Last week, in the wake of the Connectional Table’s proposal to liberalize the United Methodist Church’s doctrine on marriage and sexuality, a clergy colleague in the infamous “Methodist middle” posted on Facebook that he was, in so many words, too busy doing the work of God’s kingdom to worry about the church’s stance toward same-sex sexual practice.
I responded sharply to this person, was rightly criticized by his friends, and apologized. I need to watch my tone if I want to be a constructive voice on this issue. Ugh. I was having a bad day.
After some give and take with my colleague, though, I realized that he sincerely believed that this was a matter of theological indifference. I confess I don’t understand being in the middle on this issue. For the sake of argument, let’s say the other side is right and the church’s nearly two-thousand-year unanimous opinion is wrong (which I don’t believe for a moment), then, by all means, our present doctrine does hurt people who experience same-sex attraction. That pastor in Alabama is right: we’re all drinking from the “colored water fountains” if we don’t stand up for change.
In other words, I stand alongside the left-wing of the church in believing that this can’t be a matter of indifference. Even my liberal acquaintances who accuse me of being “obsessed” with this issue should appreciate that we have this in common: neither side thinks we should be indifferent about it.
I read Kevin DeYoung’s new book on the subject, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?, and he nicely explains why people like me can’t be in the Methodist middle on this subject.
It cannot be overstated how seriously the Bible treats the sin of sexual immorality. Sexual sin is never considered adiaphora, a matter of indifference, an agree-to-disagree issue like food laws or holy days (Rom. 14:1-15:7). To the contrary, sexual immorality is precisely the sort of sin that characterizes those who will not enter the kingdom of heaven. There are at least eight vice lists in the New Testament (Mark 7:21-22; Rom. 1:24-31; 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Col. 3:5-9; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; Rev. 21:8), and sexual immorality is included in every one of these. In fact, in seven of the eight lists there are multiple references to sexual immorality (e.g., impurity, sensuality, orgies, men who practice homosexuality), and in most of the passages some kind of sexual immorality heads the lists. You would be hard-pressed to find a sin more frequently, more uniformly, and more seriously condemned in the New Testament than sexual sin.[†]
In the comments section of last week’s post on the subject, a progressive United Methodist pastor (whom I haven’t met, but who is a frequent contributor to the UMC Clergy Facebook page) said the following:
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’ve heard this before, even on this blog. If you agree with me on this issue, how would you respond to his comment?
Here are some of my thoughts: As for the first sentence, “because the Bible tells me so” is a perfectly sufficient answer for me.
If that sounds glib, what I mean is this: If, after we’ve done our best exegetical and hermeneutical work and come to the conclusion that the Bible rules out same-sex sexual behavior per se, and that it doesn’t depend on any quality or virtue of the relationship (i.e., that it is loving, covenantal, lifelong, monogamous, etc.), then in submission to God’s Word, we obey.
And we obey because we believe that God the Holy Spirit guided the writers of scripture to teach us the same-sex sexual behavior is wrong.
Nevertheless, as I pointed out to him, there is logic behind, for example, Jesus’ words prohibiting divorce and remarriage, which also rules out homosexual practice. It’s the same logic that guides Paul’s words about these relationships being “against nature” in Romans 1:24-27. Gay marriage doesn’t exist (regardless what the state says) because two men or two women can’t become “one flesh” in sexual union. Genesis 1 and 2 require as a prerequisite two sexually different human beings in order to create this bond.
I preached about this last Sunday when I talked about 1 Corinthians 6.
Moreover, Paul dismisses as irrelevant the “quality of relationship” argument when he explains why Corinthian Christians can’t sleep with prostitutes, even though from their perspective this is a meaningless physical act: the mere physical, bodily act of a sexually complementary union makes the two “one flesh.”
What we do with our bodies matters a great deal to God, Paul argues throughout that chapter. God has the right to tell us how we use our bodies sexually. We don’t have to “agree” or even understand it; we just have to obey.
Nevertheless, I offered this brief reply to his comment:
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.
† Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 74.