Wilson on homosexuality and the church: “Which way have you gotten to that conclusion?”

Pastor and theologian Andrew Wilson explains why homosexuality is the issue these days.
Pastor and theologian Andrew Wilson explains why homosexuality is the issue these days.
“This is part of… sort of the bullshit that really pushes people away,” said Rob Bell, toward the end of a debate with Andrew Wilson on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? podcast a couple of years ago.

Bell became indignant after Wilson and host Justin Brierley began pressing him to clarify his view of homosexual practice. After an hour-long discussion in which he and Wilson agreed on many other matters related to Christian faith—including the bodily resurrection of Jesus—why is Bell’s view on homosexuality a litmus test for Christian or evangelical orthodoxy? Why hasn’t Brierley pressed Wilson to clarify his views on matters of faith over which they disagree?

I suspect many of my fellow United Methodist clergy wonder the same thing about people like me, who support our church’s traditional stance on sexuality.

Why is this issue such a big deal when we agree on so many other things? Why are we theologically conservative Methodists willing to die on this particular hill?

Good question!

Andrew Wilson offers an answer that I wish all my colleagues on the left-wing of our denomination or in the “Methodist middle” could hear. Wilson gets it exactly right, as far as I’m concerned.

For anyone who wants to know why I’ve become a stick in the mud on this issue—why I’ve proven to be a disappointment to erstwhile friends and supporters over this issue—here it is. I can’t improve upon what Wilson says. I can’t say it any better or more succinctly. (Wilson’s response begins around the 19:00 minute mark in the video below.)

The question is why is the issue there, isn’t it?… It’s how you got to that position? In some ways, what I’m trying to establish is, if you got to the position of saying, “I affirm this because I genuinely don’t believe that anything in the Bible indicates that it’s sinful, and therefore I think we should celebrate it because God does, because Jesus does, because the apostles did, because the prophets did. This is just a great thing. And two thousand years of church history have been wrong—they’ve been reading it wrong. And here’s a whole bunch of scholarship to support that position.

If that’s how you got there, I’d say, “Well, I disagree, but I’d love to see the evidence. I’d love to work through it.”

If you’re saying, “The world’s moved on. God’s going to get left behind if we don’t change it, even though, to be honest, I’ve got a sneaking feeling that there might be a lot in scripture that speaks against this. But I just don’t think we can afford to keep sticking with that because it looks boring and retrograde and backward and intolerant. So we will drop what Jesus or Paul or the apostles or anyone else were saying in order to make ourselves more adaptable to the age.

That doesn’t mean you’re not a Christian—of course it doesn’t… But it does mean that there’s something quite fundamental that might be switching, which is saying, “I don’t think I can hold this text as being the high standard for behavior and morality, and that’s a big enough deal to people like me… And I think if you shared my view on those texts you’d probably feel similarly. So it’s really, which way have you gotten to that conclusion?

You may watch the video below:

10 thoughts on “Wilson on homosexuality and the church: “Which way have you gotten to that conclusion?””

  1. That does explain why you are so frustrated with your more liberal colleagues but it still doesn’t explain why you are so obsessed with *this* issue, above all the others you could choose (greed, violence, divorce, failure of stewardship of the Earth, etc).

    1. I disagree that I’m obsessed with this issue. I spend more time thinking and arguing about music, my record collection, and Georgia Tech football, but this is a church-related blog.

      Nevertheless, this issue pertains to an attitude toward the authority of scripture about which I have strong convictions. If my church gets the Bible wrong, I believe, then it will get nearly everything else wrong—even some of the issues you name here.

      So, yes, I think one recurring theme of this blog is to offer a defense of scripture and orthodox Christian doctrines. The debate over sexuality, which will likely split the UMC, is Ground Zero right now for the argument over the meaning and authority of scripture. I’m passionate about that. If it seems like an obsession, then so be it.

      Still, in the rarefied world United Methodist clergy, this issue is nearly all anyone talks about—on all sides of the issue—so I’m hardly alone. It’s been in the news even this week. A recent church news event is usually what prompts me to write about it here.

      I also think I can write well and intelligibly about it.

      I don’t preach about it very much, however, and I do preach about at least a few of the things you mention above.

  2. Basically what progressive, moderate and evangelical folks who affirm same-sex marriage are saying is that our traditional interpretation has gotten it wrong when we take a few passages of transgressive man-on-man intercourse from an ancient context and apply it to loving, committed Christian homosexuals who want to be married.

    In ancient times, there was an assumed gender binary of male and female. Their were LGBTQIA people of course but they mostly – eunuchs being the only exception – wer not thought as identifiable group based on their non-conforming gender or sexual orientation. And while there were gay people, the vast majority of same-sex behavior was done by straight people. And given the typical Biblical context of idolatrous temple practices, power-imbalanced pederasty and violent anti-other rape (as in the Sodom story) or war crimes, it is time to reevaluate the traditional interpretation based on our knowing things now that our forebears did not know. In that sense, it’s like fossils and evolutionary science causing us to look at the creation text differently.

    And when you look at those texts with open eyes, it is certainly possible to see them differently. There is no part in the bible that considers homosexual or intersex people as kinds of people and applies rules to them unless you look at eunuchs. And eunuchs were indeed treated as an unclean group not allowed to worship in temple. But the Holy Spirit changed that. So there is a New Testament warrant to treat this class of people differently.

    Marriage of course has changed many times and quite significantly over the centuries. While I agree it is Biblically supported, it was most often more civilly defined than religiously defined. And typically implemented at a social and family level. Of course the church did get involved, and remember church and state intertwined for much history. But remember Protestants generally and UMC particularly do not define marriage as sacrament. Typically we’ve let the civil authorities define marriage and we’ve followed local laws. The post-1972 incompatibility clause and its subsequent ramifications have been aberrant in terms of telling the state how to define marriage.

    So, seems to me, there is a high bar for the UMC to defend why it’s okay to discriminate against gay folks now that we straights have evolved marriage legally into a form that makes sense to gays as well as straights.

    1. In antiquity, lesbian relationships weren’t known to be pederastic, exploitative, violent, or non-consensual, yet those relationships are also condemned in Romans 1. Mutuality is also implied for man-with-man sex in that passage. Besides, to say that, in spite of what scripture SAYS about homosexual behavior, here’s what it really means, or here’s what the Bible writers would say if only they had this supposedly new information, is an argument from silence.

      Jesus’ own words in Mark 10/Matthew 19 cite the complementarity of sexes as one prerequisite for God-ordained sexual behavior. Both Jesus’ words and Paul’s look back to the Creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2: they affirm sexual difference and complementarity. Man finds in woman, literally, his missing part, and vice versa.

      My point is, if homosexual behavior, per se, is contrary to God’s intentions for humanity, then no quality of that relationship—is it committed, monogamous, stable?—makes it ok.

      1. The Bible does not address – neither yea nor nay – the idea of a commited marriage between two of the same gender. There is no prohibition in text. It has been misread into it by tradtion – and by “tradition” we are speaking of the last 50 years or so. So by your reasoning we both have an argument from silence.

      2. As I said, Jesus’ and Paul’s affirmation of Genesis 1 and 2 rule it out. Only through the coming together of two sexually differentiated human beings do the “two become one flesh.” Notice Paul’s argument against sleeping with prostitutes in 1 Corinthians 6: some Corinthians believed it was acceptable because, after all, it was merely physical—not spiritual. No, Paul says, the mere physical, bodily act of sexually complementary humans coming together makes the two “one flesh.” This making of “one flesh” doesn’t occur except in male and female coming together.

        In Genesis 2, God takes the “side” of the man and creates the woman. When he sees her, he recognizes that he has found his missing part in her. She completes him. One man can’t give to another man what that man is missing, just as one woman can’t give to another woman what that woman is missing. Only a sexual complement can do that.

      3. My point is, there is a logic underneath Jesus’ words about marriage which not only rules out divorce and remarriage (in most cases) but also polygamy, adultery, fornication, and bestiality. That logic is embedded in the Creation stories themselves.

      4. And isn’t clear that the prohibition against same-sex marriage isn’t in the text itself but rather added to it by human logic? That’s my point.

        I think gay Christians are owed an explanation why their marriages are sinful. Where is the harm in their marriages. All sin harms somebody. Saying it is somehow against a concept of natural order doesn’t cut it. Where is the harm?

        I think straight Christians are owed an explanation why they should be discriminating. There is well documented harm to gay folks that has followed directly and indirectly from anti-gay teaching. This is sin. There are many gay – – and many allies and family members – who have been pushed away from church and, therefore, away from God as a result of this. Christians are being misled from bad teaching so as to violate the great commandment (loving God and loving neighbor) and missing the mark very wide of the great commission (making disciples).

        We need to count the cost of these harms and repent.

      5. Regarding your first paragraph, we disagree, and I await engagement on your part with ANYTHING that I’ve said so far in this conversation. The Bible texts unambiguously rule out sexual practice. But it’s not as if you’re only disagreeing with me. The unanimous teaching of the church until very recently was that those texts with which we’re both familiar prohibit same-sex sexual activity. There is no quality of the relationship that can redeem them—the incestuous relationship discussed in 1 Corinthian 5, for all we know, may have been loving, monogamous, committed, etc., yet Paul won’t hear of it. The behavior itself, apart from repentance, risks excluding someone from God’s kingdom.

        As I’ve argued even in these short comments, the Bible—including Jesus and Paul—teach that only male and female can become become “one flesh” through sexual union. Therefore, marriage itself can’t be consummated, for example, through two men having anal sex.

        As far as the sin of homosexual practice harming someone, we should first approach the question with some humility. Remember Judges? Everyone did what was right in their own eyes? Besides, to ask where the harm is, as Andrew Wilson says in the linked video, is begging the question, isn’t it? Doesn’t God get to say what is and isn’t sinful and therefore harmful? Why do you resist the idea that God gets to say how we use our bodies, sexually? If God doesn’t want us to use our bodies in this way, then the harm is in our relationship with God—irrespective of any harm on the horizontal plane of human relationships.

        Nevertheless, given the vast difference in life expectancies, the transference of diseases (not only HIV), mental illness, suicide rates, and drug abuse between gay and straight men, for example, an unbiased observer might very well say that there is obvious harm that results from doing something that is against our natures.

        As to love, if unrepentant homosexual behavior potentially excludes someone from God’s kingdom, then it would be unloving to say or teach otherwise.

  3. Yet the church easily made peace with divorce and remarriage, didn’t it? Why? Because straight men are divorcing and re-marrying and they determine what goes, not based on scripture, but on what is working for them. Everyone else needs to conform to their view of scripture. Because there are more of them.

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