Does the UMC really believe that the LGBT are “evil” or “less than fully human”?

June 23, 2014

In the sixth part of a seven-part series of blog posts on “A Way Forward,” an Adam Hamilton-backed proposal to save the United Methodist Church from schism, Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary and a fellow ordained elder in full connection in the UMC, notices a surprising lack of biblical and theological reflection in the debate over changing our church’s traditional stance on human sexuality.

One of the striking differences between the contours of the United Methodist discussion and the counterpart discussions which led to the breakup of the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches is how seldom Methodists have actually discussed specific biblical texts related to homosexuality, or, for that matter, invoked a deep discussion about a biblical theology of the body, marriage and human sexuality… I readily acknowledge that all of these discussions have taken place in our seminaries, but it hasn’t really become part of the public church discourse as it has in other denominations. Our conversations have mostly focused on pastoral care, the need for generational sensitivity for evangelistic purposes and wanting to portray ourselves as inclusive and welcoming, not closed and angry. Thus, it is perhaps no surprise that not a single verse of Scripture is actually quoted in A Way Forward.

He goes on to concede that we traditionalists haven’t fared much better, focusing our disagreement on revisionists’ disregard for the Book of Discipline—as if that were God-breathed scripture.

I’m sympathetic with Tennent’s complaint—until I read a recent blog post like this one, written by popular United Methodist blogger and pastor Jason Micheli. The post reminds me how lightly committed we Methodists are to the authority of scripture. Tennent fails to appreciate that if there’s any hope of “saving” the UMC, the Discipline may be the only arrow left in our quiver.

Be that as it may, even for Micheli, a blogger with whom I’ve long and loudly disagreed on a number of issues related to the authority of scripture, this post is unusually obnoxious.

He begins by excerpting an email he received from a parishioner, who writes, among other things:

As part of a Christian community, we are charged to make disciples; to invite friends and acquaintances to join us in that community. How can we invite friends and acquaintances who are gay and lesbian to join a community that publicly affirms and proclaims that they are evil, cannot hold positions of leadership and may not enjoy the blessing of holy matrimony?

As one long-suffering commenter on his blog said, “You should correct your friend, because this is not the affirmation or proclamation of the UMC.”

That’s putting it mildly!

Micheli knows that his parishioner has grossly mischaracterized our church’s doctrine. He knows that we in no way “affirm or proclaim” that gays and lesbians are “evil.” We affirm that all people are of “sacred worth,” regardless the extent to which they experience same-sex attraction (which is on a continuum; it’s not binary). Alongside two millennia of orthodox Christian teaching on the subject, we say that homosexual practice is sinful. (But not even that—in our own milquetoast way, we say it’s “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Well, yes…).

He also knows that gays and lesbians are not only permitted to hold positions of leadership, but they can also be ordained—so long as they are celibate in singleness—just like heterosexuals. The extent to which someone experiences same-sex attraction is irrelevant.

In the interest of acting in good faith, even given his disagreement with our church’s stance, how can Micheli let this statement stand—unless he agrees with the spirit of it?

Of course, he would probably say he’s merely using his parishioner’s email as an example of the way in which our doctrine is “bad advertising” for our church.

But if that were the case, how can he then say the following (my emphasis in bold): “Where Methodists are still stuck in the love the sinner/hate the sin time warp, debating whether we can officially regard homosexuals as fully human or not, Presbyterians have moved ahead to grant homosexuals access to the sanctifying grace Christians call ‘marriage.’”

Given that I can’t decide whether it’s worse to view homosexuals as less than “fully human” or “evil,” it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Micheli agrees with his parishioner.

If so, does he not realize that he’s impugning himself? After all, he stood before God, his bishop, and his annual conference not too long ago and promised them all that he agreed with the doctrines of the church and would actively enforce and abide by what he now seems to believe are ignorant, bigoted policies.

I’ve said before that I respect the integrity of my fellow clergy on the other side of the debate who believe, along with me, that the issue dividing us can’t be a matter of indifference—that there is no middle way. Given his strong convictions, why does Micheli believe in one? In the interest of social justice, why is he willing to live under a tent so large that we tolerate or condone church leaders (like me, I presume he would say) who believe (according to him) that homosexuals are less than human—or evil? Or something like that?

The rest of his post is misleading and beside the point. Yes, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to allow gay marriage by a wide margin. Of course they did! Many of the conservatives who would otherwise have voted against it have already left the denomination! Also, as a matter of integrity, who cares whether the UMC is “mainline,” whether its present doctrine is bad advertising, or whether it causes us to lose or gain members? The only thing that matters is faithfulness to our Lord.

And Micheli agrees with that. He says it’s imperative that we “do right by what the Spirit is showing us about gay Christians.”

Of course, but by what doctrine of scripture would the Spirit be showing us something that contradicts what the Spirit has previously revealed in scripture?

Which reminds me… Last week on Facebook someone asked me, “Besides Bible verses and tradition, what argument can you really make against homosexual practice?” To which I responded: “Besides the shooting, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

46 Responses to “Does the UMC really believe that the LGBT are “evil” or “less than fully human”?”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    “Think not that I have come to bring peace on earth–I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Father will be pitted against son, etc. There will be “divisions among you.” So long as anyone who insists on calling himself Christian and simultaneously insists on disregarding scripture, we can’t sit idly by on some “inclusivism” premise. Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it.

  2. revdrsusant Says:


    I’m quoting you:

    “We affirm that we are all people of “sacred worth,” hetero- or homosexual. Alongside two millennia of orthodox Christian teaching on the subject, we say that homosexual practice is sinful. (But not even that—in our own milquetoast way, we say it’s “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Well, yes…).

    He also knows that gays and lesbians can not only hold positions of leadership, but they can also be ordained—so long as they are celibate in singleness—just like heterosexuals. The extent to which someone experiences same-sex attraction is irrelevant.”

    Seriously, Brent? How many open LBGT people are being ordained in the UMC?

    AND, even more seriously, how many of our Connectional clergy in our own conference who are married commit adultery and retain their clergy orders? I can name two.

    This issue is about the way we interpret and understand scripture. It is about the ways we interpret and understand scripture on all issues. I always come at this issue as a female clergy who is still not accepted as being clergy by UMC clergy and laity–it is the heart of the matter.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I don’t know, Susan, but I can do a quick Google search and name a few practicing homosexuals who are ordained in the UMC. Surely no one would mind if there were a few celibate ones, right?

      You’re quoting the “first draft” version of my post. I changed the language since then: “We affirm that all people are of ‘sacred worth,’ regardless the extent to which they experience same-sex attraction (which is on a continuum; it’s not binary).”

      Some clergy who experience same-sex attraction and are single and celibate (or happily married, for that matter) may not identify as gay or lesbian.

      As for adultery and ALL sins, including homosexual behavior, I hope we always leave room for grace—on the condition of penitence. The difference, as I’ve said many times, is that no one is arguing that adultery isn’t a sin.

      Finally, this…

      “This issue is about the way we interpret and understand scripture. It is about the ways we interpret and understand scripture on all issues.”

      My problems with Micheli always center around the fact that he doesn’t argue scripture. If we’re arguing scripture, about this or any other issue, then my criticism in this blog post doesn’t apply.

    • Lisa White Says:

      To be fair, Susan, you must compare apples with apples and not oranges. I’m pretty sure if a person was before the board of ordained ministry and said that they were currently engaged in an adulterous affair, they would not be approved. But by God’s Grace, sins are forgiven. So are there Godly men and women clergy who have had affairs, repented and received the same forgiveness for sins that you and I have received, who retain their orders and serve God in mighty ways, absolutely!

      By comparing the practice of homosexuality to adultery, are you agreeing that both are sins? In which case, you think the UMC should be saying that God got this one wrong. It doesn’t matter what the Bible says. We should change our position because when we align ourselves with the Bible, it feels bad. We feel mean. We feel unloving.

  3. Jay Says:

    Any statement that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity is not only hateful and demeaning to gay people, it is manifestly untrue. It is a lie. It is contrary to the very message of Christ.

    • brentwhite Says:

      It’s homosexual practice, not “homosexuality.” Not the same.

      But suppose the Church is right that homosexual practice is a sin. How would we apply the message of Christ to that situation?

      • Jay Says:

        Sorry, that is just equivocation. It is the same. The very idea that one condemn people to a life without a partner, without fulfilling sex, without the transformative love that romance provides show the deep sickness and hypocrisy of what you teach. You really should be ashamed of yourself. I wonder how many young people in your congregations have fallen into depression or committed suicide as a result of the unethical messages you give them. You are not preaching Christ’s message, you are preaching your own prejudice.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Again, suppose every Christian saint prior to about 1980, including prominent Christians today—like, say, Pope Francis—are right that homosexual practice is a sin. Tell me what the “message of Christ” to practicing gay Christians would be? I’m really curious. I’m not saying you have to agree that homosexual practice is a sin, but if it is… That’s the nature of the divide in the UMC.

      • brentwhite Says:

        And there are plenty of celibate gay Christians who disagree with you.

  4. Tom Harkins Says:

    The issue in all this is what the Bible says. Not what “hurts” or not. Jesus said, “Take up your CROSS and follow me.” In other words, being a Christian means “denying yourself” (Christ’s words), not “seeking self-fulfillment.” Plenty of people have plenty of desires that they have to “override” to abide by scriptural mandates. Homosexual desire is one of those. Just check the plain language of a number of verses.

    • brentwhite Says:

      That’s right, Tom. Same-sex desire is hardly the only misdirected desire anyone experiences! We heterosexuals have plenty of errant desires. They become sin when we act upon them.

  5. Gary Bebop Says:

    It’s fascinating to me that the moment one tries to broach a subject for serious discussion, the red herrings show up in number. Brent, I admire you for trying to make a clear witness to what the church teaches on this subject, but there’s a Great Deception at work to turn the church (at any price). Stand strong.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thank you, Gary!

      • revdrsusant Says:

        Scripture says a lot, and the interpretation and understanding of scripture has to be based on the context and culture of when it was written, to whom it was written, for what purpose was it written and can the author be identified. Yes, we believe the Holy Spirit is at work through the interpretation, meditation and understanding of the scriptures. However, we know that misquoting scripture, using scripture for power and abuse of scripture occurs.
        We do change our minds about scripture’s meaning.

        Again, I am female clergy, divorced and remarried. If you read scripture and interpret it literally and do not consider the context and culture in which it was written, then you will believe and teach that I should not be ordained as clergy because of what scripture says.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        So, I am not exactly sure what you mean to prove by your last point. Are you admitting that a “literal” view of scripture means you should not be ordained? If so, what “other” view of scripture are we supposed to take? Whatever feels good? Whatever is the “politically correct” viewpoint of the day?

        If you are relying on “tradition,” recall that Jesus condemned those who elevated tradition above the text of scripture.

        Also, exactly what is it about the “context and culture” which is supposed to have been different in the biblical days of Paul (or even Leviticus) such that scriptural prohibitions against homosexuality are no longer binding? Are you arguing that simply because it is only now, very recently, “in vogue” to allow “homosexual marriages” as a political matter, this supersedes what scripture says on the point? Would that apply to perusing pornography as well? That is pretty much the “social norm” nowadays too. What’s the difference? Once you jettison a straightforward reading of scripture, virtually “anything goes.”

  6. For a long time, I lived and worked in a world that essentially said, “women are of sacred worth but they are not to ever serve in a role of authority over a man because the Bible denies them that privilege.” For much of ecclesiastical history, that which is female has been seen as broken, wrong, and the source of all human evil.

    Now, the church has strongly moved in another direction, and the UMC has been a good leader in that movement. But when I lived in that world, I finally had to ask, “Am I seen as fully human?” And finally had to answer, “no.”

    I am aware that this is an extremely complex situation we are facing now. But there are huge parallels with what the church faced when women started asking the same questions. The language that the UMC uses does not call those in the homosexual community “evil” or “less than human.” You are absolutely technically correct about that.

    But it does imply that sexual actions on the part of the homosexual community are of a different magnitude than sexual actions on the part of the hetero community. The gay/lesbian activity excludes them in a way that the straight activity does not.. Remember, Jesus so redefined sexual sin as to include every single human being.

    We’ve got to address the broad issues of human sexuality in ways that are biblically consistent (which is not that easy) and with science in mind. We’ve done this with cosmology–and we can do this with sexuality as well.

    • Jay Says:

      I am afraid that it isn’t a complex situation we are facing now. It is a simple one. People are attributing to God their own prejudices. We now know a great deal about human sexuality. Far more than was known in previous centuries. The Bible was used to persecute Galileo and other astronomers, until science finally triumphed. The Bible was used to promote slavery, until the enlightenment finally triumphed. The Bible is now cherry-picked to justify hatred of gay and lesbian people. I find it amusing that the Bible’s clear words about a number of issues are twisted completely to justify a more humane view of women and slaves, but somehow a “higher criticism” applied to the “clobber passages” against homosexuals is considered “special pleading.” In any case, I think people who preach against gay people are guilty of horrendous sin. Religious people have a particular responsibility for the harm they cause.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Jay, what have we learned about human sexuality that overturns the verdict of two millennia of Christian interpretation of scripture on this subject?

        As for higher criticism of the “clobber passages,” isn’t it worth noting that the unanimous consensus of the Patristic era (second through fifth centuries) was that Paul and other biblical writers really were condemning homosexual practice? I ask because the Church Fathers were really smart and well-educated. Moreover, they knew their culture better than anyone living today does. They knew Greek better than anyone today knows it. They lived much closer in time to Paul and the early church than we do. See what I mean? If there was any ambiguity about what these “clobber passages” meant, why wouldn’t they have mentioned it back then? Why did they all agree with the UMC that homosexual practice was a sin?

        For that matter, why did ancient Jews, including Jews living in the first century, interpret their own scripture to mean that homosexual practice was condemned in the strongest terms? Do we understand their culture better than they did?

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Christy.

      I’m confused by this paragraph:

      “But it does imply that sexual actions on the part of the homosexual community are of a different magnitude than sexual actions on the part of the hetero community. The gay/lesbian activity excludes them in a way that the straight activity does not.. Remember, Jesus so redefined sexual sin as to include every single human being.”

      I’m not sure that the Discipline implies that homosexual sin is worse than other sexual sin. It’s just that—as I say above—no one is arguing that other sexual sins (adultery, incest, bestiality, even lust) aren’t sins. That’s the nature of the argument in the UMC.

      As for the parallels between female ordination and the present controversy, I’ve written about that here, among other places:

  7. brentwhite Says:

    Susan, regarding your second comment, let’s perform a thought experiment: Suppose that God wanted to communicate to us that homosexual practice per se was a sin. How would God do it? In other words, given that scripture is the primary means through which God speaks to us, what else would the Bible need to say to convince you and other revisionists that—despite all questions of culture and context—homosexual practice per se was a sin.

    Could it say anything to convince you or anyone else that the behavior in and of itself is wrong?

    Seriously! Because it seems to me that your argument rules the possibility out.

    Regardless, we know that there were life-long, committed, monogamous relationships in the first century. We know that there were plenty of examples of male homosexuality that weren’t pederastic or non-consensual. The idea that “Paul couldn’t have imagined” strains credulity. Besides, Paul himself includes lesbianism in Romans 1, and we know for sure that those relationships in antiquity were not known to be pederastic or non-consensual.

    If you’re interested in hearing a scholarly lecture on my side of the issue, which addresses many of your issues, watch this. Robert Gagnon is an ordained PCUSA minister and New Testament scholar at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary whose major work on the Bible and homosexual practice was published by Abingdon in 2000. I point out his credentials because he’s no Bible-thumping fundamentalist.

    • Jay Says:

      The fact that you would be promoting a person like Gagnon, who truly practices hate speech, tells me all I need to know about you. Yes, you do have blood on your hands.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Please elaborate, Jay. How does he practice hate speech?

        By merely presenting the other side? Given how radically countercultural it is to stand against the prevailing view on homosexual practice, I don’t doubt that he has many enemies.

        Regardless, he’s presenting actual arguments, with which you can agree or disagree. That’s the great thing about arguments. They can stand or fall on their own, without depending on the person making them. Making it personal by impugning his character is beside the point. You’re committing a genetic or ad hominem fallacy. In other words, you’re saying, “I don’t have to pay attention to his arguments because I believe he’s a bad person.”

        Having said that, I like Gagnon. I’ve corresponded with him. He’s a Facebook friend of mine.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Also, you’re committing genetic fallacy by saying that because I’m a bad person with blood on my hands, you don’t have to pay attention to any of my arguments.

  8. Jay Says:

    You are just a bigot if you buy Gagnon’s arguments. He practices hate speech because he lies, he conflates homosexuality and pedophilia, and promotes reparative therapy, which every reputable psychological association has determined is dangerous. Indeed, reparative therapy leads young people to depression and sometimes suicide, just as I suspect your sermons must do.

    • brentwhite Says:

      My sermons are a matter of public record. Feel free to find one that you find objectionable. I’ve never devoted an entire sermon to the topic, not because it isn’t important but because it wouldn’t be family-friendly for the worship hour. So I do use this blog for these kinds of discussions.

      I’m all for reparative therapy. That it’s out of favor today has everything to do with political correctness rather than scientific research. Regardless, Gagnon’s biblical arguments in the video have nothing whatsoever to do with that.

      Again, Jay, I’m challenging you to deal with ideas and arguments, rather than resorting to ad hominem attacks.

      Are you Methodist? What is your religious background?

      • Amy B Says:

        “I’m all for reparative therapy. That it’s out of favor today has everything to do with political correctness rather than scientific research.”

        This is dumbfounding to hear from you, although I am starting to realize that I saw your ministry through glasses tinted by sentiment and the pleasure of reconnecting with such an interesting old friend years ago. If I believed in God, I would pray to God that you never are in a position to counsel young gay people. I sincerely believe you could put them in danger. My disbelief will make it easy for you to dismiss my concerns, but I have to voice them anyway. Peace to you, Brent.

      • Amy B Says:

        Even Alan Chambers, who is probably your poster boy for “non-practicing homosexual,” has renounced the work of Exodus International and apologized for the harm it caused.

  9. Jay Says:

    And re your comments above regarding the ugly tradition of persecution of gay people by Christians, are you really stupid? Do you think the passages in the Bible that suggest that the sun revolves around the earth are true? Do you think that Galileo was wrong? The same people who thought that homosexuality was an abomination also thought it was an abomination to mix fabrics and to eat shrimp. Why do you think they were right on one but not on the other? Anyway, I don’t like to argue with bigots.

    • Tom Harkins Says:

      Jay, you assume that anyone who thinks homosexuality is sinful is a bigot–why? Just because you say so? Is what the Bible says simply irrelevant to you?

      With respect to shrimp, that is a common argument, but it overlooks the fact that the New Testament says some things which were of symbolic significance in the Old Testament (including circumcision, for a further example) are no longer binding because their purpose has been completed. See Hebrews in general, and Jesus’ statement and Peter’s vision in particular as to foods. However, far from changing the moral rules as to homosexuality, those rules are reiterated in the New Testament. That’s the primary difference.

      Finally, certainly Galileo was not wrong, but you may be interested to know that the universal structure believed in theretofore was more of Greek origin than anything in the Bible.

  10. brentwhite Says:


    I know I’ve been a disappointment to you, but do you have to insult me? Talking about “poster boys” and all that? Come on. Let’s be adults. If you thought homosexual behavior was a serious problem, you would think reparative therapy was fully appropriate.

    Let me give you an analogy. Psychologists know that human beings experience all sorts of aberrant sexual desires—desires far outside of the norm. One such desire, over which some people feel they have little or no control, is sexual attraction to children.

    Like me, you’re a fan of This American Life, and you probably heard the recent heartbreaking story about one such young man. Remember he said that there was never a time when he didn’t feel this attraction?

    Would reparative therapy be harmful or helpful for him? Because when or if he gets further therapy for his problem, that’s the kind of therapy it will be. Right? Therapy aimed at helping him control or change his sexual desire for children. You wouldn’t say, “Well, this is just the way he is, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

    Sexual orientation isn’t binary. It’s on a spectrum—like any other desire. Depending on where one is on the spectrum helps predict the extent to which change is possible. The success rate, from what I’ve read, is about the same success rate as alcoholics in AA. It often works for highly motivated people. But “working” doesn’t mean you no longer desire a drink. Reformed alcoholics may live their lives wanting a drink every day, but that doesn’t mean their therapy isn’t working.

    Again, if you don’t think homosexual practice is a problem then obviously you think reparative behavior is wrong for homosexuals. But I know you can see the logic of what I’m saying.

    As for your lack of belief in God, consider this: You are passionately committed to a set of moral principles, one of which has inspired you to comment on this blog and tell me, in so many words, how tragically misguided I am, to the point of—what?—causing people to harm themselves?

    What is the foundation for your moral outrage? Not just about LGBT issues, but anything? Because if God doesn’t exist, your sense of moral outrage is utterly and completely unfounded. You say, “You’re wrong. This is evil.” I say, “No, it’s not. Evil isn’t real. Good and bad are subjective tastes. You prefer one ethical principle the same way you might prefer vanilla ice cream. It’s meaningless. Who cares what you think is wrong?”

    So please consider that. Why do you have such a strong sense of “ought-ness”? You could say it’s evolution, but evolution can only describe what “is,” not what “ought to be.” You can’t derive an “ought” from an “is,” as David Hume argued a few centuries ago. I think you’re like me in the sense that when you say, “This is wrong,” you really want there to be some objective standard by which to measure it.

    Here are a couple of blog posts that explore this topic.

  11. Amy B Says:

    I didn’t mean to insult you. Show me where I have not “been adult.” “Poster boy/girl/child” is a pretty common term and I said it because I think you *have* in the past held him out as an example of how gay people might live in accordance with Methodist doctrine. Was I wrong?

    I never said you or anything you promote is evil. I said reparative therapy is harmful. In the past I have read about preachers who preach it and it hurt to think of the harm they might do but I never thought I’d know one of those preachers.

    As for the “morals can only come from God” argument: I know it is important, crucial, for you to believe that but your belief does not make it so.

    Your analogy sucks. I can’t even.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I guess I’m taken aback by your tone, Amy. We were friendly at some point in the past, and I haven’t changed much. As in the past, I wish you would condescend to engage an argument. If my analogy sucks, please tell me where it’s wrong… in a couple of sentences.

  12. Amy B Says:

    I understand. I have been taken aback by the tone you take when responding to discourse on the rate of attempted suicide among gay teens, but I have kept silent, mostly out of confusion. Your seemingly unshakable confidence that you could not possibly contribute to such a phenomenon makes me think we don’t have much to discuss. I think your comparison of LGBTQ identity to pedophilic desire is vile and I won’t debate it with you. If you don’t see the problem, I doubt anything I can say will get through. I will leave that to the Mary Daly’s of the world! She is much smarter than me, and more patient with your over-seminaried style of argument. You throw around an awful lot of “that’s just a tu quoque” without ever addressing the need for fairness and justice. I got no patience for that, brother.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Amy, I’m sorry I upset you, although no one held a gun to your head and made you read this blog. There isn’t much here for you, obviously.

      I agree that rates of mental illness and suicide are much higher among homosexuals than heterosexuals—even in highly gay-affirming places like Norway and Sweden, where no one cares what the church says about homosexuality. High suicide rates among the LGBT are universal, in Christian and post-Christian contexts. You might ask yourself why that is and look for other possible causes.

      But there I go again… Using logic. I can’t help myself.

      By the way, I have to laugh when you refer to my “over-seminaried” style of argument! As if! Trust me, you would fit right in at Candler or Duke Divinity School! Even as an atheist! You should give it a try.

  13. Amy B Says:

    Now you are just being condescending. Boo!

    • brentwhite Says:

      Physician, heal thyself.

      “As for the ‘morals can only come from God’ argument: I know it is important, crucial, for you to believe that but your belief does not make it so.”

  14. Amy B Says:

    Yeah, I’ll stand by that one. 🙂

  15. bobbob Says:

    i bet you will get an earful about the reinstatement of the minister who performed the wedding of his gay son. to be branded as a hater in this country is the new scarlet letter.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Oh, sure. I’m coming to grips with the fact that I’ll never be the “cool pastor,” no matter what else I say or do. No wonder so many of my clergy colleagues who believe as I do never talk about it.

  16. revdrsusant Says:


    I just said good-bye to daughter and granddaughter today–on their way home–so I wanted to comment on some of the comments that have been generated and specifically to your comments back to me now that I have time to do this

    First of all, I have never experienced you as a bigot. We disagree on this topic, and I don’t expect to be the one to change your mind. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.

    I did view some of Gagnon’s videos, and I’m not persuaded that I agree with him. I find him to be a tradtionalist–one who honors tradition for the sake of tradition. I would not label him as a Bible thumping traditionalist, however, I find it difficult to believe that he is accepting of female clergy based on the ways he interprests and undertands scripture regarding homosexuality or sexual identity as I prefer to frame the issue. However, maybe he’s able to compartmentalize his thought process theologically and he does support female clergy.

    This brings me back to address a few of your questions by working to explain a few points that have informed my beliefs on this issue of sexual identity:

    First of all there is the scripture which we believe is inspired by God through humans who wrote what we recognize as scripture. We as UM do not believe or teach that scripture is inerrant. Scripture itself did not condemn Galileo, scripture itself, did not condem people to be tortured during the inquisitions of the past, scripture did not prohitbit women from being disciples, leaders, or ministers for Christ. However, the doctrine [dogma and traditons] and polity/governance of the Church has consistently condemed people for many and various reasons through its interpretation and understanding along with teaching of scripture through clergy and lay leaders who have had the goal of gaining politcal power for themselves through their support of those in power. This continues to be one of my main points that you cannot deny. Whether it is individuals or the Church, scripture has been used to support slavery, submission of women to men, the refusal to ordain women as clergy, the refusal to allow male clergy to marry in the Roman Catholic tradition, and thousands to die who refused to “blindly” accept what the Church, in order to hold tight to political power, taught that Christians had to believe in order to be Christians. You are a Christian historian, to some extent, and you cannot deny that this is true.

    Second, the point I am working to make regarding the facts and reality that I am an ordained female elder in the UMC and divorced certainly goes against the traditionalist view of scripture that Gagnon promotes. Honestly, Brent, somewhere along the way, people and the Church [not the Roman Catholic Church and not those Southern Baptist Churches who are members of the SBA–Southern Baptist Association–and certainly other faith traditions] have either come to another interpretation or understanding of scripture when it comes to ordaining women and ordaining men and women who have been divorced, or people who consider themselves committed Christians have simply opened up the gates, thrown tradition to the wayside, and will allow anything to happen. I know you don’t believe this second option to be the case, and neither do I.

    John Wesley encouraged women to be preachers and teachers. After his death, this no longer was the case. Was that because he misinterpreted scripture/misunderstood scripture or just threw caution to the wind and let anything go? I don’t think that was the case at all. After all, it was his mother, Susanna, who taught him most of his theology from the time he was born until he entered his formal theological schooling as Oxford.

    We have discussed before that I do agree with Dr. Luke Johnson’s view on homosexuality, and I quote him from an article he wrote in June 2007 in Commonweal,

    “In my book Scripture and Discernment: Decision-Making in the Church, I have discussed how the New Testament provides another important witness to the same process of faithful obedience to God’s direction in human stories. I refer to the account of the Acts of the Apostles (chapters 10–15) concerning the church’s decision to include Gentiles in the church without requiring them to be circumcised or to observe the Mosaic law. Luke’s narrative shows how God moved ahead of the human characters in accepting Gentiles as righteous, and how difficult it was for the church’s leaders to learn what God was up to. It shows, however, that Peter and Paul and James were open to the truth God wanted them to learn. They paid attention to human narratives—testimonies—that spoke of God at work among Gentiles in ways that not even Jewish believers in a crucified messiah could appreciate. The apostles had to be shown how the same Holy Spirit who had come upon them also came to those very unlike them, people whom they regarded as unclean by nature and evil in their practices. When shown the evidence of transformed lives, they saw and accepted what God was doing.

    Accepting Gentiles as beloved of God was, to be sure, but one step, however dramatic and difficult. Harder still was finding a way for Jews and Gentiles to live together, sharing table fellowship in a world that took the body symbolism of eating at least as seriously as that of sex. Compromises on both sides were required for the church to remain united despite such important differences (Acts 15:20–21). Acts provides an example for us of the church discerning God’s activity in human lives, being obedient in faith to God’s self-disclosure in such stories, and then reinterpreting Scripture in light of the experience of God.

    I suggest, therefore, that the New Testament provides impressive support for our reliance on the experience of God in human lives—not in its commands, but in its narratives and in the very process by which it came into existence. In what way are we to take seriously the authority of Scripture? What I find most important of all is not the authority found in specific commands, which are fallible, conflicting, and often culturally conditioned, but rather the way Scripture creates the mind of Christ in its readers, authorizing them to reinterpret written texts in light of God’s Holy Spirit active in human lives. When read within the perspective of a Scripture that speaks everywhere of a God disclosing Godself through human experience, our stories become the medium of God’s very revelation.

    Along with Scripture, the teaching of the church on sexuality is based on what is called “natural law.” By no means do I want to dismiss this tradition. Indeed, in its positive dimensions, the natural-law tradition is compatible with my argument that moral thinking should begin with what God discloses to us in creation. But I add three cautionary points: (1) appeals to what is “natural” are often in fact appeals to what is culturally constructed (Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 11 on the veiling of women comes to mind), and must always be challenged on the basis of actual human experience; (2) determining what is “natural” or the “order of creation” is often—as in recent Vatican theology—far removed from the analysis of actual human existence, and instead represents a form of essentialist thinking on the basis of Scripture; (3) appeals to the order of creation need to be chastened—as Paul himself recognized in 1 Corinthians 11—by the recognition that the “new creation” brought about by the Resurrection of Jesus has real implications for our understanding of the body and sexuality (see 1 Corinthians 6–7).

    Still another New Testament story holds exemplary significance for us today, from the part of the Gospel of John that has come to be called “the Book of Signs.” All of John 9 is taken up with the story of Jesus healing a man born blind, and the controversy with parents and Jewish leaders that follows that healing. Significantly, the story begins with Jesus rejecting the notion that the man’s blindness was the result of anybody’s sin, either his or his parents. His body was simply an opportunity for Jesus to show the “outward sign” of God’s presence and power in the world—what John calls his “glory,” through Jesus’ transformation of his life. Jesus is the light of the world, and his touch brings the man’s body into the light, so that he is no longer simply the object of other people’s gaze, but one who himself sees, perceives, and assesses his own life and that of others. This specific man’s body becomes the place where God’s action in the world is revealed (9:1–7).

    Though neither his acquaintances nor his family understand how he has received his sight, they believe him when he tells them that Jesus was the one who gave him this great gift (9:8–12). But those John calls “the Jews” and “the Pharisees” do not accept his story, informing him that Jesus “is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath” (9:16). When the man insists that Jesus is the one who healed him, they reject his account and admonish him: “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” But the healed man is steadfast. “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; what I do know is that I was blind and now I can see.” And: “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” The man’s experience and testimony stand against the authorities’ insistence that God can only act within the framework of righteousness as defined by traditional piety.

    The Pharisees’ sin has come to be called “scotosis,” a deliberate and willful darkening of the mind that results from the refusal to acknowledge God’s presence and power at work in human stories. If the neglect of Scripture is a form of sin, John suggests, a blind adherence to Scripture when God is trying to show us the truth in human bodies is also a form of sin, and a far more grievous one. Both our own sense of integrity as Christians, and our hope of entering into positive conversation with those who disagree with us, obligate us to engage Scripture with maximum devotion, love, and intelligence. If it is risky to trust ourselves to the evidence of God at work in transformed lives even when it challenges the clear statements of Scripture, it is a far greater risk to allow the words of Scripture to blind us to the presence and power of the living God.”

    As I said before, I know that you reject Johnson’s opinion, and I don’t reject it. I also believe that we are able to both be colleagues and friends in the UMC without schism–as we discuss without name calling and without rancor these issues that can work to bind us together instead of breaking us apart.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I’ve seen some of your pix on Facebook. I know you had a great visit! My wife’s sister and family from Belgium are coming next week.

      On your first point, I mostly agree, except that the Roman Catholic Church’s relationship to the authority of scripture is different from Protestants. Tradition and scripture are equally authoritative. I say that because Catholic reasons for not ordaining women and preventing clergy from marrying are extra-biblical. Clergy must be male because Jesus was male, and clergy are his surrogates in the world—something along those lines.

      This matters to me because, as we’ve discussed before, we have biblical warrant for overturning tradition and ordaining women. N.T. Wright has a chapter devoted to that biblical case in his latest book. If I were convinced that similar biblical warrant existed for overturning tradition when it comes to homosexual practice, then I’d be the first to say so.

      You’ve mentioned this a lot: there is biblical warrant for divorce as well.

      Wesley’s example regarding women preachers can bolster my argument as much as yours. If Wesley was right about women in ministry (just as he was right to condemn the English slave trade), then why don’t we Methodists listen to what he has to say about homosexual practice? He unambiguously condemned it.

      As for Dr. Johnson’s argument, what can I say? I’m classically Protestant. No argument that contradicts the plain meaning of scripture, properly exegeted and interpreted, will persuade me. It’s ironic that Johnson uses the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 as part of his argument: while the council “reinterpreted Scripture in light of the experience of God,” they reaffirmed the proscription against porneia (sexual immorality), which the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem would have understood (without controversy) to include homosexual practice (alongside adultery, incest, and bestiality).

      He refers to vv. 20-21 (without quoting it) as a “compromise” made for the sake of Jewish Christians, but he can’t mean that, can he? He surely isn’t saying that the proscription against porneia, however one interprets it, isn’t a crucial aspect of holy Christian living!

      By all means, the Jerusalem church is seeing that some parts of Old Testament law have fulfilled the purpose for which they were given; that they’re no longer binding on people who are now part of Christ Jesus. Interestingly, one part of the law that is still binding is that part that deals with sexual immorality—which, again, in context would have included homosexual practice.

      Also, Johnson seems to confuse scripture and tradition when he talks about John 9: Jesus has shown throughout the Gospels that breaking the Sabbath in the interest of healing or saving someone isn’t against God’s law. It’s not that scripture was wrong about the Sabbath and needed revising; it’s that the Pharisees and others were wrong in the way they interpreted it.

      Regardless—and this is my most important point about Johnson’s argument—all of this fresh reinterpretation or revisionism in light of what God is now revealing in people’s lives is revealed to us—where?

      In scripture!

      So we have a choice: we can, along with Johnson, view this work of reinterpretation as an ongoing project, which risks relativizing the Bible to the authority of personal experience.

      Or we can say that whatever help we needed in reading the Old Testament in light of the revelation of God in Christ the Word, the Holy Spirit has provided for us in God’s written Word.

      So we disagree… which doesn’t mean I don’t love you, Susan! 🙂

      • brentwhite Says:

        Just so it’s clear that I’m not misreading Dr. Johnson, here’s what he writes in that same article. He’s saying that scripture itself is clear in what it says about homosexual behavior. All arguments that attempt to make scripture say something other than what the Church has traditionally said it says on this issue are wrong:

        “The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture, and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy—that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian. If we see ourselves as liberal, then we must be liberal in the name of the gospel, and not, as so often has been the case, liberal despite the gospel.

        I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality—namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.”

      • bobbob Says:

        i may have said this already: john muir had it right about the ecosystem: you cant pull anything out of it without finding out that everything else hitched to it. that’s how scripture is. you cant cherry pick a verse here and there to say that or this is what God wants for us. it’s all hitched together and it all points to the resurrection.

        so as the arguments go here against or for this or any other topic one must guard against trying to break the hitch to the resurrection.

        i like your comments about the spectral nature of human sin. that’s how we see it. but to God it’s all sin colored the same hue and tint and it is for that that the resurrection remains in force.

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