Homosexuality: The Conversation in the United Methodist Church

the-bible-and-sexuality-blog-heading (1)Adam Hamilton is  senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, a congregation of 20,000 members. He recently posted a blog article captioned “The Bible, Homosexuality, and the UMC — Part One.” He has not yet posted a part 2. The article advocates for acceptance of gay marriage by the Methodist Church. He argues,

Had the early church held these assumptions consistently, they would never have reached the decisions that circumcision was no longer required of Christians, or that Christians were no longer bound by much that is found in the Law of Moses.  We would still be worshipping on Saturdays, eating only what was kosher, offering animal sacrifices, and administering capital punishment for everything from working on the Sabbath to rebelliousness on the part of children (Jesus never explicitly taught that these portions of the Scripture were no longer binding upon his followers; this call was made by the apostles at the urging of Paul). …

On the issue of same gender acts, they wrote based upon their understanding of human sexuality, in the light of the prevailing same-gender practices of their time. And though we believe that they were inspired, the precise nature and extent of that inspiration remains a mystery. We do know that this inspiration was not some kind of divine dictation, but it was through the impulse of the Spirit at work in very human authors who were addressing the people and circumstances in which they lived. This inspiration did not prevent historical or scientific errors. It did not prohibit the recording of differing accounts of the same story in the Gospels. It did not keep the Bible’s authors from allowing slavery and genocide; and it did not transform the biblical authors’ patriarchal perspectives on women.

The blog post was picked up by the Ministry Matters website, a popular site providing ministry resources for preachers and pastors. (You should read Hamilton’s entire article.)

I became interested when Ben Witherington responded. Witherington is among the most popular evangelical authors alive — having written countless commentaries and books. (Amazon lists 242 entries under his name.) I’m a fan. I especially enjoy his Socio-Rhetorical commentaries on several NT books.

Witherington is no fundamentalist. He favors a mutualist (or egalitarian) position on the role of women, for example.

He posted a reply at his blog “A Response to Adam Hamilton’s Recent Post on the Bible and Homosexuality.” I had not read Witherington on this subject before. I was fascinated to read his reply. (You should also read his entire article.)

And even more to the point, Adam’s view on this matter is well out of line with the vast majority of Christians world-wide– Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. The fact that there is a growing trend in certain European and North American contexts towards the acceptance of gay marriage and same sex sexual expression is frankly a distinctly minority report when it comes to world Christendom. Having taught in various place in Africa, and the Far East and India and Russia, places where Methodist churches are actually growing in number and size in various cases, I can assure you that the vast majority of those folks do not agree with Adam Hamilton on these matters. It is liberal Protestants in North America and Europe who are out of step with the majority opinion on these issues. And that majority opinion is not a new one, since for 2,000 years of church history, the church has not endorsed such lifestyles and practices, and frankly, neither did John Wesley or the Bible. …

Mt. 19 is clear enough, it seems to me. Jesus, based on his own interpretation of the creation order, says that men and women were created for each other by God, and they alone can share a one flesh union in marriage which can lead to the possible production of children, one of God’s greatest blessings. No relationship which cannot turn men and women into husbands and wives and hopefully also fathers and mothers was considered in early Judaism a marriage of any sort. Nor was it considered a marriage by Paul or other of the earliest Christians. Every child deserves if at all possible to have a good mother and father and to know who their mother and father are. It is far too easy to play the context card and to suggest that poor Jesus or Paul were just victims of their own cultural myopia or cultural biases. This is especially inappropriate when their views on marriage were shaped primarily by their own Biblical theology, not by their social contexts. If anything, Jesus and his followers took an even more conservative view on marriage and fidelity in heterosexual monogamy than their own Jewish contemporaries. …

I bring all this up, because you simply cannot use either Paul’s view of women or the slavery passages in the NT to argue— ‘well since the Bible is wrong on these things, it must also be wrong on same sex sexual matters’. In fact the Bible isn’t wrong on these important matters, and a pick and choose hermeneutic does not do justice to the real thrust of God’s NT Word. I could go on, but I would stress that what Adam is calling for is the abandonment of what the NT teaches on the key subjects of what counts as appropriate human sexual and what counts as marriage. And there is no justification for doing so on the basis of a misreading of what the NT says on various other subjects.

Witherington makes a point that I’d not seen argued before: Although some American and European churches approve normalization of homosexuality, this attitude is very out of step with Christianity as taught and practiced in the rest of the world.

Now that I think of it, this is why the international Anglican Communion (Episcopalian Church) has disciplined the American Episcopalian churches: they’ve normalized gay sex contrary to the teachings and practices of the rest of the worldwide Anglican communion, contrary to 2,000 years of church history.

It’s a peculiarity of the American left that they wish to be sensitive to the feelings of other ethnicities — especially those nations that have suffered from Western colonialism — and yet it’s the left wingers who most readily ignore the perspectives of non-Western people when they conflict with Western political correctness.

Christianity is growing in non-Western countries, while either plateaued or in decline in much of the West. As a result, control of international denominations is shifting away from the old colonial powers to their former colonies. And so no longer are the Europeans and Americans able to impose their will by virtue of their stronger militaries and economies. In fact, we are witnessing a dramatic shift of the power to shape denominational policy away from the West.

Just in time.

Those who argue that history is on the side of normalization of homosexual sex are showing their Western bias. The rest of the world begs to differ.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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9 Responses to Homosexuality: The Conversation in the United Methodist Church

  1. Ray Downen says:

    Much as singles may want God to approve of same-sex marriage, the apostolic teaching opposes it. Let those who are not IN CHRIST marry a same-sex partner. Christians should not do so.

  2. Mark says:

    This is a right v left political argument that is spilling into the religious realm. I feel for the Methodists in having to sort this out because it will overwhelm any good that come out their conference. It is almost a foregone conclusion that one group will definitely get mad and likely leave. This will not help Christianity in any good way. The idea that disagreeing with someone is equal to hating them is quite prevalent. Also, this is what happens when a very vocal minority becomes active and “plays their politics well.” Regardless of whether the minority is on the right or left, they can hold a massive amount of influence.

  3. David Himes says:

    I think Mr. Hamilton’s analysis of the NT text misses on several points.

    First, it reduces the Text to a legal document — which it is not.

    Secondly, it fails to recognize the essential message of the Text, as it applies to believers.

    I should elaborate. The NT, in my understanding, presents three or four essential points. [1] the story of Jesus — the basis for the gospel; [2] the history of the early fellowship (thru Acts and some content of the epistles; [3] commentary on the implications of salvation on the daily life of believers; [4] Revelations — which is it’s own category.

    Assuming one is seeking salvation thru the gospel, Jesus summarizes the implications of that on our lives in John 13 and 15 (other places as well), when he commands us to “love one another as (he) has loved (us).”

    Some interpret “love” in the context of the Golden Rule — Treat others as you want them to treat yourself.” But Jesus’ command in John 13 supersedes that definition. Jesus commands to love as Jesus loved — which is self-sacrificing love. Agape does not love in order to be loved in return, but other loves for the benefit of the object of love.

    A friend of mine defined love as “giving yourself to others, for their good, expecting nothing in return.”

    I’d adhere to that definition — which means the object of love is what is best for the object of love (which is not necessarily what the object of love wants — it’s what they most need at that moment).

    Now, the difficulty of that definition is knowing what “agape” means in any given situation. Because I can be seeking to express agape towards someone and fail miserably. In part, because situations can be so difficult to understand and the impact of what we do often is different than our intent. (This is also why judging is discouraged, and we are told that only God can judge the heart, or “intent”).

    So, we have the epistles, which often are simply explaining how agape expresses itself in real situations, difficult situations.

    So, Mr Hamilton is setting himself as someone who better understands the application of agape than anyone else.

    The fact is that the issue of homosexuality is very difficult for us address. And the Text seems to say, “let me explain this to you, because you probably can’t figure this out on your own.”

    In contrast, when discussing topics such as slavery, the Text clearly says, Even though slavery is acceptable to the World, you treat people as Jesus treated you, whether they are slaves or free.”

    The Text does not slavery is right — it’s says don’t make that the focus of your attention. Make it your objective to love others the way I loved you.

    In a similar fashion, even though homosexuality behavior is pretty clearly condemned, and the World clearly finds it acceptable, our goal should be to love gays the way Jesus loved us.

    Simple to say — but hard to explain and sometimes difficult to understand.

  4. Christopher says:

    What did Paul say?

    “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

    That time has come (again).

  5. Ellen Williams says:

    I love what you wrote, David Hines!
    I’ve been thinking…Jesus taught that transformation takes place from the inside out; not the outside in. Politics and religion tend to want to force transformation from the outside in. I understand what people mean when they talk about disagreeing being mistaken for hate. If in a personal relationship with someone, it can become more clear that love and disagreement can coexist, but when looking at societal trends as a whole, the line becomes much more blurred. If we love as Jesus loves, we get involved with people in a more personal way and share healing grace with them. There’s no punishment in that.

  6. Ellen Williams says:

    I go to a Methodist church and my Sunday school teacher loves Adam Hamilton. It frustrates me, but nobody asks me what I want. Adam Hamilton strikes me as someone who tends to be dismissive of any scriptures that give him trouble. We did the series, “Making Sense of the Bible” and he told the story of his little girl coming to him with questions about the wars and “no mercy” policies in the Old Testament. He told her to not read that part and just read the gospels. Why on earth did he think he could write a book about making sense of the Bible when he clearly can’t make sense of it himself? (sigh) I’m scheduled to sub for the teacher in a couple of weeks on a completely new Adam Hamilton course.I pray I can do it well. I will skip the step where Adam Hamilton wants me to ask the class, “what does Adam Hamilton say about this?”

  7. Larry Cheek says:

    Ellen,
    More power to you as you attempt to teach truth rather than mans words. I attended several Baptist Seminary extension courses and realized that the books that were used in the teaching were being held as more important than scripture (the authors writings). In the evaluation tests where their concepts were in opposition to scripture their word became the authority. What I know of The Methodists their authors will have the same recognition. I did not change any of the Baptist instructors or students who would not (buck) their superiors, I suspect the same will result in your endeavors. Hold fast to the Word! Remember, even The Apostles were to dust off their feet and leave those who would not accept true teachings.

  8. Dwight says:

    Larry, This is what sometimes frustrates me here in this blog and from “progressive coC” is that they quote others on scripture almost as much as they quote scripture, sometimes more.
    NT Wright and A. Campbell might be very insightful, but they are not scripture. Sometimes we go to the commentaries first, before we mine the scriptures and try to make our own decision.

  9. Christopher says:

    Larry wrote:

    I attended several Baptist Seminary extension courses and realized that the books that were used in the teaching were being held as more important than scripture (the authors writings).

    If you think about it, this is exactly the pattern seen throughout history: the extra-literary teachings of men assuming an equivalency or superiority to scripture. The Jews did this, Muslims do this, the Catholic church has done this, the Mormons do this, and so does most everyone else to a greater or lesser extent.

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