Why The Church Is So Concerned With Same-Sex Marriage and Homosexual Ordination

Monday, November 26th, 2012

I occasionally hear someone make the case that evangelicals have invested far too much energy fighting against same sex marriage and the ordaining of homosexuals as pastors in the church.  There are some who have become convinced by weak exegesis and, feeling the winds of culture blowing, have convinced themselves that the Bible doesn’t actually condemn homosexual behavior.  Texts such as Genesis 19:1-11 and Lev. 18:22; 20:13 and Judges 19:11-24 and Romans 1:18-32 and I Corinthians 6:9-11 and I Timothy 1:8-10 and Jude 7, not to mention texts like Matthew 19:4-6 where Jesus himself clearly teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman, are all swept aside with some version of the question, “hath God truly said…?”   This is, of course, the well trodden response which first appears in Genesis 3:1 and has been a favorite wedge of the enemy against God’s Word.  I do believe that evangelicals must become more devoted readers of the Scriptures and less susceptible to specious arguments which erode thousands of years of faithful Jewish- Christian teaching.   But, I will need to devote more time in some future blog to address this problem.   In this blog I want to make a point of clarification about those who may agree that homosexual practice is wrong, but wonder why the church seems to be focused on this particular sin and not others.

Why, they argue, do we not seem to exhibit the same kind of righteous indignation against embezzlers or liars or landlords who oppress the poor, as we do against homosexual behavior?   Why, they go on to insist, do we single out this one sin when there are so many others sins we could – and should – oppose?  From this perspective, it seems like the church is doing the ecclesiastical equivalent of a “pile on.”

It is absolutely true that the church must take a stand against all manner of sin, whether it be shoplifting or rape.  All sin is, at its root, an expression of rebellion against God.  Therefore, the church must stand against anything which stands in opposition to His righteous rule and reign.  I think that sexual brokenness runs so deep in our culture that every pastor should take time to regularly address a whole host of issues along the “sexual brokenness” continuum, including pre-marital sex, fornication, adultery, pornography viewing, misogyny, etc.

However, the reason the issue of homosexuality has been highlighted so much in recent years is not, as is often said, because this sin is being singled out from all the others.  Rather, it is because this particular sin is seeking to be legitimized as normative in the life and experience of the church.  I expect the wider secular culture to embrace homosexuality as normative and, indeed, to be regularly bewildered by the strangeness of Christian teaching.  The point is, no one in the church has sought to promote the ordination of openly practicing adulterers or to legitimize the practice of usury.  If there was a movement among us to ordain oppressive landlords or habitual shoplifters, then I suspect that these issues would be regularly discussed as well.  No Christian is now saying that usury is a good thing, or that Christians should no longer consider it important to visit prisoners, or help widows in their distress.  However, we do have bishops who are telling the church that it is now permissible for someone to sodomize their neighbor.   The result is an attempt to legitimize homosexuality and same sex marriage, moving it from the “sin” category to the “sacrament” category.

So, to put in plainly, the church would rather not focus time and energy on homosexuality.   We actually don’t believe that homosexual practice carries a heavier moral weight than a whole range of other sins.  However, any attempt to relocate any sin from the New Testament “sin lists” to the celebrative, normative list must be addressed because it strikes at the heart of the gospel itself.

Comments

  • Talbot Davis says:

    Thank you for giving expression to exactly what many of us think but can’t always say.

  • Thanks for your comments. I have been thinking the same thing for some time. If someone in the Muslim faith wanted to say that it is OK for women to be imams, it would arouse a reaction. For those who want it to be normative to stand up and accuse them of singling the issue out would seem strange indeed. I believe that society is attempting to bully the church into changing its position. I see it all the time. I can be involved in food pantrys, visit prisoners, give away many of my possessions to the poor, and pray with those who had hurt me while forgiving them. But because I disagree about homosexuality, I am somehow an evil and awful person.

  • Absolute truth told well, with passion in love.

  • Dr. Tennent:
    I want to thank you for engaging an important (and difficult) issue. I have a different perspective, and in the spirit of holy conferencing, I want to offer a thought. I am not interested here in arguing the basic point as it relates to homosexuality and scripture. Both sides of that argument are well-documented. I’d like to point to something much more basic: the way in which you are casting those who support ordination and marriage rites for homosexual persons.

    You call those who disagree with you “convinced by weak exegesis.” You suggest that they are so unfaithful as to change belief simply because they prefer the prevailing culture. You call the Christians who disagree with you weak-minded enough to convince themselves of something you argue they wish the Bible said. And you equate those who question traditional Biblical interpretations of this issue with Satan.

    All of this in the first four sentences.

    I truly am not trying to kick up dust. But I have to believe that if we are going to live together–if not long-term in the same denomination, then at least on the same earth–we have to do better.

    Again, I truly appreciate your honest engagement. It is more than many would offer.

  • Why isn’t the church as concerned about the practice of divorce and remarriage among Christians? And why isn’t the church concerned about the ordination of clergy who have gone through unscriptural divorce and entered into unbiblical remarriage? Many anti gay marriage proponents tout their allegiance to the Word of God no matter how the winds of the culture blow. But they certainly have sailed the winds of change when it comes to the contradiction between the Bible’s teaching concerning divorce and remarriage and what is practiced and accepted in the Christian Church. As much weak exegesis and human reasoning has been employed by conservatives to allow for divorce and remarriage as the liberals employ for their defense of the gay lifestyle. Ironically many conservative Christians accept many things concerning divorce and remarriage that Jesus clearly taught against. Jesus taught that there is only one viable reason for divorce i.e. unfaithfulness. Also, Paul added that if the wife or husband departs of their own volition a divorce is allowed. Even in these two cases a forthright reading of several passages on the subject teach that a Christian is not permitted to remarry. And even if remarriage is allowed in cases of scriptural divorce it is absolutely not allowed in cases of unscriptural divorce. I do not know what Dr. Tennant believes on this issue but I know that many in the same conservative school of thought allow for clergy persons and Christians in general to divorce a spouse for many unscriptural reasons which have been rationalized as viable. For example if the spouse becomes a substance abuser or becomes mental ill, or perhaps just because a couple has begun to argue all the time. Many will quote C S Lewis and say “sometimes staying in a bad marriage is worse than the pain of divorce.” And after divorce these conservative Christians are very gracious in allowing clergy persons and Christians to remarry. But a stricter stance has been the longstanding teaching of the Church. Many conservatives in America like to point to the African and Korean Methodists because of their conservative beliefs on homosexuality. But you don’t hear many American conservatives point to statements made by the the Africans and Koreans concerning divorce. The Africans and Koreans hold to a literal view of the teachings of Jesus concerning divorce. They hold to the traditional view of the Church. Liberals have no market cornered on hypocrisy. Conservatives are good at it too. I personally allow for some grace on these complicated issues but then again I afford others the privilege of open interpretation. However, I think if religious conservatives want to hold others to a strict interpretation of the scripture on issues where such tight interpretation favors their belief, they should apply the same guidelines to themselves. And if they do, they must now preach against divorce and remarriage like they’ve never done before.

  • Shannon says:

    I would give more credence to this argument if the same churches fighting homosexuality also honored James 2:1-13. Instead, it seems that the wealthiest people are the most honored.

    The day that nobody names a pew or building after any donors is the day that you can start picking splinters out of others’ eyes.

  • Ed Fisher says:

    Very pertinent and helpful. This is one key layer of a rather slippery onion! As a UK believer with Anglican friends (born-again and woolly) , misunderstanding is far too easy. And, though
    we may share different churchmanship, isn’t it blessed to stand together under ONE Lord and Saviour and His word…

  • John Burkitt says:

    Those of us who consider marriage to be sacramental would do well to remember what the Bible says about the abuse of the Eucharist. Remember in the Hippocratic Oath a physician promises to “First do the patient no harm.” If we would follow the Great Physician, we must first do the patient no harm. If there is even an outside small chance that gay marriage in a church is abuse of the sacraments, you are doing these people great harm to “bless” their civil union or to conduct a liturgical marriage.

  • Jay Archer says:

    Thank you again for your faithful and spiritual sanity. Jay Archer DS cookeville district tn conference

  • Mike Hopper says:

    Thank you for emphasizing that application of scripture is not just a private mater of personal interpretation.

    The United Methodist Church I serve, and the conference in which I serve are facing mounting pressure to re-interpret what God has called sin. We would not consider filling a pulpit with a drug user, but a growing number of pastors see nothing inappropriate in appointing a practicing homosexual to declare the gospel of Christ from the pulpit. I seriously doubt that Jehovah agrees.

    • Question for Mike Hopper:

      What is a “practicing homosexual?” For that matter, what is a practicing heterosexual? Are you saying that a practicing homosexual is sexually promiscuous and a practicing heterosexual isn’t?

      If a homosexual is sleeping around and having promiscuous sex he has no right to be in the pulpit or ordained as a minister. In the same light, a heterosexual who is sleeping around and having promiscuous sex also has no right to be in the pulpit or ordained as a minister.

      The difficulty here is that a heterosexual person has the opportunity to marry and experience companionship with a partner and have a family and to be able to express and utilize his sexual feelings. A homosexual person is expected to be celibate and has to face loneliness and no way of expressing his sexual feelings in a legitimate committed relationship.

      You see, I am homosexual and I am not sleeping around and I am desperately lonely and my Church family seem to prefer me that way. I am forced to live alone. Nobody reaches out to me, they are too busy attending their families. I dread Christmas because I end up having a sandwich for lunch while all the wonderful Christian heterosexual families are enjoying a family Christmas dinner amongst themselves.

      • First of all, I agree with this article.
        But I am heartbroken at the ostracization of homosexuals (as well as other groups, such as singles, who don’t fit in to the nuclear-family-centered Christian culture). It really makes me sad to read what one of the commenters above said about eating his sandwich alone on Christmas. I remember a time when I was a young, single going to a church without many people my age. I sat by myself, mostly, because people sat with their families. And after church, when the families went out to lunch, I often went through the drive-through and ate alone. Now, there are worse things, for sure. But I do wonder about the glorification of the nuclear family, especially when we are claiming to follow the teachings of men like Jesus and Paul.
        And I think, if celibacy is our expectation of homosexuals, which at least where I stand right now, I think it should be–we ought to do a better job of surrounding them with empathy and community. It’s a real shame when church people just seem to care that you aren’t doing something edgy or out-of-bounds and don’t seem to care how you’re doing as a person.

  • One of the standards of Christian theology is to be both biblical and Christian. We seek to see the light of Christ in the Bible, recognizing that most of the Bible is divinely inspired and eternal in its truth, while other portions of the Bible are inspired but only true in their cultural context. So we reject polygamy in the Old Testament, the subjugation of women in the New Testament, and the tacit approval of the institution of slavery in both testaments. Christian theologians seek to lift up the heart of Jesus’ message to help the church see eternal truth and sift out un-Christian teachings that are inconsistent or work against the central principles of our faith.

    This is why Dr. Tennant’s article fails as an explanation of Christian teaching on homosexuality. Since the heart of Christian faith is love (e.g. the Great Commandment, etc. etc.) a review of Christian teaching on homosexuality must focus on how we are to love the homosexual. In other words, Dr. Tennant’s article examines homosexuality from the aspect of Law, but misses an opportunity to examine it from the perspective of Gospel.

    If homosexuality is merely sinful behavior, as Dr. Tennant suggests and as biblical sources appear to presume, the church would have no choice than to proscribe it and condemn it. If, however, homosexuality is an “identity,” whether arising from a genetic predisposition or an irreversible orientational pattern developed in the earliest days of childhood, Christians must address the question of homosexuality in the context of theologies of acceptance and inclusion, rather than theologies of sin and judgment. In other words, hating this as “sin” means also hating the sinner.

    Most mainline denominations took this step long ago in regards to the ordination of women. New Testament proscriptions against leadership by women in the church are quite clear, yet they were overruled when held up to the light of the Gospel of love. Decades ago, when this choice was made, the church confessed its centuries of misogyny, rooted both in its tradition and in its scriptures. In order to love gay and lesbian folk, today’s church (or perhaps the next generation’s church, if Dr. Tennant’s current teachings hold sway) must confess its homophobia and accept the call to love people whose sexual orientation place them outside the bounds of outdated social morays. Until that time, the true reason “Why the Church is So Concerned With Same Sex Marriage and Homosexual Ordination” will appear to be the same as it always has been. Our heterosexual orientation and literal approach to the Bible cause us to suffer from blindness to the Gospel of Love.

    • Sandy, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I would highly recommend the book by William Webb entitled, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. He has made a convincing case (300 carefully argued pages) that the hermeneutical connection between issues like slavery and women’s rights are not transferrable to the issue of homosexuality. A blog is too limited a space to explore his full argument, but it is well worth reading.

  • Excellent points!

    People who question Biblical teaching on this point should indeed dig deeper. I recommend this on Gene Robinson’s dismissal of Scripture: http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2009/04/gene-robinson-on-bible.html

  • [...] a follow-up to yesterday’s post (“I am a Sodomite”), here is an insightful piece from Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, on why we should make a big deal about homosexuality. [...]

  • Dr. Tennent, I do wish you would write more about the primacy of Scripture!
    I truly enjoyed reading this today and gained n even clearer understanding of the issue. I, for one, believe we in in the church need to check ourselves and how we deal with our own brokenness for the sake of compassion and empathy with other “sinners.”
    Please keep up the good work!
    Peace,
    jay

  • I agree wholeheartedly with Sandy Brown’s comment: “The true reason “Why the Church is So Concerned With Same Sex Marriage and Homosexual Ordination” will appear to be the same as it always has been. Our heterosexual orientation and literal approach to the Bible cause us to suffer from blindness to the Gospel of Love.” It recently occurred to me to be profoundly thankful for the gift of being a gay man if for no other reason than the ability to look at issues of same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination apart from assumptions of heterosexuality.

    At Asbury Seminary, I sought out “healing for damaged emotions,” counseling, discipleship groups and even an on-campus exorcism to be delivered from what I now understand as my basic, unchangeable orientation. I continue to hold many at Asbury in high regard, but I deeply regret the “help” I received there in regard to my sexuality. Following 20 years of similar change efforts and ultimately “coming out,” I have experience condemnation and condescension from some still at Asbury, similar in tone to Dr. Tennant’s article and his assumptions about those who are LGBT, and I have also discovered that many Asburians, including “straight allies,” have moved beyond literalism to embrace what God is doing in and through gay Christians. I acknowledge that if I was not gay, I probably would not have been motivated to look seriously at the related issues, thus my gratitude for my orientation.

    I miss the UMC, but I am thankful to serve the Church as a pastor alongside my partner in a place that does not us “less than” heterosexual Christians.

  • Billy says:

    As a young adult who is committed to following Jesus and loves the church I am deeply disturbed by this article. I am particularly bothered by the fact that it comes from the president of a seminary that prepares many students to serve as ministers in the United Methodist Church. This is a prime example of the narrow mindedness that is pushing away so many of the young people in the church. I am not aware of your background Mr. Tennent but it is clear your approach to the bible is more fundamentalist than Wesleyan. Your words are disrespectful and insensitive for the gay clergy who are fat serving God’s church. I can’t imagine how painful it would be for a gay student at Asbury to read this article.

  • John Meunier says:

    Dr. Tennent, I am trying to be certain I understand what you are trying to argue. Is this a fair restatement of your point: “Evangelical Christians feel the need to spend so much time and energy talking about and organizing actions with regard to homosexuality because they feel that harm is done to the church when something sinful is treated as if it were holy” ?

  • [...] seminary president Timothy Tennent writes about why evangelicals spend so much time and energy talking about homosexual [...]

  • Thank you for the wonderful post. It is a truly terrifying thing when society’s views begin to overtake biblical views. It is an even more terrifying when it happens in our churches.

    Unfortunately, I see many commenting on this post and arguing that you, and people with this view, are ignoring the “gospel of love” or “the spirit of the law.” I think we often fail to recognize that the spirit of the law and the law itself is much different than it was in Old Testament times. In the Old Testament, the law was spelled out in black and white. Do this, don’t do that. In the New Testament, we receive numerous commands, but we also receive the overarching command to love that is often mentioned in these debates. What seems to be forgotten, is that these two types of commands do not exist apart from one another. We cannot overlook specific commands under the guise of love, anymore than we can overlook love under the guise of any specific command. Love does not overlook sin, love compels a christian to address sin in a careful and gentle way. Paul did not accept the sin occurring at the church in Corinth. Rather, love compelled him to address that sin for the sake of the Corinthians’ eternal lives.

  • I imagine myself to be Christian. I seek to follow Christ. I am lesbian, and do not believe I am called to celibacy by Romans 1. And I am in a Quaker meeting, and worshiped with Evangelical Christians in an Ecumenical group.

    I ask you, what do you mean by the words, “strikes at the heart of the gospel”? Do you think my “Christianity” worthless?

    • Tennent says:

      To Clare Flourish’s probing entry…. I feel your heart cry and sense your query an honest one. My gentle reminder is that it is always dangerous to interpret Christ by Christian experience, rather than Christian experience by Christ. Neither you nor I “have” a Christianity. We are seeking to be faithful to Christ, His Word and the Apostolic tradition. Whether our faith is finally found to be “worthy” or “worthless” will be determined through at the judgment seat of Christ. As a fellow man “in the dock”‘it is best to not tell you how the judge will render your case.

  • [...] Why The Church Is So Concerned With Same-Sex Marriage and Homosexual Ordination – Tim Tennent wrote this excellent article to people who already believe that homosexual practice is wrong, explaining why the debate must be a big deal for them in the church, even if they don’t want it to be. You really should go read it if you’re among those who believe homosexual behavior is sinful. [...]

  • “no one in the church has sought … to legitimize the practice of usury” Really !! This is only true if you define “usury” as excessive interest on an investment and yet clearly the biblical texts forbidding usury were forbidding the charging of any interest. After the Reformation Protestant churches, following Calvin, affirmed that it was legitimate to charge interest in business deals – clearly contrary to a literal interpretation of the biblical texts. If Tennent means what he says then I assume Asbury Seminary has no interest earning bank accounts and no endowment funds. Or maybe they have found a way why they can “legitimately” disobey these texts and affirm this “sinful” practice .

    • Usury is a word which means “excessive interest” which is how I am using the word. However, the point is to take any examples of identifiable sins (you can make up your own list) and ask if it doesn’t warrant a vigorous reply when any sin is moved to the “normative” list to be celebrated rather than discouraged by the church. Homosexual practice has historically been regarded as inconsistent with Christian teaching and, indeed, this is the current official view of the UMC. Since this view has been held for thousands of years by the Judeo-Christian tradition I think the church should be careful not to so quickly abandon it.

  • Rod says:

    I agree with Dr. Tennent’s article. There is great pressure among United Methodists to change the Book of Discipline to allow for same-sex marriage. Disregard the Bible for a minute. We should then, logically, allow bisexual marriage at least. Once same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, other groups will want their own brand of marriage. Why should marriage be just between 2 people-the Supreme Court is likely to rule it as discrimination. What will happen to society then?

  • Rod says:

    I am glad that this site is willing to present both sides of an issue. rmnblog.org, the more liberal site, apparently will only listen to their side. I have posted several non-hateful blogs lately and they have all been taken down. Keep up the good work.