A thought experiment for my progressive clergy friends

March 24, 2015

Yesterday, I commented on this blog post by a progressive United Methodist pastor named Jeremy Smith. He supports changing our church doctrine on sexuality, arguing that it’s only a matter of time before we all realize that the Holy Spirit is revealing to the church that two men or two women having sex with one another is perfectly fine, at least within a re-defined version of marriage. Among other things, here’s what I wrote in my comment:

Here’s a thought experiment: Suppose God wanted to communicate to us that, indeed, the unanimous verdict of two thousand years’ reflection on the subject is right after all, and that God intends sexual activity to be between a man and woman, and only within the bounds of marriage. What else would God need to say? How else could God have said it? What else would the Bible need to say?

It seems to me that your way of interpreting scripture on this subject rules out the possibility of God’s wanting to tell us that.

Predictably, I got no response. As of a few moments ago, I was the only one offering a dissenting point of view.

I’m not surprised. I’ve asked this of my progressive clergy friends and acquaintances who support changing our doctrine, and you could hear crickets chirping. But it seems like a good question to me!

Suppose, just suppose—hypothetically—that God wanted to tell us that homosexual practice were sinful. How else would God need to say it? I’m not asking you to agree that God is telling us this, only that you explain what the Bible would need to say—if it could say anything—for you to believe that God were telling us this.

Honestly… I raised this question during a lengthy comment thread on Facebook recently. Not only did no one rise to the challenge, but a clergy friend—someone whom I genuinely considered a friend as recently as a year ago—un-friended me on Facebook and won’t return my phone calls or messages to talk about it. Yet, we keep hearing about this need for both sides to have further “conversation” around this issue.

Well, I’m offering the opportunity for conversation—even to my former friend (you know who you are). Please feel free to comment.

32 Responses to “A thought experiment for my progressive clergy friends”

  1. Josh Says:

    Yeah, that’s been my experience too – no answers to basic objections.

    There’s something else that you could have mentioned: how does placing sex between two men or two women in the context of marriage/committed to each other perfectly alright in God’s eyes?

    Is marriage the magic hanky that you can “cover up” sexual acts that are forbidden and make them O.K?

    In the Bible, procreation is the teleological purpose of sexual intercourse. Man and woman leave their parents and become “one flesh” with another to form another complete family. It’s the way God created us. Marriage does not act like some sort of magic hanky that covers up sinful sex between a man and a woman. No – sex is a good thing between a man and a woman that should be done in the context of marriage (a covenant between one man and one woman for life).

    The world is getting crazier and “lost-er” every day. Who knows how many letters are going to be added to the LBGT thing before it’s over with (I think there has already been four more added).

    And by the way, that Jeremy Smith guy is just a plain out jack-wagon. He just loves to hear himself speak. He probably needs prayer more than anything. In his speak, he displays about every “work of the flesh” that’s named.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Smith is in charge of the UMC clergy Facebook page. Were you the one who got uninvited from that group? When I read Smith, I wonder why he believes—just out of principle—that this issue of homosexuality can be a matter over which we UMCers can “agree to disagree.” You know? I don’t think it’s a matter of theological indifference.

      • Josh Says:

        Why in the world would such a divisive person as him be put in charge of a UMC clergy facebook page? He must have created the page himself or something.

        Jeremy Smith is the poster boy for the progressives/liberals/whatever they call themselves.

        I find that his about homosexuality as an issue that we can agree to disagree on is cowardly. If he truly believes that we traditionalists/orthodox are horrible people who “hurt” homosexuals with our doctrine – then how can he say that it is just a matter that we can agree to disagree on.

        I have forbidden myself from a lot of UM related social media sites. I don’t have anything to do with UM facebook groups or that twitter crap they do (DreamUMC hashtag “wasteoftime.” I just walk away and spend some in intercession or something else that will strengthen my soul – like playing with my kids or my dogs. Life is too short for the silly games some of the UM’ers play.

      • brentwhite Says:

        I’ve gotten burned a few times getting involved in this social media back-and-forth. Frankly, there are some mean people on that clergy page, as you well know. I don’t think I’ve been one of them. I hope not! I don’t make things personal. I don’t engage in character attacks. If we disagree, let’s disagree over ideas. I try to assume that it’s not because my opponent doesn’t love Jesus or whatever. But that same courtesy is not reciprocated, that’s for sure.

        By the way, the “former friend” I mention above accused me in that Facebook thread of treating this issue as an intellectual exercise, that I “obviously” didn’t have any experience with LGBT people, and that I lacked sufficient compassion. That’s an example of ad hominem attack that is just over the line.

        Anyway, I’ve learned to severely limit my comments in social media if there’s a chance it will start what we used to call a “flame war.” It’s not good for my soul. At all. It makes me angry.

      • Josh Says:

        Yep, Brent, it’s not worth it. “Anger does not produce the righteousness of God” – I pray that proverb as a sentence prayer very often. Personally, I’m done with arguing with people in the virtual world. I have just a few places that I might talk with people – like here or on David Watson’s blog (both are low traffic). But I’m done with all the nonsense that happens on the internet. Christ is going to hold us accountable for what we have invested our time in and I guarantee that very few people have had that their minds changed by an internet conversation.

        And also, it’s so much better to walk away and spend time with the Lord, with someone you love or enjoy being around.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Low traffic! You’re accusing my blog of having “low traffic”?

        Just kidding. It does have relatively low traffic—though growing! 😉

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    This article by Rick Phillips, 2nd Presbyterian – Greenville, SC, is pretty good, imho:

    http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/03/the-bible-and-homosexuality-wr.php

    Also, isn’t marriage supposed to mirror Jesus taking the Church as his bride. Isn’t it supposed to by Holy, as defined by God himself right there in Genesis 2:24? Is the church really going to grant its holy blessing on same sex unions and elevate them to the level of Christ and his Church? How often in the Bible do we have to read that “man went about doing what was right in his own mind”, and that this greatly displeased and dishonored God?

    • brentwhite Says:

      The Genesis 2 reference is on point. There we have Jesus affirming the complementarity of male and female as one prerequisite for sexual activity. Even the analogy of Christ-as-groom and Church-as-bride implies the union of two unlike things, which, again, is in keeping with opposite-sex complementarity.

  3. Tom Harkins Says:

    Also, what about not adding to or taking away from the written scriptures as so not to bring about curses as stated in Revelation? Whatever the scriptures say is what the rule is, not newly minted revelations or insights supposedly from the Spirit (who brings to mind what Jesus says).

    • brentwhite Says:

      I vehemently oppose any argument that says that the Spirit is revealing something that contradicts what the Spirit has (rather plainly, in my opinion) revealed before. I can at least appreciate an argument that says that we the Church interpreted the Bible wrong for 2,000 years, even though I strongly disagree.

  4. revdrsusant Says:

    I think, Brent, that the person who won’t answer your phone call and unfriended you on fb isn’t a friend of yours after all. Our conversation thread was kind, considerate, no all cap words (yelling) and no insults were traded or name calling. I was never offended. We disagree, and I consider you a really good friend. 🙂
    Susan

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thank you, Susan. Needless to say, I was surprised and hurt by it—as I told him in a couple of messages. I’m still having a hard time getting over it.

  5. Grant Essex Says:

    I’m afraid that the homosexuality issue is rapidly becoming like the abortion issue. There are many in my church (and my family) who are adamant pro-abortion righters. It’s not even possible to discuss the issue, without tempers flaring and names being called. I can see no argument against God hating abortion, but that’s not even up for discussion anymore. They don’t care what God thinks!

    • brentwhite Says:

      The tide of public opinion is turning on abortion, for what it’s worth. There is a statistically significant decline in public support for it. So who knows? Maybe there’s hope.

  6. Grant Essex Says:

    You are right, and that’s encouraging.

    I (we) have to remember that ALL SIN is rebellion against God and has it’s root in the fall of man. There is none of us without an abundance of it, and we know that there is only one salvation from it. The blood of Jesus, poured out to cover our sins. All of our sins. But, we have to accept that we are sinners and that he is the only way; the only truth. And, only by love will people be drawn to him.

    I’m going to stop. I’ve run on too much in this post, I’m afraid.

  7. Suzanne Hurlbut Says:

    I’m sadden that someone who is a clergy friend is so intolerant of your view. Clergy??? Someone who is so Bible knowledgeable, assumed to be reflecting the best of his/her ability to be Christ like, won’t return your calls. I happen to agree with you, but I’m sure many of my friends would be shocked at my views. They’ve never asked; just assumed.

    • brentwhite Says:

      It broke my heart, Suzanne. I didn’t do anything to him EXCEPT affirm our church’s stance on the issue—which he himself would have also affirmed at some point in his ordination process. I think people assumed that I, too, would have been on the other side of the issue. I know my stance has disappointed many. All I can say is, if I thought that the Bible, properly interpreted, were saying something else about homosexual practice, I would have different convictions. I am trying to be, as Wesley said, a “man of one book.”

  8. victorgalipi Says:

    Brent, you and I have already talked about the way I was attacked on the UM Clergy site, and how I have dropped off Facebook and such social media. Some of the meanest and most narrow-minded people I know are UM clergy who are always preaching the mantra that we are to love as Jesus loves–which of course means agreeing with homosexuality–but seem to have a hard time practicing what they preach. Never have I been attacked and bullied without any basis in fact or knowledge as I have been by UM clergy.

    I have also experienced, especially lately in blogging, the silent treatment, no response to points I’ve made about homosexuality, and abortion, especially when I actually dare to quote and expound on the word of God.

    Attacks and silence are the twin responses from people who apparently have no good answer for what you are saying.

    One thing for sure: People should be careful what they attribute to God. They might be blaspheming The Holy Spirit. It is a dangerous thing to attribute sin to God. And God does not change His mind about what sin is or isn’t; it is settled in Scripture.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I ventured into the UMC Clergy site today for a comment. Those guys are the worst. Why do I punish myself? So much much condescension! So much flippancy!

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Brent, “hope springs eternal.” That’s part of the reason. We actually have this faint, feeble glimmer of optimism that we might actually persuade somebody, anybody, to some single one of our points! But though they do not, our efforts are not totally in vain. Jesus sent his disciples out to preach, and if the hearers did not listen, then to shake off the dust as a witness against them that the Kingdom of God had come near and they rejected it. It will be better for Sodom itself than for such who heard and rejected! So we have that as part of our mission too.

      • Josh Says:

        Go out and spend some time with someone who’s homebound, in a nursing home, or a hospital and minister to them in the name of Jesus. Instead of punishing (and discouraging) yourself listening to a bunch of self-centered egotists, you will hear the voice of the Lord say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. I’m proud of you that you followed me to where I was at today.”

      • brentwhite Says:

        Yes, today I was made to feel like any trained chimpanzee obviously understands that God can’t actually respond to us in prayer—to give us something that he wouldn’t give us if we didn’t ask—because of his immutability. Every Christian thinker who ever lived understands this, so what on earth is my problem? God answers prayer? How could I be so naive?

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        It is true that, as James said, “Pure religion and undefiled is this: To visit the widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” See also the parable of the sheep and the goats. Without question I fall short in that category. However, there is also a lot said in the New Testament about “preaching the word.” To do so “in season and out of season.” See also the prophets, such as Jeremiah, who was told to preach even though they would not listen. So, if we keep a balance, I don’t think Brent is acting amiss in spending some time on the “Clergy site.”

      • victorgalipi Says:

        Gnosticism is alive and well today in these know-it-all’s who look down their noses at those of us who dare to take God at His word, plain and simple, without running it through all their Gnostic tests and hoops.

        I have shaken the dust off my feet. Just as I will no longer waste my time with certain blogs or bloggers.

        If they feel the same way about me, then I rejoice.

        There are people out there who really are open to the truth and haven’t heard it because they’ve had the Bible revisionist propaganda rammed down their throats.

      • brentwhite Says:

        You’ve made reference to Gnosticism a few times, whereas I might say liberal or revisionist or progressive or something. Say more about why you chose that word. I’m not saying I disagree, I’m just intrigued by what you’re getting at.

  9. Grant Essex Says:

    Yep, also in James:

    “You do not have, because you do not ask God….”

    4:2

  10. victorgalipi Says:

    Brent, I do use Bible revisionist often when referring to so-called progressives. For why I refuse to call them “progressives”, I refer you to this:

    https://compassionofthechrist.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/its-time-to-call-progressives-what-they-are/

    I have also started to use Gnostic because these Bible revisionists are often just that, Gnostics. Gnosticism, as you may know, is a heresy older than the Christian church that began to infect the church almost from the beginning. The Gnostics could not be reasoned with because they believed, or claimed to believe, that they have a superior spiritual enlightenment and special knowledge from God.

    When people talk about “a new movement of The Holy Spirit”, when they claim to have new knowledge about human sexuality that no one has had before and that it supersedes or reinterprets what the Bible says, I don’t know what else to call it but Gnosticism. And Biblical revisionism; they go hand in hand.

    And yes I am, by definition, calling them heretics.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Ahh… Gnostic in the less formal sense of possessing some secret knowledge (the gno- in gnostic means “to know”) revealed to a relative few. I see what you mean. I’ll read your blog post later. I don’t think I’ve checked out your blog yet! But I will!

      • victorgalipi Says:

        Exactly, Brent.

        Some Bible revisionists are also Gnostics in the more formal sense of believing that Christ was a spirit that only appeared to have a body, and thus did not die on the cross or rise from the dead.

        From what I’ve seen in blogging and social media, as well as talking to people face to face, is that often those who are Gnostic in one sense are also Gnostic in the other. They don’t believe Christ bodily died and rose again, and they don’t believe homosexuality is a sin.

        This figures, since the core problem with Gnostics or heretics of any kind is a lack of trust in, respect for and obedience to the authority of the word of God and thus the authority of God Himself.

        As to my blog,great, check it out. You might find a couple worthwhile points there. 😉

  11. Grant Essex Says:

    Well, people trying to make the Bible say what they want/need for it to say, to justify their point of view is as old as the Scripture itself. To one extent or another, I have found that most Christians seek to remake God in their own image, saying things like, “My God wouldn’t do something like that…”, or “That’s not the God I know”. It’s a temptation we all suffer, because it’s one of Satan’s favorite tools. He used in in the Garden of Eden, and he tried to use it on Jesus in the wilderness.

    Being faithful to the full meaning of Scripture means balancing Grace with Truth, because where you find Jesus teaching one, you also find him flavoring it with the other. It is just another reason why one can never plumb the full depth of the scriptural waters.

    My challenge is to try and speak the Truth, as I understand it, with love and patience. It’s up to God to do the rest.

    • victorgalipi Says:

      Good point, Grant. It’s a point I make in this post, my first in a series on Biblical interpretation:]

      https://compassionofthechrist.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/misrepresenting-god-the-original-sin/

      You are so right, the challenge is to balance grace and truth, to “truth in love”. What makes it even more challenging is that we have in Christianity this idea that to disagree means to be hateful and intolerant. If that were the case, Jesus Christ would have been very hateful and intolerant. Of course, there are those who think He was just that. That is of course far from the truth.


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