I don’t understand the “Methodist middle” and other thoughts

May 26, 2015

deyoung_homosexuality_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.

13 Responses to “I don’t understand the “Methodist middle” and other thoughts”

  1. Robert Williams Says:

    Have them consider God’s Anger at Sodom and Gomorrah (S&G). God’s Anger (if not quelled by true repentence) is righteous and unstoppable no matter what we may think. S&G was his anger on a large (community scale). His anger is just as justified on a personal (individual) scale. Of course those that do not seek God’s approval will have no problem justifying Homosexual behavior as OK … no matter the consequences. It is our duty as Christian’s to CHASTISE the sin not to CONDEMN the sinner.

  2. Robert Williams Says:

    Just as God told Paul when his message was not well received in a community … he was to :Kick the sand from his feet and go on to the next (community).

    Once we Chastise in a loving a caring manner without judgment, if not well received … we should move on to the next …

    • brentwhite Says:

      People on the other side believe that God’s love is inconsistent with a God who has justifiable wrath toward sin. How they square this with the Bible, or logic, or their own personal experience I have no idea.

  3. If sin = that which is harmful, we have redefined sin. The burden is not on the church to explain their stance since 1972 (because right, wrong, or indifferent, that is the church’s position); the burden is on those who want change who articulate why it is necessary. Because those who want change have not done an adequate job of doing this, some are seeking to circumvent our processes for change through a variety of means with little regard to our status as a worldwide body.

    I don’t know what people mean by the “middle” and I don’t know to whom you are referring at the top. I am someone who does not identify with the left or the right. I am happy to live in a church that allows some variance on how we understand human sexuality – but how we get there is as important as that we get there.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I disagree that this has been our church’s stance since 1972, only that it never became necessary to articulate what would have been obvious prior to that time.

      The person I was referring to told me that he literally doesn’t care which way our church lands on the issue. He doesn’t see what the fuss is about. I didn’t believe him at first, but now I do. And he’s not alone, unfortunately.

      It’s one thing to be genuinely torn, although I know several progressives who told the Board of Ordained Ministry that they were torn on the issue in order to pass the board. (I used to be part of those conversations, when I was liberal on the issue.) They’re biding their time, believing (hoping, expecting) that church doctrine will change soon enough.

      I agree that “how we get there” is everything. That was Andrew Wilson’s point to Rob Bell in my previous post on the subject.

      Congratulations, by the way. Didn’t I read that you were getting ordained at your annual conference?

  4. Robert Williams Says:

    There are 2 kinds of Logic … Human and Divine. We accept that gravity exists because our Experience tells us that we do not float away when we walk upon Earth. We cannot see or touch gravity but we can feel its effect so therefore our Human Logic says it exists … and we go on our merry way.

    When we become Christians, we begin a journey into Divine logic. We enter a dual alien world of the spirit and physical presence where we must rely on God’s Word to learn, grow (Experience) and prosper there … in a world of Divine Logic; He has promised we shall share his mind as we journey there … first comes Wisdom thru Experience and Divine interaction. Then comes Divine understanding and Logic in proportion to our Wisdom.

    When a Christian encounters a devout humanist that either questions the reality or existence of God, we are thrust into an argument based on Human Logic … we must always convincingly address our opponents at THEIR level of understanding.

    Human Logic is based on man’s understanding of the world he lives in: experiential logic often based on ever evolving observations (often expressed mathematically).

    Human Logic is but a pin prick into the length, width and depth of Divine Logic therefore, how can we possibly explain Divine Logic in terms of Human Logic? Theology is perhaps man’s best attempt to explain the unexplainable … in human terms anyway.

    The problem here is Experience. We all gain worldly experience according to HOW we live. We seek to achieve our “Comfort Zones” in everything we do. For some people, learning and changing requires much failure and/or suffering: We can be a Stiff-Necked lot at times. Change takes us out of our learned comfort zones and can be pretty scary. So Fear is our greatest enemy and obstacle to entering the alien world of Divine Logic. Fear is Satan’s favorite weapon … unremediated fear leads to Anger and unabated Anger leads to Chaos … Satan is the author of Chaos.

    In the program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) we are told that no one can get/make another person sober: they must be READY to get sober first. So how does one know he or she is READY … when they become tired of being sick and tired of the way they are living … simplistic expression in Human terms but TRUE none-the-less.

    No one will accept God until they are ready … let the good/bad times roll! Suffering is a big part of God’s plan for us. He came to earth in Human Form and therefore understands the things that truly motivate us for better or worse.

    As Christians we can only Motivate others to accept God (Evangelize). The final decision is theirs and theirs alone. HOW we motivate in a specific situation depends on OUR experiential walk in Divine Logic and the Divine Wisdom we have been afforded according to God’s calling … unctions of the Holy Spirit.

    So … back to the Gravity thing. It is believed that unraveling the puzzle of the nature of Gravity will lead to the illusive Unified Theory. This is the prime objective of CERN right now. They believe if they can mathematically unite all mathematical theories with a common theory via Gravity … they will have the “Theory of Everything” in hand and possess the potential of becoming Godlike themselves … Satan wishes to share his own personal madness. Like we need a bunch of dancing phDs kneeling before the Idol of Shiva (The God of Destruction).

    If there is any doubt, the Christian Church is under serious assault worldwide and so far we are losing. Every church, pastor, and congregation needs to quadruple their efforts in evangelizing and strengthening their congregations from the Milk to the Meat. In the world that is upon us now … we need all the meat we can hold (Divine Logic and Wisdom) …

    • brentwhite Says:

      Hey Bob! I just figured it this was you! I don’t think of you as “Robert.” Anyway, thank you for this!

  5. Robert Williams Says:

    Brent, don’t have an email for you so I post this Excellent link here for you. You can delete it when you have it … hits the spot quite well


  6. Gary Bebop Says:

    Thanks, Brent, for launching an essential discussion on all that precedes. Esau was willing to toss away the inheritance for temporal gratification, one he perceived to save his flesh. So, too, some United Methodists are willing to toss aside divine commands to “spare the church” whatever. However, some of us will never accede to such ratiocination.

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