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

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.

Deeper Issues Behind the Same-Sex Marriage Discussion

According to the United Methodist Reporter more than 900 United Methodist clergy have pledged to perform same-sex unions in open defiance of the Scriptures, of our ministerial tradition of holy conferencing, and of the Discipline of the United Methodist Church.  In response, a group of Asburians (either Asbury Seminary graduates or member of the Board of Trustees of Asbury) who pastor some of the largest churches in America (Tom Harrison, Charles Kyker, Ed Robb, III, Ken Werlein, and Steve Wood) have prepared a petition asking the Bishops of the United Methodist church to issue a statement that the Discipline will be respected. I support this petition because these petitioners understand that this is far more than a debate about human sexuality and marriage. View the petition here. http://www.faithfulumc.com/index.html

What is at stake is more than just a re-affirmation that Biblical marriage is between a man and a woman (though that is, in itself, a vital objective). The issue of marriage and human sexuality is but the “flashpoint” presenting issue.  There are two deeper underlying issues which we need to always keep in mind.  First, this is a struggle about Biblical authority and the great stream of apostolic orthodoxy. I have written  many blogs on this point, so I will not elaborate that point today.  Suffice it to say, we cannot even begin to reclaim our nearly lost heritage as Methodists if even our clergy advocate positions which are at variance with historic faith.  Second, this is a struggle about ecclesiology, especially the role of the episcopacy in our church. For clergy to do something in open defiance of the Book of Discipline is a serious breach of our unity, regardless of the issue involved.  There are many churches whose clergy are not under episcopal authority and are not bound to one another by a covenant. The Methodist church is not supposed to be among them.

Bishops must rise up and do what Bishops have been elected to do. Bishops are called by God, and ordained by the church, to defend the Gospel, shepherd the church and exercise church discipline. This shouldn’t require a petition.  It should be the normal expression of episcopal authority. A decade ago, Bill Hinson called for a special task force to create a process which would lead to an “amicable separation” between those called United Methodists.  This would not be a defiant church split, but a solemn process whereby the church allows those who are committed to historic orthodoxy, the Wesleyan heritage and secure episcopal authority to live under such a covenant. Tens of thousands of faithful Methodists (including myself) are not yet ready to pull the “amicable separation” lever, but this is the inevitable trajectory if our Bishops will not exercise their God-given, episcopal resolve to enforce our Discipline. Our eyes are on the Council of Bishops praying that God gives them strength for this hour. I hope that the Bishops issue the espiscopal letter which has been requested.  It will be a great affirmation that our covenant is still in force and that the “people called Methodists” can focus our energies and resources on spreading scriptural holiness throughout the world.