On Wednesday of this week, the United Methodist General conference agreed to meet and “review” it’s stance on homosexual relationships. While I haven’t had great confidence in the United Methodist church’s theological fidelity for some time, the significance of this moment hits me with some gravity. Surely, John Wesley would turn over in his grave if he could somehow become aware of the willingness of his movement to surrender its moral compass to the pressures of popular culture.
Let’s be clear that this is an issue of major moral practice, that church leaders, (many who would call themselves pastors) are reworking as flippantly as if someone complained about the design of the church bulletin, and they figure a little tweaking would make it more appealing to the masses.
We must also dispense with the notion that this is just one of the many evolutions of thought in the history of Christendom. LGBT activists always maintain the “What about slavery?” argument as the universal defense of the notion that Christian moral standards can be voted upon and altered by democratic means. However, if the church has rightfully altered its thinking on any social, moral, or theological issue in the past, the justification for that change was not a consensus among church leaders, but the realization that we had departed from what the text of Scripture tells us.
We should be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that the movement to accept homosexual practices in the church is driven by a lot of things, but rigorous study of Scripture is not one of them. Anyone looking at the entirety of what Scripture has to say on the matter without biases or preconceived notions must conclude that God’s standard for sexual purity is one man, one woman, committed for life in a marriage covenant. For thousands of years, not one orthodox Christian denomination has read that clearly communicated standard differently; even when they disagreed over many of Scripture’s other teachings. Should we not be skeptical when it is at the precise moment that popular culture began to make these demands upon the church, that some began to imagine a different interpretation?
There is little doubt in my mind that the pro LGBT movement is winning the debate at a popular level in the greater church culture, not out of substance, but because they know how to frame the discussion in a way that appeals to emotions, and preys upon Biblical illiteracy. They’ve created monsters out of the opposing side, using the loaded language of popular culture wars, pitting privilege against repressed victims who just want to be free to love God authentically without hiding who they really are. They tell a love story, and we reply with a hermeneutical analysis of Scripture passages. Of course the love story wins, because everyone likes a good love story, but that doesn’t make it right.
Unlike some of the culture wars of the past that have been more about trying to get secular culture to recognize Biblical morality, this is a battle for the very identity of the church, and that makes it an issue worth planting a flag into and defending. We take that stand knowing full well that it means raising the fire-breathing ire of the entirety of secular culture and liberal religion. Homosexual behavior, like all sexual immorality, is unambiguously condemned by Scripture, and it is only with a whole lot of hermeneutical gymnastics that any other conclusion can be produced. Unlike some of the other things that can divide Christians, Scripture teaches that sexual immorality is one issue that cannot be tolerated in the body of believers (certainly that applies to other sins as well that we haven’t always been as quick to address, but that’s a topic for another time). Perhaps even more significantly, consider what it means for the church if we can take an inconvenient, but unambiguous teaching of Scripture (the very foundation of our identity), gather up a number of like-minded people, and veto God’s command. Can we really profess to be Christians any longer? Whatever is left after that, it’s certainly not Christian by very definition of the term.
Love and understanding, we are told, are the operative principles in this discussion. But only a superficial caricature of genuine love would desire a person’s emotional happiness over their long term well-being and eternal destiny. Scripture tells us that the most loving thing we can do as a body of believers when a person persists in defiance of Scriptural morality is to isolate them from the body in hopes that they will ultimately repent and find restoration. (1 Cor. 5) Though it seems harsh, that is the standard of accountability that every believer must accept, and it is the church’s responsibility to carry it out. I do have compassion for any person so possessed by a sin that they own it as an identity, and I would do anything in my power to see that person restored, but the one thing that I cannot do is to welcome them as a brother while they openly, purposefully, and unapologetically defy the very Scripture upon which our faith is founded.
The plight of an LGBT person who is pulled between the cross and sin is not something to be taken lightly, but to some degree, everyone who has made the choice to follow Christ has been there. Everyone has had a sin that they wanted to keep so strongly that they tried desperately to rationalize how it really wasn’t all that bad. And we must be clear, every emotional appeal, every attempt to normalize LGBT behavior, every misapplication of Scriptural love, and rationally bulimic attempt to squeeze LGBT lifestyles in between the lines of Scripture, is just man’s sinful heart trying to persuade itself that it doesn’t have to leave everything behind to follow Christ. However, we would be a sorry lot indeed if the church accommodated our sin instead of reaching out a hand to help us out and upward into a life that places the glory of God above all else.