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United Methodist Bishop Mack B. Stokes died last week just shy of his 101st birthday.

Bishop Mack B. Stokes (UMNS photo)

Below are insights from Bishop Stokes on the topic of human sexuality, offered from the standpoint of Christianity’s historic teaching and the particular emphasis of Wesleyan believers regarding on holiness of heart and life.

The material is excerpted from the out-of-print book Scriptural Holiness For the United Methodist Christian (Discipleship Resources, 1987).

Bishop Stokes’ other books include The Holy Spirit in the Wesleyan Heritage (1993), Major United Methodist Beliefs (revised 1998), and person-to-Person: Building a Relationship with God Through Prayer (2007).

Marion “Mack” Boyd Stokes served on the faculty of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology from 1941 until 1972, when he was elected to serve as a bishop of the United Methodist Church.

(NOTE: References below to the United Methodist Book of Discipline have been updated to conform to current wording and paragraph numbering.)

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When God created human beings in his image, God made them male and female (Gen. 1:27). And God called them to be “fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28)…. Therefore, in keeping with the biblical revelation, “we affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons” (¶161F, The Book of Discipline—2008).

As is the case with all human desires, sexual desires need to be directed and controlled. God’s call to holiness includes Christian stewardship of our sexuality. For this reason the biblical teaching is that “sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage” (¶161F).

This raises serious questions…. What about premarital sex? What about homosexuality? What about promiscuity? What about adultery?…

[W]hen God’s love is immediately present and operative in us, how do we act?… For one thing, we act in full respect for the sacredness of our own body and soul, as well as for the body and soul of the other person…. It is not enough to think in terms of “consenting adults.” That is relevant in democratic courts of law…. [But] Christian youth and adults are governed by the presence of the living Christ in them and reserve for their life-partners in marriage the full expression of their sexuality….

[In regard to homosexuality,] the basic question is: What does holiness — the love of God and neighbor — move us to do?

Beyond question there are persons with homosexual tendencies. And beyond question they are precious in the sight of God. Christ’s grand redemptive work has been done for all. And all are called to be redeemed by grace through faith. But is the practice of homosexuality in keeping with God’s holy purpose for our lives?

Among the ancient Greeks and Romans the practice of homosexuality was condoned. And among some people today this practice is condoned and even publicly acclaimed. But in the Hebrew-Christian heritage this practice has not been approved. It has been repudiated as contrary to the revealed purpose of God for our lives.

Our standards are not to be governed by the pagans of ancient Greece and Rome. Nor are they to be guided by the standards and values of those of our own time who are not interested in what the Holy Creator requires.

It is one thing to have homosexual tendencies — just as it is to have tendencies toward promiscuity — but it is another to practice it. This is why we United Methodists say that “we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” (¶161F)….

[As regards promiscuity, i]s it not one of the cheapest and most contemptible ways of using others as means to the gratification of elemental selfish desires? And is not this on the side of evil and against God and his righteousness?… In the light of the Bible and God’s holy purpose, promiscuity is as far removed from the grace of God in Christ as hell is from heaven….

[In summary, w]e may say that scriptural holiness leads us to practice the formula: In singleness, chastity; in marriage, fidelity.


Related posts
What will the bishops do?
Worth reading: ‘Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution’
Chasing away young people by being faithful to the gospel?
What is at stake in the battle over marriage
Should United Methodists agree to disagree on homosexuality?
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Pro-homosexuality foundation pours millions into Catholic and mainline Protestant dissident groups
Riley Case: Retired bishops’ statement is a sign of UMC’s sickness
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
In GBCS article, UM elder argues against celibacy for single clergy
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
Judicial Council overturns bishop’s ruling on sexuality statement
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related articles information
Why The Church is so concerned with same-sex marriage and homosexual ordination | Timothy C. Tennent (Nov. 26, 2012)
United Methodists uphold policy that calls homosexual acts ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ | Daniel Burke, Religion News Service (May 3, 2012)
The church addresses marriage and sexuality | Thomas A. Lambrecht, Good News (January/February 2012)
Outsider influence over homosexuality at General Conference | Karen Booth, Good News (January/February 2012)
Eros defended or eros defiled — What do Wesley and the Bible say? | Ben Witherington, The Bible and Culture (Patheos.com) (Feb. 14, 2011)
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (ordering details) | Maxie Dunnam and H. Newton Malony, ed. (Abingdon Press, 2003)
Anyone who works under the authority or auspices of the Church must be held to the highest standards of behavior, free of misconduct in any form | UMSexualEthics.org
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
UM Judicial Council backs clergy dismissal over affair | Linda Bloom, UMNS (April 27, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
The church and homosexuality | Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, e-Review (Florida United Methodist News Service) (July 12, 2006)
Resources list: Ministry for and with homosexual persons (requested by the UMC’s 2004 General Conference) (PDF) | United Methodist Publishing House
Homosexuality and the Bible (PDF) | R. Albert Mohler Jr., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)

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A Thanksgiving prayer

This classic prayer of thanksgiving is adapted from the Book of Common Prayer:

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you’ve done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

thanksgiving_prayerWe thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for our successes, which satisfy and delight us — but also for the disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son, Jesus Christ — for the truth of his Word and the example of his life.

We thank you for his dying, through which he overcame death — and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your Kingdom.

Father, may we — at all times and in all places — give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

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Bill Bouknight

This post is by Dr. William R. Bouknight, associate director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

It first appeared in a slightly different form in the October 2012 Confessing Movement e-newsletter.

Bill Bouknight is the author of The Authoritative Word: Preaching Trust in a Skeptical Age (Abingdon, 2001) and If Disciples Grew Like Kudzu (Bristol House, 2007).

Links have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

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When members of the United Methodist Council of Bishops gather next week (Nov. 4-9) at St. Simons Island, Ga., they will find it difficult to ignore a retired bishop, Melvin G. Talbert.

Bishop Talbert has urged more than 1,000 UM clergy who have committed to officiating at union ceremonies for homosexual couples “to stand firm in their resolve” — even though officiating at homosexual unions would violate the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline.

Furthermore, the Western Jurisdiction has asked Bishop Talbert to oversee a grassroots movement that challenges the entire UMC to operate as if Paragraph 161F of the Book of Discipline “does not exist.” That is called nullification.

In reaction to these developments, more than 70 UM orthodox clergy and laity sent an open letter to the Council of Bishops urging them to “publicly censure” Bishop Talbert. The letter also asks the executive committee of the Council to file a formal complaint against the bishop.

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No-so-great expectations

Despite strong concern within the church about Bishop Talbert’s conduct, my guess is that the Council will do little or nothing about this matter.

From the UM
Book of Discipline

¶161B Marriage

— We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman…. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

¶161F Human Sexuality

…Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage….

The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider[s] this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all….

This pledge by more than 1,000 UM clergy to perform same-sex unions is not new. It was on the Council’s agenda a year ago. Yet the Council could not even bring itself to ask those 1,000 clergy to refrain from violating the Discipline.

(Do you suppose that if 1,000 clergy threatened to withhold apportionment payments, the Council would be that reticent?)

The Council’s problem is that it is hopelessly divided about Scriptural authority, theological worldview, and sexual morality.

Since about 1970, some bishops have been elected who have a relativistic view of Scriptural authority. Some ignore and/or don’t believe in some United Methodist doctrines spelled out in the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith.

On the days of their ordination, they affirmed their belief in all of those doctrines (PDF—see pages 22 and 23). But somehow over the years they have changed. Yet not one of them has reported that change to the Board of Ordained Ministry and offered to turn in his or her credentials.

It is a safe prediction that the Council of Bishops will take no action with regard to Bishop Talbert. Nor will it ask those 1,000 clergy not to violate the Book of Discipline.

Instead, the Council will issue a call for all United Methodists to be tolerant, non-judgmental, and nice — and to engage in holy conferencing.

And the United Methodist Church in the U.S. will continue to decline.

Therefore, the Lord seems to be passing the torch of leadership to the African Methodists. Instead of rebelling against the Book of Discipline, they are focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the eternal salvation of persons and for the transformation of the world.


Related posts
Group of clergy, laity calls for censure of Bishop Talbert
Worth reading: ‘Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution’
Chasing away young people by being faithful to the gospel?
What is at stake in the battle over marriage
Should United Methodists agree to disagree on homosexuality?
General Conference 2012: More attempts to change UM standards on sexual behavior
If defiance continues, United Methodism may come crashing down
Bishop Mack Stokes: Holiness in human sexuality
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops
Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related articles and information
Bishop accused of urging disobedience | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (Aug. 24, 2012)
United Methodists uphold policy that calls homosexual acts ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ | Daniel Burke, Religion News Service (May 3, 2012)
The church addresses marriage and sexuality | Thomas A. Lambrecht, Good News (January/February 2012)
Outsider influence over homosexuality at General Conference | Karen Booth, Good News (January/February 2012)
Book Review: Forgetting How To Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution by Karen Booth | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (March/April 2012)
UM clergy vow to wed homosexual couples | Sam Hodges, UM Reporter (July 15, 2011)
Eros defended or eros defiled — What do Wesley and the Bible say? | Ben Witherington, The Bible and Culture (Patheos.com) (Feb. 14, 2011)
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (ordering details) | Maxie Dunnam and H. Newton Malony, ed. (Abingdon Press, 2003)
Anyone who works under the authority or auspices of the Church must be held to the highest standards of behavior, free of misconduct in any form | UMSexualEthics.org
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
UM Judicial Council backs clergy dismissal over affair | Linda Bloom, UMNS (April 27, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
Slavery, homosexuality, and not being of one mind | Riley B. Case, via The Sundry Times (July 1, 2008)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)

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