotten. Everyone should be welcomed in the church but not all should be in leadership.

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