As a delegate to the United Methodist General Conferences in 1984 and 1988, I voted to reaffirm and expand the restrictive language regarding homosexuality. I did so out of sincere conviction as the right thing to do, even though the issue was an abstraction to me. I knew no one who was admittedly gay, and the notion of same-sex attraction was foreign to my experience.
I now deeply regret those votes! Over the intervening thirty years, I have changed my mind and now support the removal of all restrictive language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline here. The following are the factors that contribute to my change of mind.
First, I got to know people who fall into the category of “homosexual.” I came to realize that many of them had long been in my circle of relationships but were afraid to share this important component of their identity. Some are beloved members of my own family!
Many are faithful, devoted, life-long church members who can’t be open within the body of Christ for fear of rejection and condemnation. Some are parents of LGBTQ children who shared stories of bullying and abuse of their kids.
A few were colleagues on the staff of congregations I served, and their ministries reflected the qualifications identified by John Wesley—grace, gifts, and fruits. Many were exceptionally gifted, devoted seminary students whose call to ordained ministry seemed evident to me.
Some are people in same-sex marriages who are committed Christians and faithful to the church, faithful to one another, and faithful to Christ, and who possess “the gifts of the Spirit.”
Hearing the painful stories of these beloved children of God cut me to the quick. The issue of sexual orientation was no longer a theological or ethical abstraction. It became embodied in people I loved, from whom I learned, in whom I experienced God’s grace-filled presence!
Secondly, the evidence is overwhelming that sexual orientation is not a choice. I have yet to meet a heterosexual who can tell me when he/she decided to be attracted to the opposite sex; nor have I met a gay person who decided to be attracted to persons of the same sex.
Sexual identity and desire are complex realities with biological, social, environmental, and psychological components. While the Discipline labels “the practice” of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching,” the implication is that a person’s being is contrary to the Christian gospel. That is incompatible with our doctrine of creation.
Thirdly, by the 1992 General Conference I had not only begun to change my mind about the language of incompatibility and exclusion, I had become convinced that legislation is the wrong way to deal with the issue.
The pivotal decision was made in 1972 when the language of incompatibility was added to Social Principles Study Commission Report, by an amendment from the floor with limited debate.
The consequence of that political parliamentary action has disproportionately dominated subsequent General Conference agendas and expanded legislative restrictions. It now threatens to split the denomination.
We have legislated ourselves into a box, maybe into a regrettable schism. Whatever our position on this issue, legislative action will not resolve it!
Fourthly, I came to realize more fully the meaning of Martin Luther King’s words in his letter from the Birmingham jail:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
During my first eight years as a member of the Council of Bishops, I was deeply immersed in the Initiative on Children and Poverty. I felt that the persistent discussion of homosexuality within the Council and other denominational circles was distracting us from fully addressing economic injustice.
I shared my concern with a friend, a theological consultant to the Initiative. His response lodged my conscience: “But, Ken, you can’t portion God’s justice for one group and ignore it for another.”
I realize that some injustices are beyond our ability to remedy immediately, but to ignore those that are within our immediate sphere of influence cannot be excused. By removing the discriminatory language, we can take an immediate step toward correcting an injustice inflicted on our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
Fifthly, I’m convinced that the discrimination against LGBTQ people is being justified by inadequate biblical interpretation. I’ve read arguments from the Bible used by southern preachers to justify slavery, and I see a similar hermeneutic operating in support exclusion of gay persons.
Using the Bible to support misguided causes is a long-standing scandal in the church. Scripture has been used to justify such evils as the Crusades, genocide, slavery, the subordination of women, persecution of scientists, and burning of “heretics.”
I firmly, unapologetically believe in the primacy and authority of Scripture! What we mean by “the authority of Scripture” determines how we use it.
Here is my understanding: The authority of Scripture lies in its authentic witness to God’s mighty acts of salvation supremely in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in its power through the Holy Spirit within community to transform individuals, communities, nations, and the entire cosmos into the likeness of Christ.
The test of commitment to the authority of Scripture is this: Is it shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ and enabling us to love as Christ loves and to witness to his present and coming reign of compassion, justice, generosity, hospitality, and joy?
The influence of the Gospel over the centuries has enabled us to see Scripture through the lens of the Word-Made-Flesh, Jesus Christ. Such a lens enables us to avoid misusing some troubling passages in the Bible.
Three glaring examples: massacring of religious opponents as did Elijah with the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:40); slavery which was taken for granted in many Old and New Testament narratives; women keeping silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34).
Finally, my understanding and experience of what it means to love as Christ loves has deepened and widened over the years. People whom society relegates to the margins have taught me about the nature, depth, and expanse of God’s love. I have experienced profound faith among the incarcerated, the homeless, the frail elderly, orphans, immigrants, the poor, and LGBTQ persons.
I have met the Crucified and Risen Christ in my relationships with those whom society treats as “outcasts.” I know from experiences with them that Christ has broken down ALL dividing walls between us. Paul makes it clear:
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
ALL includes gays and straights, LGBTQ and heterosexuals, “progressives” and “traditionalists.” Christ died for ALL, includes ALL, and invites ALL to “love one another as I have loved you.”
It is the quality of our love and its imitation of Christ’s love that is definitive, not gender or sexual orientation. As committed couples, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters should be able to love each other in ways mutually fulfilling to them, as surely as we who are heterosexual.
I’m still growing in my understanding and my ability to love as Christ loves. God grant me the humility to keep learning and growing toward the fullness of God’s perfect love!
Anything outside of God’s will and design is sin. Sin keeps us separated from God. Sin will send us to hell.
God is clear homosexuality is sin. He is also clear overeating is sin. Lying – sin. Disrespect to parents – sin. Stealing- sin. Pride -sin. As with any sin we ought to hate the sin and not the sinner.
It’s always been interesting to me that the sin of homosexuality is one that keeps people out of church. Aren’t we all in sin? Isn’t that why we’re all desperately in need of a relationship with God and belief in Jesus as our one and only way to salvation?
Your comments regarding being born with the predisposition to homosexuality…again sin is in all of our genes. We are all born with a sinful nature. It seems just as likely for the devil to tempt a man to lust after a woman as it would be for him to tempt a man to lust after another man. In any scenario where sin is involved God is clear the best action is to flee from sin, to stand against temptation and the devil.
Do I believe people who identify as homosexual belong in church? Absolutely! Do I believe if they’re in a true relationship with God and believe in Jesus they can stay that way? Well none of us can stay the same – regardless of the type of sin we’re in. God promises to heal and restore us all to himself.
When Jesus returns and finishes the full restoration in us we will all see many many areas where we fell short and why we were in dire need of a Savior- a Savior from sin, from ALL sin.
Lastly, you mention how many individuals close to you identified as homosexual you never knew about yet you believed they had a heart for God. I found that in my own experience as well. Many people I love identify the same way.
One of the reasons this continues to be a touchy topic is because of the hidden nature that has surrounded homosexuality. Anything the devil can keep hidden, secretive, and fearful of can continue to take root. Boy! Are we ever discovering the root homosexuality actually has.
I think as Christians we ought to bring it out in the light. In the light of Jesus! Let’s bring everything, including homosexuality to the light of Jesus!
But if we live in the light—just as he is in the light—then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. (1 John 1:5-7)
Not talking about it, keeping homosexuals out of church continues the issue. Let’s draw it out into His light, address it and then strive to live in the will and design of God, knowing His work in us is still incomplete while we’re on this earth.
I am utterly shocked at some of these responses to Bishop Kenneth’s wonderful article and approach: 1) because it is plainly clear too many have not really read the article, and 2) the positively dark ages draconian attitudes of many indicates there are those who want the Church to walk backwards in time – not listening to what the Spirit is saying to the Church, side-stepping compassion, sidestepping the very commands of Christ.
Because I am a gay man does not, automatically, mean I am in sin. The sin is in not accepting me and all my gay brothers and sisters in Christ for who we are.
I am no longer responding to this discussion here because the pain some of the responses is bringing on is simply too much. Those of you living in glass houses – please think about what you are saying and doing – the spec that you see in another’s eye … think on.
With love and blessings, Rev’d Hm Graham-Michoel OSBC
Thank you for responding and sharing your pain. While many of the responses have harsh and judgmental, the overwhelming response has been affirming. I have received several personal, private responses which tell stories of deep pain and hurt caused by dogmatic judgmental attitudes that fall woefully short of the mind that was in Christ Jesus. With love and blessings to you!
“Love the sinner, hate the sin” works for a lot of Christians. But with homosexuality that’s a problem. They claim it’s part of who they are, and how they were created. Many associate it with their earliest memories. If it’s not a choice, then how should they separate it? Could you renounce your blue eyes, or the sound of your voice? ‘Cut off your hand if it causes you to sin?’ Do we then focus on the behaviors? Tell them it’s fine to feel how they do, but admonish them against acting on it? Perhaps we should try ignoring our own sexual preferences first. Would we agree for the sake of Biblical purity to give up our spouse, our family, our love, and our physical intimacy? That’s what many expect them to do.
I choose a different motto. “Love the sinner, let God worry about the sin.” I don’t need to relabel it, or rewrite the Bible; I just need to allow God to deal with His child as He sees fit. None of us are perfect. Because our sins aren’t on our sleeves, or evident in our relationships, we’re able to keep them out of sight, and out of judgment. We’re able to attend church, serve in church, and even lead in church, with no one pointing out our enduring sins. Many of us hold on to our own sins, just as unrepentant as the open homosexual. ‘That’s just how I am. I know it’s wrong, but I can’t change.’
Wouldn’t it be better if we treated our churches like hospitals for our souls, rather than showcases of perfected piety? In one recent discussion on the matter, someone claimed we need to preserve the integrity of the church. But what is a church but where two or more gather in His name? If we reject those who would gather, claiming they don’t fit the mold, don’t adhere to the rules, and don’t have their sins under control, are we not destroying the church from within?
Love the sinner. Period.
Love the sinner, hate your own sin.
We are one, in Christ Jesus. Amen.
It remains that homosexuality was forbidden in Leviticus along with rape, incest,adultery and bestiality. How does one separate out homosexuality from the rest of the list? It is also explicitly referenced only in Romans 1 but throughout the the Letters (Paul’s and John’s) it can be considered part of the term sexual immorality. To properly address the Biblical issues these passages need to be addressed a simple dismissal is insufficient.
Please be assured that I am not dismissing any of the passages you reference. Rather, I am interpreting them in their context and in the context of the Bible’s total message.
Ken, if you were interpreting them in context, you would agree with them, rather than dismiss them.
The Jewish culture has been against the sin of homosexuality for more than 3000 years. Christ’s followers – Peter, John, Paul – taught against the sin of homosexuality – hence, Christ did not change His mind on the sin.
Thirdly, Christ will not contradict scripture. Homosexuality is a sin and it is time we stop hurting these people by endorsing their sin and inability to see the Kingdom of Heaven
Many Jewish scholars disagree with your interpretation of Jewish culture and Jewish Scripture.
But Christ didn’t. His followers taught that homosexuality is a sin that one can be cleansed of. We need to stop hurting homosexuals Ken.
Also Ken, think back……no homosexuals were invited out of S&G. Blessings
May I respectfully suggest you ask an openminded Jewish scholar to explain these particular injunctions in Leviticus. As for the Romans quote, Paul is referring to the indulgent practices of the Roman occupiers, he is not condemning love between two individuals – how can he when elsewhere he prescribes gender is immaterial.
Paul was writing to the church in Rome which was a multi-ethnic church. Romans
could not be said to be occupying Rome in the sense that you were using the term. Further, the assessment of the fallen state of humanity was not limited to Romans, unless you want also to say that salvation by faith was similarly limited to the Roman congregation.
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Forgive me, my words are not as eloquent as most and I don’t always express myself as well as I would like. You see I went to church some as a child, no I wasn’t raised in the Church like many were. As an adult I went to some churches off and on. Just never felt like I fit in any where. I always believed in what the Bible told me, I believed and still believe that Christ died for me. I have gone through a lot in my life as I’m sure most people have. You see without parents most of my growing up years the Bible and God’s words were the only constant in my life. I believe God talks to me through what I read in the Bible. I believe what is told to me in the Bible. Now to read your article makes me question church, Pastors, Preachers. I think this is why there is such a decline in membership in churches. We are told the Bible is God’s Word and we believe God’s Word. But then we are caught off guard when we are told not to take the Bible literally. You see people like me that are searching for truth and honesty and consistency grab hold of the Bible and believe with all our hearts. We love everyone as God tells us to. But most get confused because there is conflict about what is preached and what we read in the Bible. Therefore people turn away from the Church out of confusion. I don’t disagree that we should love everyone like Christ loves us, but to condone sinful acts to me just doesn’t seem Christ like. I think many people go to church and leave more confused than when they started. I mean no disrespect sir, but your words make it confusing for some of us that need the truth of the Bible to cling to. I have been a member of the Methodist Church now for about 16 years, each time I read things like this I start to question why am I going to Church. I thought I went to Church to be with God’s people, to learn all I can about God love. Again I question why?
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I am sorry that my statement confuses you and causes you to question your faith and commitment to the church. We all interpret the Bible, which is witness to God’s Word. It is impossible to take the Bible literally on a consistent basis. Jesus Christ is the Word of God as John’s Gospel declares and every passage must be read in light of the overall message of God salvation. I am trying to be faithful to the Bible as are you. At the heart of God’s Word is Love and I hope you will remain in the church and continue your relationships with God’s people.
I agree that we are all sinners. Regardless of the sin we should be welcome in the church. But we can’t rewrite the scriptures to accommodate our sins. If society decides that adultry is an acceptable sin do we ignore the Bible on that matter also. I think everyone sins and should be welcome in the church thru Gods grace. But accept that it is what it is a sin in the eyes of the Lord. Don’t try to justify it by yourreinterpretation ofthe word of God.
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God has not called us to be “straight” or “gay”, but to HOLINESS.
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Of course, but who says ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ is a calling? We are what God has made, and that cannot be denied. To deny what is made in the image of God is to deny holiness.
I appreciate Bishop Carder’s thoughtful and articulate response to the UMChurch’s dilemma, as well as the comments following. I also agree with almost everything the bishop said, except to wonder if he (and others who agree) feel that Jesus’ coming has abrogated the Scriptures prior to His coming. Some point out that Jesus doesn’t directly speak to homosexuality… So, what does that mean? Are we now saying that God’s role in all of our history is open to the interpretation of any observer? Anyone who reads the Bible?
I happen to believe that my sexual orientation, the “attraction factor,” is something I was born with, but so, too, is my tendency toward depression, my “shoot-from-the-hip” temper, my aversion to anything with eight legs or worse yet, my distaste for brussel sprouts.
I want – more than anything – to follow Christ’s mandate to love the Father and I’m pretty sure that includes loving all of the Father’s creations. I would also like God to change out all my sinful behavior for non-sinful behavior, but until that miracle happens I believe God still wants me as part of His Family of Man.
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Thank you for your thoughtful response. I wish we could talk face to face and explore your question together. I don’t think that Jesus’ coming abrogates the Scripture prior to His coming, but his coming provides a clearer lens through which to interpret and all Scripture. The Bible itself is not the Word of God; Jesus is the Word of God to which the Scriptures are the authentic witness. God’s revelation is unfolding and each new insight must be evaluated in the light of God’s supreme revelation in Jesus’ life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. We are all flawed, finite creatures who need one another to grow into the fullness of God’s image in which we have been created.
Can you elaborate on “The Bible itself is not the word of God. Jesus is the word of God to which the Scriptures are the authentic witness?” I get Jesus as the incarnate word (John 1). I have, though, always considered the Bible to also be God’s word. Isn’t it risky to say Jesus is the word + Jesus is love = Love is everything you need to know? Doesn’t that leave a lot out?
I hear your concern and appreciate your pushing for broader explanation. Article II of the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church states, “The Son, who is the Word of the Father. . .” and Article IV of the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church declares: “We believe the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation.” I agree that it is risky to say Jesus is the Word and Jesus equals love if we have a very limited understanding of love, of if we sever anything Jesus said or did from divine love. As the incarnation of divine love, Jesus shows us and empowers us to love as he loves. The Bible is to be interpreted through the lens of that Incarnate Love.
Maybe it is time the Third Testament were written. Just saying!
Thank you for your insightful and caring Christian pastoral message. Better to come from you than one who is dismissed in some quarters as a reckless reprobate. I’ll forward you my more recent reflections. Roy
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Thank you, my friend!
I should have added: My most recent discovery in our Articles of Religion said “Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation” (as we were hearing from biblical scholars in the early 20th century: “The Bible is not The Word of God, but contains the Word of God”). Our Articles did not say, “All things in Scriptures are required for our salvation.”
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Dear Bishop Carder,
Words like yours are of course welcome, however belated they may be.
As a seminarian and delegate to the 1972 Conference I argued unsuccessfully against Prof. Outler’s hijack of a modestly supportive Social Principles statement by adding the “incompatibility” language.
In 1984 and 1988 I was among the leadership and a spokesperson for Affirmation, then and now the sole vehicle by which openly LGBT people speak for themselves to the UMC. When the infam language crafted by my Bishop, Jack Tuell was introduced – the “7 last words” that to this day prohibits ordination or appointment of openly gay or lesbian clergy – we sought an opportunity to speak to the delegates on our own behalf. The request was opposed by leading “progressive” delegates except for those affiliated with MFSA and so it did not happen. We were told by Joseph Sprague, who later became a Bishop, and others that it would be “counterproductive” and “the time is not right,” comments that were familiar to those who previously sought racial equality in the former Methodist church.
It’s my view that these erasures of our people in those formative years of the newly-born UMC are – more than any other single factor – responsible for what the denomination has become. These events were a signal to those watching for it that the UMC could be subverted into what it has become, wIth right-wing groups co-opting the issue to weaken the church’s witness in the world.
In turn the denomination’s unhelpful witness in this matter (alone among mainline Protestant denominations!) has made it complicit in suicides, physical bullying, and psychological harassment.
It’s time in my opinion for something like a Truth Commission to address these realities and to confront the unholy alliance that now threatens the denomination’s very existence. For the sake of the Gospel if not for the institution it needs to be loudly and unambiguously said that the anti-gay interpretation of Scripture is a perversion — not merely a hermeneutical disagagreement —and that continuing to promote this lie is an act of willful ignorance that testifies to a belief in some god, but not the one that Jesus Christ is said to represent.
My friend Jack Tuell before his death renounced his previous position as you and a few others have now done.
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Thank you for your thoughtful and challenging comments. I, too, regret that my words are “belated.” I share your obvious appreciation for Jack Tuell. He became a friend and mentor when I entered the Council of Bishops in 1992. We miss him!
I regret that your strong witness for inclusion was not heeded in 1972 and subsequent General Conferences. I have personally repented of my own blindness and slowness in joining the efforts to correct this injustice. I realize that I have unwittingly been complicit in the terrible harm the church has inflicted.
I am intrigued by your call for a Truth and Reconciliation approach; and I agree that the anti-gay interpretation of Scripture represents a “perversion,” as did the use of Scripture to support slavery.
Again, thank you for responding in such a helpful and challenging manner!
Labeling a position that you disagree as a perversion is strong language. Do you want to use such language in the conversations in the church? Do you want to say that The physical activity of male on male sex is forbidden in Leviticus. Do you consider the writer of Leviticus to have taught perversion?
Jude 1 7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
Christ taught that scripture cannot be broken (John10:35) and regularly quoted scripture, thus strengthening it’s truthfulness.
Where does Christ approve of homosexuality as clearly as He condemns it in: Leviticus 18:22 – 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.
Leviticus 20:13 – If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.
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I appreciate your thoughtful about-face on homosexuality and church polity. Since I’ve not made the about-face, I struggle mightily with the issues. I honestly cannot tell if changing The Book of Discipline would be an expansion of love, or if, like so much today, it would be a capitulation to the preferences of a secular society that enjoys casting off moral norms, standards, boundaries, and restraints. I find these to be the most difficult issues the church has faced in my lifetime. For one thing, I believe sexual preference is in large part genetic, but that the preference can also originate from psychological causes. If LGBT advocates are wholly right, I am left with the impression that I, a dissenter, am inadequate to be a follower of Christ. Thankfully, I find that the thoughtfulness you express is a balm.
What exactly do you mean by “casting off moral norms” ? I would be interested to learn.
I realized when I read Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory that we are living in a new Dark Age, not unlike that of medieval days. Longstanding moral consensus and standards of behavior are being cast off by a secular society that dislikes any restraints on individual freedom. As MacIntyre noted, we do not even have a common language with which to speak to each other about moral concerns. For example, the secular state can dictate behavior contrary to a religious person’s conscience or a religious institution’s principles. Examples abound in health care contraception, same-sex exaltation, and university censorship of non-PC views. Murder used to be proscribed generally, but we look aside when it comes to abortion for the convenience of parents. I would also consider respectful dialogue and disagreement on politics a moral norm for civilized society, but it is astonishing today to witness the lengths so-called progressives will go to suppress and oppress opinions they don’t like. Another moral norm centers around family and community, and I have personally been a witness in my career to the ongoing and tragic disintegration of the unitary family and the volunteer community. Another moral norm would be that the good society meant more than profit and economic growth, but today it’s all about monetary transaction and personal gain. In short, I think we are in a moral mess.
I would like to reply to this. I’m just a lay person that goes to a UMC. I have always been taught that the Bible is the Word of God. God addresses homosexuality in the Old Testament and Jesus addresses it in the New Testament, as being an abomination. My question; is the Bible being re-written to conform to a society that has turned its back on God so that we can accommodate sinful sexual activity. In my opinion this is why there is a decline in congregations. We either believe God’s Word and teach God’s Word or we don’t. How can you pick and choose bits and pieces of the Bible. I am questioning if I need to be a member of the UMC.
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This is Bishop Carder’s blog, so I will defer to him on theological points. I think you may be mistaken on one point: I don’t remember Jesus ever addressing homosexuality specifically.
The Bible does not record sayings of Jesus about a number of other specific sins either. When people asked Jesus about marriage, He told them to remember what Genesis said about God’s plan for marriage (Matthew 19:1-12). So in this sense Jesus did say something.
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Christ taught on homosexuality from Genesis to the Book of Revelation when he denounced it with:Revelation 21:8 ESV
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Also, Peter, John, and Jude – His followers – taught against homosexuality, so one can assume that Christ upheld Leviticus
I understand your concern and appreciate your obvious commitment to the Bible. While I strongly believe in the Bible as the faithful witness to God’s Word, Jesus rather than the Bible is God’s Word, as our Articles of Religion state. Therefore, all of Scripture has to be interpreted through God’s supreme revelation in Jesus Christ. Although Jesus affirmed God’s creation of male and female, he does not specifically address homosexuality. All Scripture has to be interpreted and its meaning is not self-evident. We interpret each passage in its literary and culture context and its compatibility with the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. There are many interpretations of the few passages related to homosexuality, primarily found in Leviticus and in Romans, and those varying interpretations are held by equally committed disciples of Jesus Christ. The notion of genetic predisposition regarding sexual orientation was not known in biblical times. From my understanding, Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love and his life and teachings are centered in love for God and one another. Love in all its forms is God’s gift and is to be expressed in the context of covenant faithfulness. I know of many same sex couples who live in covenant faithfulness and whose lives exemplify obedience to Jesus’s command to “love one another as I have loved you.” Please know that I respect your position and I hope that you will accept that I take the Bible no less seriously than you. I have spent six decades reading, studying, teaching, proclaiming, and attempting to live in response to the Bible’s revelation of God’s story of salvation. I hope you will remain a member of the UMC. We need one another to continue to struggle to be the people God calls us to be. I wish we could discuss this matter face-to-face. May God enable all of us in the UMC to love one another as Christ loves us.
I refer you to 2 Timothy and John 10:35 – English Standard Version
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
(and the Scripture cannot be broken),- John 10:35
Are you familiar with the Wesleyan Covenant Association? Don’t give up on the UMC yet. There are many like- minded Methodists that are ready to put this issue behind us. We aim to either reform the UMC or created a new orthodox Wesleyan denomination. One way or another, something will happen very soon. Hang in there.
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I love all people. I have homosexual persons in my family. I do not and will not agree with homosexuality. That being said does not mean I don’t love these people because I do. I also love the drug addicts in my family but I do not agree with or condone their life style.
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I believe the Bible in its entirety is our rule of faith and practice. We cannot pick and choose the mandates we will follow.
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Various people in the comments above favoring homosexual marriage etc have talked about taking the Bible seriously /. From a biblical perspective how does one justify homosexual marriage and ordination and not also accept it for adulterers and those who practice bestiality?
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I feel as if my prior reply was too harsh. All I want to say is that life is hard and Christian discipleship is hard. Let’s not make things too hard. Christians can have different views on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and homosexual clergy, and still be friends of one another and of Christ. We’re all in this pilgrim journey together, learning, growing, and helping one another as we go along.
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I did not interpret your response as harsh at all. Indeed, we are all “wayfarers on the way to God,” to use an image from Aquinas. And as Wesley’s notion that even though we may not think alike we can love alike!
My question is, when Christ has taught all over the Bible that homosexuality is wrong – and has not contradicted that. He has gone as far as to state that homosexuals will not see the Kingdom of Heaven – how do you think homosexuals are Christian, when Christ taught that He will send them to Hell?
Christ doesn’t send Christians to Hell
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The article just below (Why I Changed My Mind….) was shared as a link to my Facebook timeline from one of my parishioners, and one who is among the most open-minded, kind, and least judgmental United Methodists that I have had the privilege of knowing. However, I need to respond to this well-written and well-reasoned argument form Bishop Kenneth L Carter, who “deeply regrets” (his votes) at the United Methodist General Conferences in 1984 and 1988 “to reaffirm and expand the restrictive language regarding homosexuality” (in the Book of Discipline and in The United Methodist Church). He cites five factors in his decision. The first is his having gotten “to know some persons who fall into the category of homosexuality.” Some were church members, parents and family of church members, colleagues; and some are beloved family members. To his credit, he feels a sense of compassion for “the painful stories” of sadness and exclusion. Obviously he is moved by compassion for the suffering. That is, in fact, certainly Christ-like. In fact, Bishop Carter experiences in those suffering people “God’s grace-filled presence.” Obviously, he is motived and driven by compassion, and I’m sure that Jesus himself has nothing but compassion for the suffering of those in pain. “Compassion,” for Bishop Carter, and for many “Progressive” Christians is indeed a strong factor. It is a strong factor for me as well. On the other hand, the real question for me is not about “compassion” or whether one should be compassionate. We are all agreed that we all should be.
The question for me always is about methodology. How does one compassionately ameliorate and put an end to the suffering of those who have to go through it? Bishop Carter’s conclusion is to end the suffering by removing the restrictions. The same is true for his second reason, that is, homosexuality is not a choice. While there may be a very few exceptional persons who choose a gay lifestyle (and I do know in particular at least one who said, “I’m not a victim of circumstance. And I don’t want to be treated like a “victim.” I certainly did choose it.”), they would surely be in a distinct minority. Most gay persons definitely do not choose it. The question for me is how to think about “choice.” A person who suffers from the crippling effects of the abuse of drugs and alcohol, while most likely choosing them initially, doesn’t choose to be in the agony and pain caused by one’s bondage to substances. So now, in the culture, that very sentiment—“one does not choose….”—is being expressed legislatively, and rightly and compassionately, by de-criminalizing and de-penalizing the use or possession of the substances themselves. We change the law, that is, the language of unacceptability, by throwing out the culpability in the legalizing of the substance. On the downside, however, what that really is about, and its overall effect, is that we inadvertently grant a license to further the social and moral decay that results from a being a permissive drug culture. This is simply an example of the well-meaning and well-intentioned (but, at the end of the day, the wrong way to do the right thing) liberal mind-set that drives this nation: we are determined to provide a base of security for all persons while removing that which lessens or restricts their security. In the end, and what we all want, hopefully, is to eliminate their suffering. Nothing would please me more than witnessing an approach to those who suffer—either because of their choices or the lack of their choices—that would lessen the penalties and punishments, as well as the stigma and shame. Whether or not persons who suffer choose the situations that lead to their suffering, is, in my mind, beside the point. Again, for me it’s about methodology, and how one, particularly one in ministry, can offer a genuine means for the elimination of their suffering.
The third factor cited by Bishop Carter for changing his mind in terms of what constitutes exclusion and compatibility is that the legislative route is inadequate and insufficient. I agree with him. I am not the first person to have believed, or to have said, that one cannot legislate morality. As the apostles Paul and James undoubtedly saw, appealing to the law is a slippery slope. Paul doesn’t take that route in either the epistle to the Romans or to the Galatians. He could have gone to the Torah and pulled out prohibitive language (in reference to homosexuality) from Leviticus, but he refuses to do so. He understood that if one makes the law the basis of one’s understanding of righteousness, one is duty-bound to keep the law in its entirety. James showed that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (2:10). In Galatians Paul pointed out, that if “righteousness could be gained by the law, then Christ died for nothing” (2:21). Furthermore, “if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law” (3:21). Again, I agree with Bishop Carter that the appeal to scriptural “proof texts” will come back to haunt those who make “the authority of scripture” their only basis of authority.
I’m deferring to a paragraph farther into this post a comment on the Bishop’s fourth listed factor in changing his mind—the appeal to Martin Luther King in order to assert a charge of injustice while calling for the end of it. Bishop Carter’s fifth influencing factor is in the context of the misuse of scripture as a means to justify negative attitudes toward homosexuality. He states “that (he is) I’m convinced that the discrimination against LGBTQ people is being justified by inadequate biblical interpretation.” To the person who invokes the “authority of scripture” by referring to a restrictive text prohibiting homosexuality, Bishop Carter offers a couple of scriptural examples from the Bible that point up other equally unjustifiable prohibitions. The slaughtering of religious opponents in 1 Kings of the Old Testament, and the calling for women to keep silent in church in 1 Corinthians of the New Testament are two examples of contradicting passages. My own favorite contradictory scriptures are the ones prohibiting the eating of shellfish and the mixing of fabrics. In “proving” his or her point, the moment one declares that “It says here in the Bible thus-and-such….” a second person can point to another scripture that undermines, invalidates, or neutralizes the first person’s argument.
So, if not in terms of the legislative appeal to scripture, is there any legitimate biblical understanding that homosexuality may be thought of as unacceptable? I believe that there is, and it is found principally in Romans 1, but not in the way many Christians employ that specific passage as a legalistic justification condemning homosexual persons. Although Paul specifically mentions, in the context of “ungodliness and unrighteousness….” women (who) exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts….” he “catalogs” a whole list of sinful acts of “…wickedness, greed, evil…”, including, “… envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice…” and (those who are) “gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful….” And if I am truly honest, I can easily locate my own “redeemed” self within at least fourteen of those categories. Fourteen. Conclusion: we are all under sin (and I love that verse from Romans, “…where sin does abound, grace does much more abound….”), and I especially am not in a position to judge or condemn. I am surprised at how many Christian “proof-texters” out there don’t ever, ever quote Romans, Chapter 2, v. 1: Therefore you have no excuse, every one of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things….” And I am equally surprised at how many so-called “learned “ Christians do not seem to know that Paul is making an extended argument within the span of the first three chapters of Romans that “there is none that does righteousness…none that seeks God,” and that everyone is under sin. The argument showing that without exception we all are in the same sorry state concludes in Chapter 3, v. 19: “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight…” This verse, it seems to me, affirms Bishop Carter’s contention that legislation—the law—is ineffective; however, this verse also indicts him, in my view, for 1) suggesting that there is no biblical authorization for the prohibition of homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle, and 2) by not agreeing with scripture’s—not to mention culture’s (even including so-called pagan culture’s)—long-standing rejection of it.
I said that I was going to save Bishop Carter’s fourth factor for last. He uses Martin Luther King’s example as an appeal to end injustice. Clearly, here the Bishop has located “injustice” in the rejection of homosexual acceptance. Throughout his article he offers numerous references to “the love of Christ.” In his final paragraph he states: “It is the quality of our love and its imitation of Christ’s love that is definitive.” It is the Bishop’s statement about our “imitating” Christ’s love that throws me here. The “imitation of Christ’s love” is, to me, an incoherent position. It can mean anything to which, or for which, anyone assigns it. In 1972 I had a face-to-face encounter with the crucified and risen Christ Jesus that caused me to realize that, and as Paul said so long ago in 1 Timothy, “I am the chiefest of sinners.” Prior to this encounter I had no real understanding of myself as a wicked person, and one in desperate need of redemption, mercy, and forgiveness. In the midst of this encounter I experienced a love more powerful than any that I ever known, before-or-since. But it was Love manifested through Calvary’s Cross. That caused me actually to see to what I had been blind all of my life: the guilt, the fear, the hurts, the disappointments, and the pain of everyone else around me, through what I myself experienced. I know what love is, because I know who Jesus is. But a knowledge of Jesus, a specifically personal and experiential knowledge (as opposed to conceptual knowledge), is inseparable from an understanding of the Cross and of the dire necessity of the Cross. Today, this disobedient and gain-saying Post-Modern culture seems more determined than ever before to define Jesus in the context of “Love,” (and read: “…our imitation (interpretation) of love…”) rather than to define “Love” in the context of Jesus.
The biblical understanding of a “Bishop,” that is, “episkopos” in New Testament Greek, is an “overseer,” a “guardian,” not to mention a “leader.” A “watcher” or, a “Watchman,” in the Old Testament functioned as a sentry who was appointed to “stand on the wall” and scour the landscape for any possible potential threats to the safety of the people. Further, it is my understanding that all true ministers of the gospel of the risen Christ Jesus are to be voices of prophecy (and this is a side-note, nonetheless important: in Revelation 19 it is stated that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy”). Prophets are to speak truth to power; prophets are to offer an alternative to the world—a spiritual counterweight to offset the secular values of culture. Instead, the Council of Bishops, in my estimation, have become mirrors of the world’s values and mouthpieces of the culture. It should be acknowledged that yes, indeed, the world does value love, as evidenced in Burt Bacharach’s and Hal David’s song, “What the Word Needs Now….” But only insofar as the world values love—as the world insists on defining it—does the world value Jesus. When Jesus suits the world’s purposes, the world pronounces Jesus a good model, and worthy of imitation. But in terms of Jesus’s rightful Lordship of the world and of its values, the world will do what it has always done: it will refuse to acknowledge him, and, in the end, it will crucify him. Jesus himself said, “The world hates me because I testify to it that its deeds are evil.” And to his disciples he said, “If the people of this world hate you, just remember that they hated me first….”
Bishop Carter’s apt quote, that “in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28-29) is at the very heart of the gospel of the crucified, resurrected, risen, and incarnate Christ Jesus. And I certainly do believe that it could be logically extended to read, “and no Gay or Straight, no North or South, no East or West, no Protestant or Catholic, no Methodist or Baptist, no Republican or Democrat, no Hawks or Doves, no Conservative or Liberals, no black or white….” the list could be endless. But the key phrase, and the key understanding is, “in Christ.” It is in him, and in him alone, that such divisions/enmities and “border lines” can be eliminated, and where genuine unity can be experienced. The Ecumenical movements are not going to make this happen; the Peace and Justice movements are not going to make this happen; our governments are not going to make this happen; nor are any of the established religions and religious groups (the “evangelicals” undoubtedly among them) going to make this happen. If you actually believe that you have it within you, apart from the imputed and imparted righteousness that comes from Jesus alone, Solus Christus, to live in peace, unity, and without divisions, then, in the context of my understanding of self-interested, self-indulgent, and self-oriented human nature, you are short-sighted and incredibly naïve at best, and self-righteously arrogant and presumptuous at worst. “In Christ,” indeed
I get what you are saying and I’ve said in previous post I’m not the most educated in the Bible. As the Congregation we look to our Pastors to lead us. Many people that would potentially read your post would say it’s ok to commit immoral sexual acts and other sins because they know they will be forgiven, therefore if they keep committing the same sin they will continually be forgiven. But doesn’t Jesus say to the woman that committed adultery that she was forgiven to go and sin no more? This is where most lay people of my background get confused….a sin is a sin. Yes we pray for forgiveness and do our best not to sin anymore. Although we fall very short of that every day. I/we love everyone because the majority of us have adulterers/homosexuals/drug addicts/criminals in our families. But I’m telling you as a member of a congregation this is driving people away from the Church. Thank you for your time in reading my post.
I appreciate your concern that some may read my post and incorrectly assume that sin is not to be taken seriously. I certainly do not want to give that impression. I have seen the destruction caused by acts of sexual immorality to individuals, families, congregations, and our society. Indeed, forgiveness does not remove the consequences of sin but offers a new beginning. Please note in my blog that I call for love relationships of covenant and commitment, between persons of the same sex or heterosexual couples. It is the violation of covenant, unfaithfulness to commitment before God, that is the heart of the sin. Acts of sexual unfaithfulness are rampant among heterosexual couples and it is the lack of covenant faithfulness that threatens the fabric of our society. I know many same-sex couples who have lived in covenant faithfulness for decades. I hope we in the church can have more discussion about what it means to live in faithful covenant, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Thank you for your obvious concern for the faithfulness of the church and for responding to my post.
“Most gay persons definitely do not choose it. ” I refer you to Romans: 1:26-27 where
Christ refers to homosexuality as “against nature”, a “shameful act”, “error” where He turned His wrath upon them and turned them over to a reprobate mind for their lusts. Do you really think Christ would make something so abhorrent to be innate?
Your words are words that heal. Faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.
And I will repeat again, how is it love to send the recipient of your sex drive to death? We can all convince ourselves that something wrong for us is love, but to actually participate in keeping one away from a relationship with Christ, is not love.