Isn’t the Bible Opposed to Homosexuality?
There are a handful of verses in the Bible that are opposed to homosexuality. They are often the ones cited in this subject. You would probably be surprised at how few verses there are in regard to homosexuality. There are only five references in all the Bible.
Just like you can find verses in the Bible that oppose the spiritual leadership of women or verses that support owning slaves or handling snakes as a sign of being faithful, there are verses that support any of those causes. The question isn’t: “Is it in the Bible?” There are all kinds of things that are in the Bible. So the question is: “What do we see in the life, teaching, and example of Jesus that tells us of the meaning and importance of these verses?”
Looking at the Bible as a whole: “What do these verses reveal to us about the nature of God, and how do we put into practice these verses in light of the supreme commandments to love God fully and love others as ourselves?”
What Are Those Verses in the Bible that Might Reference Homosexuality?
As a guide, here are the biblical references regarding homosexuality.
Old Testament References:
If you count the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the parallel story in Judges 19:1-30, there are seven references. But both of those stories are about forcible rape, violence, inhospitality, and refusing safety to guests.
There are two references in Leviticus (18:22 and Leviticus 20:13). Read the whole Levitical code (chapters 17-26). How many of the laws referenced in those verses do people still insist on practicing?
New Testament references:
Romans 1: 18-27 references idol worship, temple prostitution, and men of higher status taking advantage of others. Romans 2 and 3 give more context.
I Corinthians 6: 9-10 and I Timothy 1: 8-11 both are lists of sins including all kinds of sexual perversions as well as other sins like greed and lying and misrepresenting the truth. The sexual perversions included in those lists do not include any description of sexual practices akin to our contemporary understandings of homosexuality.
How Is the Church Harming Persons Who Identify as Homosexual?
We hear people talk about “harm” being done. What do they mean? How is the church “harming” homosexual people? Talking about these issues concerning LGBTQ+ persons in a climate of competition has led many saying a number of really terrible things. Persons who are LGBQ+ have been called all kinds of names. They have been accused of not caring about the Bible. They have been called trouble-makers and perverts and a disgrace to God’s Word and way. They have been called abominations. The rhetoric of the debate has been brutal.
Many of these persons consider it harm that, when they have grown up in the church and been loved by the church, they are not allowed to be married in their church or by their church pastor and that any committed relationship they may have is condemned by the church. They are refused the blessing of the church for any stable, committed relationship.
Many consider it additionally hurtful that if their pastor agrees to support them that their pastor will lose his/her job without pay for a year and that pastor might eventually lose their ministry credentials.
They consider it harmful that if God calls them into ministry that the church will block them and penalize anyone who would affirm their gifts.
Why do we have to talk about this at all?
Many of us didn’t grow up talking about it and don’t like talking about it now. There is an answer compelled by our changing culture. All around us, people who are LGBTQ+ are no longer “in the closet.” Since the 2015 Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage in the US, more and more gay couples are getting married, raising families, and publicly identifying as gay. It’s not the world of the 1950s. Whether we like that or not is really beside the point. This is the world where God needs us to shine the light of God’s love. It is more likely than ever before that you will work with a gay co-worker. You are likely to be invited to a gay wedding, something that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. It is a new reality that everyone needs to think through.
There is an answer compelled by faith, too. This answer is that gay people are people whom God loves and for whom Christ died. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They often have very harsh things said to them and about them. They are often targets of both hate speech and actions. Suicide rates in the gay community—especially among teenagers—is shockingly high. Jesus cared about those who were hurt, overlooked, and mistreated by others.
There is another uncomfortable truth to face. While the silence/avoidance approach kept us from open fighting, silence hurt individuals and families and churches. The avoidance left a vacuum for people who had to face homosexuality in their lives, their family circles, and their churches. Silence left people uninformed and ill-equipped when it became personal. People have been hurt. Families have been torn apart. Churches did not convey the love of God for all. In the avoidance, the church and church families did not have the teaching to navigate people through very hard times. Often the church made the pain deeper.
Very few of us in the church have a background or enough information to make us feel comfortable talking about this subject. At the same time, we do have hearts committed to loving others and, as United Methodists, a commitment to doing all the good we can in the world.
Just because we don’t agree with someone doesn’t mean we don’t love them does it? Love doesn’t mean letting people do whatever they want to, does it?
Of course, love does not mean letting people do whatever they want to, especially if it is harmful to them or goes against God’s best. The Bible does have clear standards for measuring love, however. Jesus talks often about love as sacrificially giving of yourself to others, abiding, servanthood, laying down one’s life for friends, for example, in John 15-16. Jesus makes clear the Great Commandments are loving God and loving others. I Corinthians 13 gives the characteristics of Christian love: patient, kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude, not insisting on its own way. Love has selfless, considerate characteristics that are more often than not absent in this church debate. The scripture has multiple admonitions to walk in unity, bearing with one another in love, keeping the bond of unity in the spirit of peace, e.g., Ephesians 4, Colossians 3, and many more.
It is also important to remember the words of James Baldwin: “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
Can’t we all just get along?
The answer to that should be yes.
One of the most important things people learn in families is how to love and get along with people who disagree. Whether it is a two-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a parent, a family is miserable with any member who demands that things be done their way or no way. The “I-am-right-you-are-wrong” approach leads to battles which are painful. The church is the same way.
Recognizing that we have differences on the subject of human sexuality, we actually had a plans that would let everyone live their conscience—but remain united in all the bigger things of the church, reaching the world for Jesus Christ in evangelism, mission, and worship.
The plan adopted at 2019 General Conference was not one of those plans. It was a “we-have-one-position-and-anyone-who-disagrees-should-leave” approach. That’s why there has been such a strident backlash.
What is all the fuss about?
We have always had standards against gay marriage and ordination, haven’t we? We went into General Conference 2019 with those standards and came out with those standards. Why the outcry? Yes, for about 30 years, we have had prohibitions against UM clergy performing same-gender marriages and ordaining “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” as UM clergy.
Yet, what we have now is very different.
When the prohibitions against gay marriage were added to The Discipline, gay marriage was not a legal option in the United States. Since the Supreme Court decision of 2015, gay marriage became legal in this country. So gay people can be legally married, but The United Methodist Church forbids its pastors or its facilities being used.
The 2019 provisions that were added not only maintain the prohibitions but add unique, severe, pre-set punishments to anyone who violates this one part of The Discipline.
Shouldn’t we follow The Discipline?
Yes, for United Methodists, The Discipline has been the common bond and guide for our life together. As usual, it is not quite as simple as it may sound.
United Methodist churches outside the US are not required to follow The Discipline we have. Those churches have the flexibility to apply The Discipline as appropriate to their context.
Also, this is not the first time Methodists have had people who disagreed with and defied The Discipline. For many years, after the racial integration of the church (in 1968) conservatives openly, defiantly, consistently resisted that integration. As women came into ordained ministry (authorized by the 1956 Discipline with the real impact of that change being felt in the 1970s), conservatives subverted, opposed, and refused to enforce that provision of The Discipline. Even now, in 2019, there are churches that resist and refuse to have women pastors.
The resistance of the conservatives was not spot-lighted. Resisters were not brought up on charges. Legislation against them was not introduced at General Conference. People found ways to work things out. When progressive people have resisted The Discipline, they have been promptly brought up on charges. They have been vehemently and viciously criticized by organized conservative groups and their publications. Progressives who disagree are publicly highlighted and denounced.
For people with history in the church over the last 70 years, it seems a little strange that now it is conservatives (the very ones who were the objectors to The Discipline) are demanding absolute obedience to The Discipline from those who disagree with them.
What is the Wesleyan Covenant Association?
The Wesleyan Covenant Association is the most recent form of the Good News criticism of the church that began shortly after the formation of The United Methodist Church in 1968.
It is an association of churches building a foundation for a split in The United Methodist Church over the disagreements of homosexuality. Before the General Conference 2019 met, the Wesleyan Covenant Association claimed 1500 churches as members and made public statements that they were prepared to leave if the General Conference decision did not go with the plan they favored. They had a “Convening Conference” scheduled for April 2019. They believe that the issue of homosexuality is “make or break” for their churches to remain with The United Methodist Church.
The ironic part of the name is that Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, was adamantly opposed to schisms. He wrote extensively warning against divisions and developing hardness of heart toward those who disagree. The name is very appealing to people in the Wesleyan tradition. However, the purposes of the Wesleyan Covenant Association are in direct opposition to the teachings of John Wesley. John Wesley wrote: “Do not allow yourself one thought of separating from your brothers and sisters whether their opinions agree with yours or not.” Or see John Wesley’s sermon “On Schism.”