Another pastoral letter ( https://fumcfw.org/fumcnews/what-does-the-bible-say/) has made it into the limelight recently. Between various pastors and Bishops, the question must now be asked if they are even aware of Methodist beliefs. This is concerning for many reasons, not the least of which is the reality that we no longer share the same basic belief structure. I hope that you took the time to read the above link as I will use it to demonstrate the trend. The claims made in this copy cat of a letter show the same pattern of thought that does not hold up under examination.
“There are only six verses in the Bible that seem to address homosexuality. ” This is an often repeated refrain that is technically true, but extremely misleading. There is a list of prohibited sexual practices in scripture. That list, as a whole, is what is commonly referred to as sexual immorality. Sexual immorality is mentioned a great deal in scripture, and that includes, but is not limited to, sex between two of the same gender. Removing one part of that list, then claiming it is barely mentioned, is an artificial separation not intended by the Biblical authors. That said, the letter goes on to examine these verses, so I shall as well.
The letter writer brings up Sodom. He says the following: “This story of Sodom in Genesis 19 in reality is more about rape — sexual violence — than about homosexuality.” Again true, but misleading as it is not the entire truth. The prophets speak of the lack of hospitality of Sodom, and rightly so. The city was completely wicked in all of it’s ways. Part of that wickedness was, however, sexual immorality as we are told in Jude 1:7. ” A plain reading of the story in no way condemns a loving, consensual, committed relationship between two adults.” This much is true, yet equally true is that it does not affirm a loving, consensual, committed relationship between two adults of the same gender either. The sort of language that the letter writer uses is a clever change all in all as scripture nowhere speaks of the marriage covenant that does not involve a male and a female. While the story of Sodom should not be reduced to any one sin, neither should the sexual immorality of Sodom be ignored if we are to approach the story honestly and with integrity.
Next the author mentions Leviticus, followed by how we ignore most of those laws anyway. Whether the letter writer, or you or I for that matter, agree with the division of the OT law, Methodist theology does.
“Article VI — Of the Old Testament The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard who feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses as touching ceremonies and rites doth not bind Christians, nor ought the civil precepts thereof of necessity be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.” I dare say whom we choose to have sex with is a moral decision, thus what the OT says about that applies. By the way, his entire approach to Leviticus is terrible.
I am not going to bother with the incredibly poor treatment of the various letters of Paul, as they hinge upon the idea that they do not condemn loving, committed relationships, as the premise is faulty. Scripture presents sexual immorality as inherently sinful, not conditionally sinful. Nowhere is any type of marriage recognized in scripture that is anything but male and female, or at some points females. Our Wesleyan heritage and tradition recognizes the same.
His end point though is the most disturbingly wrong however. “Our Lord summed up all the scriptures with just two commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)” Now he is of course correct in what Christ said, of that there is no doubt. Worth noting is that Christ was answering a question about the first and greatest commandment, so he answered correctly with love of God. What does that mean? It is not simply affection toward God, far from it. Love of God is never separated from obedience to God. Out Jewish fathers new this, as did our Christian church fathers. The idea that you can divorce love of God from obedience to God is the spiritual cancer of this age. To this, Christ attaches love of neighbor. Oddly enough, Jesus is quoting Leviticus chapter 19 which is part of the section that we are allowed to ignore according to him. Whoops.
At the end of this, what do we know for certain? We don’t disagree on a portion of scripture, we disagree on basic scriptural interpretation. We don’t only disagree on LGBTQ Marriage in the church, we disagree on what constitutes sexual immorality and if you can pick and choose. We disagree on what the basic standards for ordination should be. We disagree on basic anthropological matters, as it was well known in the ancient world that there were those who preferred those of the same gender as evidenced by the numerous laws affirming, or condemning, that have been found. The only common ground we seem to have is Jesus and I would normally say that was enough, but we can’t even agree on who He is and what He said, so that is not enough either. It is time to end the institution for the sake of the church. This letter, and the many it echoes, is proof of that.