But UMC progressives are asking conservatives to believe something

May 28, 2016

In my previous post, I complained about a clergy colleague who, in a blog post, said that theological conservatives don’t “believe that God does new things outside of the knowledge base of those who wrote the scriptures under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, when the authors of scripture condemned homosexual behavior in the strongest terms possible, they weren’t condemning homosexual relationships as we understand them today—as loving, consensual, monogamous, and covenantal. That wasn’t part of their “knowledge base” concerning homosexuality.

The Bible, therefore, has little to say about the issue that risks splitting our church today. So we are free to interpret this momentum to change our church’s doctrine on sex and marriage as nothing less than the work of the Holy Spirit.

He then argues that the Bible isn’t an exclusive repository of all truth (a point that no one, to my knowledge, disputes). So why are we Methodists hitching our doctrinal wagon to something about which scripture is silent?

In my brief reply, I wrote:

No. What revisionists on this issue ask us to believe is that the Holy Spirit is “showing us something new,” which contradicts what the Spirit has already shown us.

Arguments about truth outside of scripture are beside the point. Quantum mechanics is beyond the scope of the Bible. Sex and marriage are not.

To these brief words, another clergy colleague said, “Brent- really not sure anyone is asking you to believe anything. 🙂 ”

His point is that under the changes that many people within the UMC are proposing, progressive clergy will be free to solemnize gay weddings just as conservative clergy will be free not to. We’ll all have freedom of conscience on this issue.

Aside from the fact that I was using “asking us to believe” as a figure of speech, and that I was using “us” collectively—to represent not only me but the church as a whole (I assume that progressive clergy will try to persuade their congregations to see things their way)—is my colleague’s statement even true?

For one thing, we are a “connectional” church. I could be appointed to the same local church as a progressive pastor or deacon who opposes the traditional view that I hold. Am I supposed to be O.K. with their teaching or preaching something to my congregation that I believe is deeply in error? Am I supposed to tell the congregation that, despite what they’ve been told by my well-credentialed colleague, he or she is wrong? Or vice versa?

Or am I supposed to ignore the issue in the interest of peace and harmony? (Not that most United Methodist clergy aren’t already doing this.)

To say the least, this would create great confusion among the flocks that we shepherd.

So, yes, even if we change our doctrine to reflect an “agree to disagree” position on this subject, the church would be asking me to believe something important: It would be asking me to believe that the issue of homosexual behavior is a matter of theological indifference, or of merely secondary concern next to the main task of making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Never mind that from my perspective we’re not making disciples properly unless we’re teaching them to repent of their sin, which includes all sexual sin, and to obey God’s Word, which includes his words about sexual complementarity as one prerequisite for marriage.

14 Responses to “But UMC progressives are asking conservatives to believe something”

  1. davenuckols Says:

    While I think you hyperbolize the case, it is true that the agree to disagree position asks all to agree that same sex marriage belongs in the “in non essentials, tolerance” category of the classic formulation “in essentials, unity; in non essentials, tolerance; and in all things love and charity.” This is not to say the matter is one of indifference, but rather it is saying it is not required for Christian unity or, in our case, denominational unity. I, for one, believe keeping the Great Commandment and fulfilling the Great Commission — and doing so individually and together as church united — are far more important than uniformity of belief on the question of same sex marriage. After all, it you see acceptance of same sex marriage as a heresy, you’ll have to evict half our current members in the U.S., and say farewell to most of our youth.

    UMCers generally and our pastors specifically have long disagreed whether remarriage after secularly defined “no fault divorce” is a sin. Indeed scripture is more clear on this than on the question of same sex marriage (which scripture doesn’t address explicitly). And yet we trust pastors to make their own calls regarding officiating such marriages after divorce. And we give them freedom of the pulpit to preach what they will on the matter.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Dave,

      I disagree that the question of whether homosexual behavior, per se, is sinful is any less clear than divorce and remarriage. (And if the behavior per se is sinful, there’s no need to ask about the qualities of the particular sexual relationship.) Regardless, no Methodist pastor I know, conservative or liberal, is saying, “Yay, divorce! Let’s have more of it! It’s a great thing!” If they were, perhaps you, too, would be advocating for a split… I don’t know.

      Regardless, people who divorce and remarry ought to acknowledge in most cases (and probably would acknowledge) that their own sin contributed in some way to the tragic circumstances that led to their divorce. And most Protestants would disagree with Catholics, for example, that remarriage after divorce represents an ongoing, recurring sin such that every time one has sex with one’s spouse one would be committing adultery.

      Besides, by that logic, the problem is much larger than just divorce and remarriage. Think of the (vast majority of?) Methodists who get married the first time, having previously had a sexual relationship with someone other than the person whom they’re marrying. They have already become “one flesh” with someone else, yet here they are committing themselves to a new sexual relationship with someone else.

      And Jesus intensifies the problem even more, of course, by equating lust with adultery.

      My response to these challenges to faithful Christian living is not to say, “We can’t live up to a Christian (and biblical) sexual ethic anyway, so let’s throw out the rules entirely. It doesn’t matter what we do or how we behave.” Not at all! We ought to instead say, “The Law can only condemn us because we are helpless sinners. Thank God there’s grace for those who repent!” And of course that grace would cover people who commit any manner of sexual sin, including homosexual sin.

      But there it is: that’s at the heart of our disagreement: Is homosexual behavior per se a sin that requires repentance.

      One necessary part of the gospel is letting the full weight of God’s law condemn us: we have sinned! “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” This Bad News, I believe, is the beginning of the Good News.

      Nevertheless, I do hear you agreeing wth me that there are some essentials about which we ought to divide, if we had had to. I believe this issue is one of them; you don’t. But in principle you don’t disagree that there are essentials.

      By the way, I always frame this issue in terms of clergy and what they believe, not laity, young or old. I don’t blame Methodist laity for being confused about sex and marriage. How could they not be? We live in a sexually confused culture, and our church leaders have failed to navigate them through these treacherous waters.

      • davenuckols Says:

        Where we are talking past each other is this: you seem to be focused on all same sex acts as if all are sinful whether within a same sex marriage or not but I am focused on marriage including same sex marriage. I believe that outside of marriage the sinfulness of heterosexual and homosexual sex acts are the same. And that inside monogamous marriage the non-sinfulness of heterosexual and homosexual sex acts are the same. I do not believe that there’s a free pass for previously sexually active heterosexuals once the are married than is in any way different for homosexuals once they are married.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Right, but that’s a separate issue I’ve dealt with on many occasions on this blog (as have many others). There’s no such thing as same sex marriage. I believe that nothing other than two sexually complementary people can make a one-flesh bond. That God took a part of the man to form the woman means that only in the woman does he find—quite literally—his missing part. And vice versa.

        And the pushback from progressives is, “You can’t take that literally.” To which I say, “Then by all means take it figuratively!” The result is the same. As someone else has said, if Gen 1 and 2 (and Jesus’ use of them in his discussion of divorce and remarriage) don’t require sexual complementarity as one prerequisite for marriage, then we need a new creation myth! This is the one that we have been given—and it’s on this basis that homosexual behavior is a sin.

      • davenuckols Says:

        Oh. I guess that is another thing progressives and gay-affirming evangelicals are asking you to believe Brent: That same sex marriage exists.

        Let’s add: That gay Christians exist. And that we are to treat them as we ourselves would like to be treated.

      • brentwhite Says:

        At least we’re clear on where we disagree.

        But I agree with your last sentence. If I were engaging in a spiritually harmful behavior (as I often have and do) and didn’t know it, then I hope that someone would love me enough to say so!

      • davenuckols Says:

        Per your request, I must inform you that your behavior toward gay persons is doing spiritual harm to them and also towards yourself.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Have I not been respectful toward you up to this point, Dave? Regardless, I’ll stick with every saint and every doctor of the church who lived prior to the sexual revolution and assume that they know more than I do.

  2. davenuckols Says:

    I think you’ve been respectful to me personally Brent. Of course, I think it is disrespectful to gay persons to pretend that same sex marriage doesn’t exist. But you’ve not been disrespectful to me personally.

    It seems from your question that you do not feel I’ve been respectful to you. I was not meaning disrespect when I answered your request for loving rebuke. I offered that from my belief that Matthew 25:41-46 applies. And my belief that the church will eventually repent for the wrongs we’ve perpetrated against gay persons. Nevertheless, I apologize for giving offense.

    I can only hope God will forgive us in view of our being mislead by Tradition as far as patriarchy and heterosexism. I hope likewise He forgave my slaveholding ancestors on similar grounds.

    Perhaps it is best we leave it there.

    Peace.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Fine, but respect me enough to believe that what you ascribe to patriarchy and heterosexism (I went to Candler; I know what both those words mean)—or the blind submission to tradition—I ascribe to an honest interpretation of scripture. If I believed the Holy Spirit were telling us something else through God’s Word, I would change my mind.

      But before I did, I’d want to make sure because Paul warns that unrepentant sexual sin, among others, risks excluding someone from God’s kingdom.

  3. healthrite40 Says:

    Thank you seriously Brent for your work it only took me about three months of going to the First United Methodist Church in Valley Center to see the seriousness and agree that the devil has gotten homosexuality into the Methodist Church it really saddens me because my grandparents got us into the Methodist Church my grandmother was a choir director now we don’t go to church at all still Church hopping and hoping but from what I learned in prison is totally opposite of what the methodists Carryout on the outside world the Methodist where I live is a mutual admiration Society of so-called Believers that know absolutely nothing about the Bible no one in the Sunday School classes would ever take a Bible they just read the evil books that Adam Hamilton wrote about homosexuality and were brainwashed and actually believed it I chose the flight to run you have chose the path to fight and I really admire you I will be praying for you thank you so much for your work

    Sent via the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

  4. bobbob Says:

    Bravo, Brent, Bravo!
    Next we will hear from progressives that murder by abortion is not really sinful. whatever happened to sin? O! I know. It’s all relative. If the Bible doesn’t mention it, it isn’t sin.

    Our God is not merely for our convenience. Jesus’ resurrection remedies the destructive power of sin, but does not remove the tedancies toward sin. He said what He said and He meant it.

    What Dave is arguing for is for open Scripture interpretation, not just re-interpretation. It means what I want it to mean. Neither he nor anyone else can presume to speak for the holy spirit, ordination or none.

    A gay friend brought up the WWJD thing in a recent intense discussion. I said that’s irrelevant. He would love us, he said. Yes, I retorted, but Jesus didn’t back down from calling out sin where He saw it. The better question is what did He do?


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