Homosexuality and United Methodism
The United Methodist church is now experiencing a schism between traditionalists who seemingly favor a literal interpretation of the Bible’s statements referring to same-sex relationships, and progressives and centrists who take a more nuanced approach. The Methodist Book of Discipline, it’s manual of both binding and nonbinding policies, states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, ordaining self-avowed practicing homosexuals and conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies is prohibited. Many United Methodists disagree with this stance which has been an issue in the church for the past 50 years. I believe this is prohibition is wrong headed.
Objections to full inclusion of same sex attracted people typically stems from 7 verses in Scripture. The Wesleyan tradition, upon which Methodism is based, places high authority and confidence in Scripture. But Scripture is to be read in the framework of tradition, reason and experience. Scripture, tradition, reason and experience is known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. It precludes a solely literal interpretation of Scripture passages.
Traditionally Methodism has discerned enduring truths of Scripture from the many time and culture bound passages within the Bible. For example, we no longer practice genocide when we conquer an enemy as commanded in the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua. Rather we rebuild our defeated enemy’s country. United Methodists do not muzzle our feminine gender in Church as demanded in 1st Corinthians and 1st Timothy. Instead we ordain women called to the ministry. We even consider divorce, which Jesus himself called sinful, now to be appropriate in many circumstances. And we obviously do not condone slavery as it is supported in Scripture.
We must use reason to understand the ancient cultures in which Scripture was written and intended to guide to fully understand it. For example, in Romans 1:26-27 Paul wrote about the depravation of “men and women passionately exchanging natural intercourse for same sex unnatural ones. I think he was spot on. It was common in the Greco-Roman culture for this to take place. However, it was not until recently that science has understood that a subset of humanity is wired for same-sex attraction. I believe Paul wasn’t addressing homosexuality, if he even understood what it was, rather he was condemning heterosexuals engaging in wanton same-sex acts. Clearly if some people are wired for same sex attraction, then they do not exchange natural relations for unnatural ones. For them same sex attraction is natural. Other Old Testament prohibitions are included in sections of the Bible that also, among other things, preclude eating shellfish and subject undisciplined children and Sabbath wood gatherers to death. Cultures are dynamic and evolving, reason must be used to discern what in Scripture is enduring and what is temporal and outdated.
I recall my own experience and evolution in thinking about this matter. As I encountered same sex attracted people over the years, I saw their competencies and the beauty in their souls. I also saw the pain in their hearts for fear of rejection if they divulged their true selves and seen their joy when unconditionally loved and accepted in a faith community. I believe Jesus calls us to remove barriers that separate us from one another.
Love is the overwhelming message of Scripture. It is addressed 641 times in the Bible. Jesus intentionally invoked love to break down religious and cultural customs separating people. He even urged us to love our enemies. It is far past time for the United Methodist church, who claims “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors, to become fully open and affirming of all people regardless of sexual orientation or any other differences that tend to separate us from one another.