United No More

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United No More

 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Matthew 10:13-14

The General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC), its governing body, recently voted to affirm and strengthen the church’s current prohibitions on the ordination of practicing homosexuals and disallowing the performance of same sex marriages by UMC elders or in UMC facilities. A council of UMC Bishops, seeking a way forward from the denomination’s stalemate over issues of sexuality, developed several proposals for consideration. The “One Church Plan,” which allowed individual congregations and pastors latitude in their practices to faithfully witness to Jesus Christ, was defeated. The “Traditional Plan,” strengthening the church’s current position, passed.

I am blessed to have formed relationships with a number of LGBTQ family members and friends before any of them came out as gay. I witnessed the spiritual gifts each possessed and knew them as genuine, loving people of inestimable value long before I could be tempted to think they deserved less than others because God gifted them with a different sexual orientation than I. It is through this experiential lens that I view the UMC’s decision.

The UMC’s statement of belief, from its website, reads:

As United Methodists, we have an obligation to bear a faithful Christian witness to Jesus Christ, the living reality at the center of the Church’s life and witness. To fulfill this obligation, we reflect critically on our biblical and theological inheritance, striving to express faithfully the witness we make in our own time.[1]

I find this statement consistent with Jesus’ oft-repeated instruction, “Follow me.”[2] Jesus, likely intentionally, left much leeway regarding the specifics of how best to follow him, and I respect those whose well-reasoned practices differ from mine.

Here is the crux of my disagreement with the UMC’s Traditional Plan (also called the scriptural option): In my study of the life of Jesus, and in my opinion, following Jesus and following scripture can lead to different positions. For example, in the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery,[3] scripture mandated that she (and her partner) be put to death.[4] A group of Temple devotees asked Jesus for his thoughts. His response, a significant deviation from the scriptural mandate, was “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”[5] Elsewhere in the Gospels, he selectively quotes from scripture, leaving out passages he apparently disagrees with. For example, in Mark 4:18-19, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1-2, but skips the middle of verse 2, “and the day of vengeance of our God,” before reading the remainder of the verse. In addition, Jesus reinterprets scripture, even when it is unambiguous. For example, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’”[6] Then he alters its focus: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”[7] Finally, consistent with his focus on love over condemnation and inclusion over exile, Jesus lumps the concrete mandates of scripture into two statements with broad and imprecise applications: Love God and love your neighbor.[8] My belief is that following Jesus requires far more than a literal application of scripture. When scripture and Jesus diverge, whose authority do we follow? My reading of the UMC’s statement of belief is that Jesus, as “the living reality at the center of the Church’s life and witness, is primary.

No church I am aware of follows scripture to the letter. Everyone, certainly the UMC, picks and chooses which parts to emphasize and how to apply them. For example, scripture states that women should not speak in church,[9] nor are women allowed to teach or have authority over men.[10] One would expect that a church following the letter of scripture would not ordain women. In addition, given what Jesus said about divorce and remarriage,[11] such a church also would not ordain anyone who was divorced and remarried. Thankfully, the UMC does not prohibit either of these from occurring. Yet somehow, the UMC justifies singling out LGBTQ persons for special exclusions. There is no record of Jesus addressing homosexuality or gay marriage. Rather, his apostle, Paul, reminds us that “…in Christ Jesus (we) are all children of God through faith.”[12]

Those who preached the letter of the law and ignored grace were the targets of Jesus’ harshest criticisms.[13] He called them hypocrites. I find every reason to believe Jesus’ application of scripture was selective and conditional – not random, but purposeful, inclusive, and reconciling. He used scripture to encourage us to look within, not to judge others. The hallmark of Jesus’ ministry was the inclusion of those exiled by the government, church, or society. He openly welcomed tax collectors, adulterers, lepers, foreigners, thieves, and those possessed by demons. I find no Jesus-based reason to exclude anyone from full inclusion in the church, including those in the LGBTQ community.

Being united means bringing persons of difference together around a common purpose. It implies harmony. When one part of a body imposes rules prohibiting another part from carrying out its sincerely held beliefs regarding witnessing to Jesus, there cannot be unity. Today, the UMC is neither united nor harmonious, and should it persist with its current position, a respectful, amicable split will be in order. Those of us who feel exiled by the overreaching rules of the UMC will let our peace return to us, shake the dust from our feet, and move on in love.

Disclaimer: I am a lay member of the First United Methodist Church of Lawrence, Kansas. I do not speak for or on behalf of my church or the global United Methodist Church.

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[1] http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/basics-of-our-faith, sourced February 28, 2019.

[2] Matthew 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 16:24, 19:21; Mark 1:17, 2:14, 8:34, 10:21; Luke 5:27, 9:23, 9:59, 18:22; John 1:43, 12:26, 21:19, 21:22.

[3] John 8:1-11.

[4] Deuteronomy 22:22

[5] John 8:7.

[6] Matthew 5:27.

[7] Matthew 5:28.

[8] Matthew 22:37-40.

[9] 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11.

[10] 1 Timothy 2:12.

[11]Matthew 19:9.

[12] Galatians 3:26..

[13] Matthew 15:7, 22:18, 23:13, 23:15, 23:23, 23:27, 23:29; Mark 7:6; Luke 12:56, 13:15.

12 thoughts on “United No More

  1. And posts and thoughts like this are why the church is in so much trouble. You do not properly interpret Scripture. Paul did speak about homosexuality and his writings have just as much weight as the words of Christ recorded in Scripture.

    It is sin and we are not to elevate sin. Jesus never elevated sin, and, contrary to your statement, he did in fact condemn sin. He said to go and sin no more. He did not accept them in their sin, he told them to change.

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      1. Thanks Greg, just curious, which part of my comment do you disagree with or do you disagree with every point including Jesus telling people to go and sin no more?

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      2. David, I disagree with your comment that I am not properly interpreting scripture. I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that stems from a difference of opinion between us about how to properly interpret scripture — a gap I suspect we are not likely to bridge. If my assumption was incorrect, I apologize, but based on my reading of one post on your website, I gather you utilize a much more literal application of scripture than I. Again, if that assumption is incorrect, I apologize. You seem to be well-versed in scripture, and I respect that, but as I note in the post, I do not believe following the gestalt of the life of Jesus depicted in the Gospels and following the mandates of scripture necessarily lead to the same place.

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      3. I agree with you that Jesus took the spirit of the Law, or the intent of the Law. So we actually agree there. But, as I read your article again, you talk about the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church. What you really mean by that is ordination. Based on my reading of Scripture I seriously doubt that would be Christ’s position.

        As I said, and something you have not disputed, Christ always said to turn from your sin. He never condoned it. He also did not put people who were in active sin inside of his inner circle except in one case for a divine purpose and he was called evil.

        I will also say this, be careful when using the story of John 8 to justify a position. It is likely that was not part of original Scripture.

        As far as the letter of the law, that is not who Jesus preached against. He preached against the Pharisees. They were NOT following the law to the letter they actually added to it and twisted it. There is a big difference there.

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      4. David, I think we have very different understandings of the inerrancy of scripture and the nature of sin. While I believe scripture was inspired by God, I do not believe it was dictated by God. Fallible, biased humans received the inspiration and committed it to words as best they knew how at the time. Holding to that belief means I consider scripture more in its totality than in its specificity, even though I used a number of specific scripture passages in my original post. To me, the totality of scripture points to Jesus — God’s Word made flesh, so God could better be made known to us.
        Regarding sin, I believe sin is that which separates us from God. By definition, those who were in Jesus’ inner circle were not separated from God. When he said to “sin no more,” I hear him reaffirming his instruction to follow. Because we all fall away from that instruction does not mean he abandons us, nor is there any indication of such in the gospels. Rather, by grace, he invites us back into fellowship with him. Of course, Jesus wants us to turn from our sin. Our sin, being separated from God, hurts us. But being human himself, he also understood the frail creatures we are. Whether certain behaviors are sinful or not, I believe is subject to debate, based on my belief in scripture being recorded by biased human beings.
        The Pharisees, then and now, were the ones lording their interpretation/misinterpretation of scripture over others. In that sense, I too am a Pharisee, although I try to make clear that my interpretations are only mine, and my hope is to help others think through their faith and their relationship with Jesus and scripture.

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  2. I can agree with you that none of the nominal churches follows Scripture to the letter. They have made stuff up, departed willfully from the sabbath, the feast days, the dietary instructions. They have added in pagan abominations that they now call “worship.”They say the Torah has been “done away with” until they need it for a tithing campaign.

    They also err in this: the assembly is not the “hospital for the lost.” The assembly was for the brethren OF the faith. Paul’s pretty clear on what to do with anyone found in unrepentant sin: they were not OF the brethren. The assembly is the body of Messiah.
    But because nominal Christianity has watered down the faith to some “sinner’s prayer” which you’ll never find in the Scripture anywhere and they are viciously protective of their “grace, grace, and nothing but the grace,” they were instantly–and I’m talking by the turn of the second century, infected by sophists–those who carried in the “cleverly devised fables” that eventually, because they had basically tossed out their scriptures, they couldn’t battle.

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  3. Well written, thought out , and beautifully biblical. When I was asked how I came to my view of including LGBTQ fully, I answered that excluding anyone was not my experience of Jesus. ( And we Methodists are big on experience. I am trying to be patient until the Judicial Council meets in April. My heart aches

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      1. One thing I appreciate about Methodism is Wesley’s Quadrilateral — that we have four sources of information about God: Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. Understanding the Word made flesh requires more than reading the words of others; it can only be experienced in and through our human embodiment. So I believe one of the problems in today’s churches is too much focus on scripture and too little on experience…
        They should be used to inform each other, in my opinion.

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