“The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all.” (¶161F, The Book of Discipline—2008)
A recent MethodistThinker post (“Defying denomination, UM church in D.C. offers to perform same-sex weddings”) elicited responses from several readers who argued that the United Methodist Church should embrace, affirm, and celebrate homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage.
Acting through legislation debated and adopted by the General Conference, the United Methodist Church has characterized male-male and female-female sexual relations as being “incompatible with Christian teaching,” i.e., at odds with the historic teaching of the Christian church rooted in revelation from God, articulated by the apostles and church fathers, and handed down through the ages.
This precept of abiding by “received teaching” on homosexual practice is prominent in several essays in Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (Abingdon Press, 2003).
Following are brief excerpts from three of the book’s 17 essays.
From “The Church’s Teaching on Sexuality” by William J. Abraham (Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies, Perkins School of Theology, SMU):
On the matter [of homosexuality], conservatives are both tenacious and urgent. This is not accidental.
They are tenacious because the position they hold is not just a matter of human judgment or opinion. It is construed as the teaching of our Lord in divine revelation.
They are urgent because they believe that the rejection of divine revelation involves the unraveling of the fabric of faith and the radical undermining of the canonical commitments of The United Methodist Church. For better or worse, they foresee chaos and division if the position of the Book of Discipline were [to be] revised….
[W]hat is at stake are the foundations of the Church in the Word of God and the place of The United Methodist Church within the church catholic and apostolic.
At issue is…what standards of morality exist for the community called to biblical holiness. Neither polls nor political votes [determine] categories or sin. The identification [of a certain percentage] of the population [with a particular sexual expression] is no reason to change moral standards.
Alternative expressions, against which Christian behavior will appear countercultural, will always exist. Even if the culture at large is changing, Christianity is not mandated to alter its identity such that it can no longer be distinguished from the larger society….
Traditionally, “sin” referred to a rebellious spirit, intentional insubordination resulting in separation from God the Creator; [from] humanity; and, for all intended purposes, [from] creation itself. In contrast, pro-homosexual advocates view the church’s greatest sin as its refusal to accept those who are different….
This view holds that homosexual practice merely represents an alternative lifestyle, not a biblical transgression. The Church is asked to do more than allow for alternative practice: Pro-homosexual activists desire affirmation, not just understanding and leniency.
From “The Real Disagreement” by Elizabeth Moreau (an elder in the Texas Annual Conference and author of I Believe… Something! The Ancient Faith Speaks to Today’s Church — Xulon Press, 2009):
The biblical witness is uniform in its rejection of homosexuality…. Therefore, the entire debate surrounding homosexuality focuses on whether that biblical teaching can be normative for this generation of Christians….
The counterclaim [to official UM doctrine] that homosexuality is compatible with Christian teaching challenges the truth of divine revelation…. [It is] to receive the Scripture in a manner at odds with the interpretation of every other branch of the church of Jesus Christ….
[This novel] approach to biblical interpretation… implies a sort of modern-day gnosticism, in which secret or special knowledge is required to understand the Scriptures and, therefore, to encounter and know God.
If we take seriously the notion of human sin, then we finally cannot allow human knowledge and experience to judge divine revelation; rather, divine revelation judges human knowledge and experience. The role of Scripture is to take human experiences of sin, darkness, and death, and through the light of revelation, bring human beings to the fullness of life in Jesus Christ….
If it is necessary to abandon the authoritative teaching of the Bible, then we have little to offer the homosexual community, and everyone else for that matter. When we dismiss the Bible’s portrayal of sin, we must also discard the promises of new life and transformation found in the Bible….
If we now abandon the gospel of the Scriptures to accommodate cultural preferences, then we do not have the gospel of Jesus Christ, at least not a gospel recognizable to the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.
In short, changing The United Methodist Church’s position on homosexuality is like pulling a thread, which then unravels the whole fabric….
What is at stake in the debate over homosexuality is what one believes Jesus Christ has to offer homosexual individuals, indeed all individuals…. That is why the debate is so ferocious and the conflict so relentless.
The issue is not merely homosexuality; homosexuality is the starting point for a debate over the content of the Christian faith.
Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality also features essays by, among others, Leicester Longden, Richard B. Hays, Thomas C. Oden, and Maxie Dunnam. The table of contents is here.